Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pakistan Says Preacher and Crowd at Risk

Two days after a charismatic preacher swept into the capital surrounded by thousands of supporters, Pakistan’s government responded by rejecting his political agenda and hinting that an operation to dislodge him was imminent. Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters on Wednesday that there were indications that suicide bombers planned to target the preacher, Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, who is in a bulletproof container near Parliament. Mr. Qadri and his boisterous supporters, estimated at 25,000 people, could be the subject of a “targeted operation” as early as Thursday, Mr. Malik said. “For the safety of the women and children in the protest, I request you to leave by tomorrow,” he said at a news conference. Mr. Qadri, 61, who has demanded that the government resign to make way for a caretaker administration, insisted that he was standing firm, but also suggested the standoff could be resolved within a couple of days, although he declined to specify how. “We are in the victory zone and about to achieve our target,” he told The New York Times, speaking inside the fortified container, mounted on the back of a truck, from which he has delivered several fiery speeches. “The march will be successful in the next one or two days at most.” Earlier, the information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira, mocked Mr. Qadri’s demands at a news conference, and accused him of using the many women and children among his supporters as “human shields.” But Mr. Kaira said, “The people will not stand by him.” The government was showing some teeth after Mr. Qadri managed to lead his supporters into the capital, despite numerous obstacles, leaving officials looking outwitted. The government’s authority was also challenged on Tuesday by the Supreme Court, which ordered the arrest of the prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, as part of a corruption prosecution. The government has signaled that it intends to challenge the order when the case comes to court on Thursday morning; officials see the move as part of a long-running proxy battle between the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and the president, Asif Ali Zardari. Pakistan’s military, meanwhile, has been grappling with its longtime foe India in the disputed province of Kashmir, where at least five soldiers from both sides have died in a series of skirmishes over the past two weeks. In the latest episode, Pakistan said Wednesday that Indian troops had shot a Pakistani soldier at a position named Kundi, and lodged an official complaint with New Delhi. India denied responsibility. The tensions have raised worries that months of steady diplomatic progress between the rival neighbors could be undone. But hopes for a resolution of the dispute rose late on Wednesday when, after a phone conversation between senior commanders on both sides, India said an agreement to calm the situation had been reached. Pakistan’s director general of military operations, Maj. Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem, spoke for 10 minutes with his Indian counterpart, Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia, an Indian spokesman told reporters. The spokesman, Col. Jagdeep Dahiya, told Agence France-Presse that the Pakistani general “said strict instructions have been passed not to violate the cease-fire.”

Zardari: Not to use force against sit-in

President Asif Ali Zardari has ruled out the possibility of any operation against the participants of the sit-in being staged in Islamabad with Thehrik-e-Minhajul Quran leader Tahirul Qadri in the lead. President Zardari telephoned Najam Sethi, the host of Geo News program 'Apas Ki Baat', telling him no use of force will be undertaken against the marchers in Islamabad at any cost. The clarification from the head of the state came when all sorts of speculations were being made about government's next line of action to deal with the massive sit-in in the capital.

