Pakistan: what's behind the deepening political crisis?
Protesters clash with police and attempt to storm PM's house as 'all hell breaks loose' in Islamabad
After weeks of protests in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, tensions in Parliament Square reached a "predictable escalation" over the weekend, according to Al Jazeera.
Three people were killed and hundreds injured after the police cracked down on protesters who were attempting to march on the official residence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. According to Pakistan's police chief, protesters were armed with "axes and hammers" and tore down the outer wall of parliament.
Police have been criticised for their disproportionate response after teargas and rubber bullets fired at protesters by 40,000 riot officers. Wajahat Saeed Khan, a Pakistani journalist said "the police are known for their brutality, particularly in the Punjab province".
Who is behind the protests?
The two small opposition groups credited with orchestrating the protests are united in their calls for the resignation of the country's Prime Minister. However, both sides have denied instructing their supporters to use violence or occupy official buildings. "The people who came out to protest were looking for a better country," said Mosharraf Zaidi the former Pakistani foreign affairs adviser, but when they clashed with police, "all hell broke loose".
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Justice Movement)
Led by the famous cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, the party accuses Sharif of rigging last year's historic election, in what was the first democratic transition of power in the country's history.
Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT)
Tahir ul-Qadri is the influential Canadian-Pakistani cleric and head of the party calling for a "revolution" and demanding the complete overhaul of the country's political and economic system. He is demanding the dissolution of Pakistan's government and calling for the establishment of an interim unity government.
The role of the military
Rumours of military involvement have been widely circulated in Pakistan with some calling it a 'soft coup'. Many Pakistani's believe that Sharif has angered military by "seeking closer relations with India," which would could lead to a decrease in military funding, writes Channel 4's John Sparks. The army has denied the allegations and says it is serving as a mediator between the protesters and government.
Sharif has held high-level crisis talks with the army chief General Raheel Sharif today, according to the BBC, but both parties have yet to issue a statement. "Pakistan's parliamentary democracy is at stake. A decision has to be made fast," warned Zaidi.
The government has said it willing to conduct an investigation into the allegations of vote-rigging but ruling party members say the Prime Minister will not step down. All elected parties have pledged their support to Sharif, writes Raza Rumi for Al Jazeera. One minister told the Express Tribune:"we might have to give big sacrifices".
Sharif has been "considerably weakened" and "even if he survives the crisis, it may not be the end of the story. If the PM is forced to resign it sets a wrong and dangerous precedent," writes Rumi.