Saturday, 16 October, 2021

Imran Khan abruptly calls off Islamabad lockdown'

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN:  Pakistan's opposition on Tuesday abruptly called off a planned "lockdown" of the capital after the country's Supreme Court paved the way for an investigation into allegations of corruption against the prime minister's family.

Premier Nawaz Sharif has been under growing pressure from opposition parties, mainly Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which had vowed one million supporters would shut down Islamabad on Wednesday as part of long-running efforts to force the government out of power.

Police have repeatedly clashed with protesters in recent days, detaining more than 1,000 PTI supporters from across the country since last week after imposing a ban on all public gatherings in Islamabad, which was later partly lifted by a court order.

On Tuesday, Pakistan's Supreme Court began hearing a case into the Panama Papers Leaks and offered to form a commission to investigate revelations that Sharif's children had offshore accounts.

"We are determined to resolve this issue. We will solve it and we will solve it as soon as possible. Now the highest forum in the country in regards to dispute resolution has taken up this matter, so now you hold your positions, please restrain," Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, one of the five judges hearing the case told the court.

The ruling was applauded by Khan, who held a press conference at his home on the outskirts of Islamabad to declare victory.

"I am so happy that the Supreme Court has decided that from Thursday it will begin probing Nawaz Sharif," he said, surrounded by ecstatic supporters.

He added that his supporters would instead hold a rally thanking the Supreme Court for its decision.

The move brought an anti-climactic end to what observers believed could have become a protracted confrontation, similar to a four-month sit-in led by Khan in 2014.

But although Khan had repeatedly vowed to bring a million protesters to the capital, disruption had been thus far limited to a few areas around the city and the Peshawar-Islamabad highway, where some 5,000 PTI supporters were blocked from entering the capital.

The planned protest also came at a sensitive time for Sharif, whose relationship with the all-powerful army is at a low following the publication of a media report which said civilian officials had warned the military to stop backing jihadist fighters abroad.

The military has used the pretext of civil unrest to sweep in and replace elected governments three times in the country's history, and analysts had warned that Sharif may need to strike a deal with the army to ensure his survival.