Pakistan’s army lurks behind cleric 20
We should be worried about the potential destabilization of a country with 200 nuclear-tipped missiles
A Canadian cleric, who has twice played a part in backing military juntas in nuclear-armed Pakistan, is back in that country. And once more, he appears to be facilitating a military takeover in Islamabad. Tahir-ul-Qadri is better known for his role in the creation of the infamous “Anti-Blasphemy Law” of Pakistan, that has brought untold misery to religious minorities and agnostics. In the 1980s, Qadri backed the military junta of the Islamist General Zia who had overthrown former prime minister Z.A. Bhutto. In 1999, he backed the administration of General Pervez Musharraf, which had staged a coup against former prime minister Nawaz Shariff. By the time democracy was restored in Pakistan, Qadri had emigrated to Canada, where he went into political hibernation until he became eligible for a Canadian passport. With that in hand, Qadri left Canada to manage his worldwide network of devotees, who believe the Prophet Muhammad has appeared in Qadri’s dreams and gives him instructions. In September, Qadri landed in hot water in Denmark, where Integration Minister Karen Haekkerup pulled out of a conference when she discovered Qadri was one of the speakers, saying he had helped fashion Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law. A Muslim member of the Danish parliament, Naser Khedar, wrote: “… thanks to Tahir-ul-Qadri the horrible blasphemy laws were adopted and are still in force — laws that have resulted in the death of many Christians — and Muslims.” Qadri denied he had anything to do with Pakistan’s blasphemy law. He told an audience it “is not applicable on Jews or Christians and minorities. It is just to deal with Muslims.” He also denied the allegations by Haekkerup and Khedar, claiming, “The way he (Gen Zia) was formulating the blasphemy law, I was totally against it.” However, within days, a new video emerged showing Qadri saying the exact opposite. He was shown boasting in Urdu before an audience that he alone was responsible for crafting the blasphemy law. On the tape, he says in Urdu: “Let me put it on the record, it was me and only me who is responsible for that law … No one else has made any contribution in making this law.” As for his claim made in English on Danish TV that the blasphemy law is inapplicable to non-Muslims, the leaked video showed him making this claim in Urdu: “Whosoever insults Prophet Muhammad and commits blasphemy, whether he is Muslim or Kaafir (infidel non-Muslim), man or woman, he or she should be murdered and kicked like a dog into hellfire, even if they repent ...” Now Qadri, travelling as a Canadian, has come back to haunt Pakistan by besieging the parliament in Islamabad with about 50,000 of his devotees. He told AFP, “We will stay in Islamabad until this government is finished, all the assemblies are dissolved, all corrupt people are totally ousted, a just constitution is imposed, rule of law is enforced, and true and real democracy is enforced.” However, many observers believe the real powers behind Qadri are his former mates in the Pakistan Army and their allies in the judiciary, who are using him as a front man in order to cling to power, while Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of the prime minister. (Qadri has denied these allegations.) In the meantime, the rest of us should be worried about the potential destabilization of a country with 200 nuclear-tipped missiles and the role played by Qadri in that.

Asif Ali Zardari ready for 'any situation'

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari was not going anywhere and was ready to face "any situation", his spokesperson has said, adding that he was extending his stay in Karachi from where he would monitor political developments. Zardari has also reiterated that general elections would be held on time. Denying reports of Zardari planning to leave for Dubai to avoid the uncertain political situation in the country, his spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said the president has reiterated government's resolve that elections will be held on time and not be delayed in any case, Dawn News reported. "He is not going anywhere and is ready to face any situation," Babar said, adding the president preferred to monitor fast changing political developments in Islamabad while sitting in Bilawal House, Karachi, for next few days despite the fact that he has been staying there for almost a month. The spokesperson said the overstay in Karachi had nothing to do with Pakistani-born Canadian cleric Tahirul Qadri. "The president will follow his own schedule. Qadri's presence in Islamabad or anywhere else is not a factor in the determination of president's schedule," he said. Qadri and thousands of his followers are sitting near parliament house for "change in the present electoral system and now dissolution of federal and provincial governments". Babar said the president was closely watching Qadri's protest programme and developments following the Supreme Court ordering the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. Zardari believes that there are two aspects of the Supreme Court's order - one is legal and the other is political, he said. "As far as the legal aspect is concerned, Law Minister Farooq Naek has informed the president about the whole situation and repercussions of the Supreme Court's order and about its political fallout, the president will soon consult coalition partners," the spokesperson said.

Kaira hits out at Tahirul Qadri

Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira says assemblies and the election commission cannot be dissolved at the whim of one person Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira has termed Tahirul Qadri's demands unconstitutional and unrealistic saying the assemblies and the election commission cannot be dissolved at the whim of one person. Talking to the media persons in Islamabad today‚ he questioned as to how the demands made by the chief of Minhajul Quran could be fulfilled within the parameters of the constitution. He said the parliament and the judiciary have shut the doors for the establishment of a dictator government and bringing amendments in the constitution through unconstitutional manner. The information minister said the election commission has been constituted by a committee of the parliament and there is the constitutional modus operandi for the removal of the election commission as is for the judges of the courts. Election Commission is a constitutional office and it cannot be dissolved at whim. Similarly‚ caretaker set-up will be installed in accordance with the constitutional provisions. Neither the president nor the army and the judiciary have any role in setting up an interim set-up. Referring to the demands of Tahirul Qadri made today‚ the information minister said the person who the other day declared us an ex-government‚ is making demands to the same govt. today. He asked Tahirul Qadri to stop hoodwinking the people and stop using women and children as a shield. "If Tahirul Qadri wants to bring reforms‚ he should register his political party‚ abandon his Canadian citizenship and then go to the people‚ seek their vote and fulfill his objectives‚" said Kaira. The information minister assured that free and fair elections will be conducted on time. All the political parties have full confidence on the election commission. "The Supreme Court has also directed to hold the elections on time and we have also given assurance to the court in this regard." Criticizing the tone and tenor of Tahirul Qadri‚ he said the chief of Minhajul Quran should abide by the norms of decency. "Tahirul Qadri should keep his tone under control otherwise political parties will reciprocate in the same manner‚ concluded the information minister.

PM takes notice of Peshawar sit-in

Prime Minister has taken immediate notice of the demonstration by protesters from Khyber Agency who are staging a protest in front of Governor House Peshawar Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has taken immediate notice of the demonstration by protesters from Khyber Agency who are staging a protest in front of the Governor House Peshawar over the killing of their loved ones yesterday. Speaking to the Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa‚ Barrister Masood Kausar over telephone‚ the Prime Minister directed him to engage the elders to end the grievances of the protesters. The Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assured the Prime Minister that he will submit a report promptly after discussing it with the affected people and put up recommendation for decision of the Prime Minister.

Pakistanis protest killing of 18 in village raid

Associated Press
Hundreds of villagers from northwest Pakistan protested Wednesday the killing of 18 of their relatives in an overnight raid that they blamed on security forces, displaying the bodies of the victims in the provincial capital. The Pakistan military has been waging a campaign against militants in tribal areas such as the Khyber Agency, where these deaths occurred late Tuesday, and according to human rights groups and residents sometimes commit rights abuses. About 3,000 people gathered Wednesday outside the house of the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Peshawar. They said gunmen wearing military uniforms stormed homes in their area and shot villagers dead. Shabir Ahmed, a soldier from the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary, said his four brothers and father were present at their home when uniformed gunmen stormed his house, opened fire and killed them. "I want to know who killed my brothers and father and why?" he said, demanding justice. But an official with the Frontier Constabulary, which operates in the area, said the villagers had been killed by militants. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media. Human rights groups have accused the Pakistani military of widespread human rights abuses in their counter-insurgency campaign in the tribal areas. In a December report, Amnesty International accused the Pakistani military of regularly holding people without charges and torturing or otherwise mistreating them in custody. The London-based group said in the report that some detainees do not survive and are returned to their families dead, or their corpses are dumped in remote parts of the tribal region. The military rejected the allegations and in a statement called the report "a pack of lies." Amnesty also criticized the Taliban for a range of rights abuses, including the killing of captured soldiers and innocent civilians. The militants have carried out scores of attacks around the country that have killed thousands of people.

CM Hoti handover keys of buses to six girls colleges

Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Amir Haider Khan Hoti Tuesday here at a special ceremony gave keys of busses to Principals of six Girls Colleges in the province. He said that the present government has spent considerable resources on promotion of higher education particularly girls education. Spreading the light of education was the only way forward to battle specific circumstances confronting the region.
It merits a mention here that the he had promised these colleges for provision of buses during his visits to the concerned districts. He said that girl's colleges were in dire needs of buses for transport. Keys of buses were given to principal of Government Girls College Sarai Saleh Haripur, Government Girls Degree College Boni Chitral, Government Girls Post Graduate College Kohat, Government Girls Degree College Khwaza Khela Swat, Government Girls Degree College Lund Khwar Mardan and Government Girls Degree College No. 2 Haripur. Principal of the colleges received the Keys while drivers of the buses were also present on the occasion. Provincial Minister for Higher Education Qazi Muhammad Asad, Secretary Farah Hamid, Muhammad Kabir Afridi, Chief Planning Officer Higher Education Muhammad Ihsan, Muhammad Zaman, Javed Akhbar, Central President PSF Bashir Khan Sherpao, ANP district officer bearers Haripur, Chitral and Kohat and others were also present on the occasion. Govt to provide healthy activities for youth: Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Amir Haider Khan Hoti has said that his government was committed for provision of opportunities of healthy activities to youth and has undertaken practical measures for promotion of healthy activities of education, sports and tourism. He was talking to a delegation of ANP Chitral. Other members of the delegation were president ANP District Chitral Syed Muzafar Asli Shah, General Secretary Aziz Beg, former MPA Zafar Ahmad, Maqsood-ur-Rahman PSF Chitral, Aziz Ahmad, President ANPChitral Women-Wing Khadija Sardar, Sifat Bibi, Principal Government Girls Degree College Sarwat Jehan, Prominent para glider of Chitral Shahzada Farhad Aziz and Sajad Hussain. Matters pertaining to progress on development schemes of the present government in Chitral and people problems remained under discussion. They thanked the chief minister on present government development efforts in education communication and health sectors in Chitral. The chief minister offered cheque of grant worth Rs. 1 million to president and vice president Hindukush Association for Para gliding Chitral for promotion of Para gliding. He lauded Chitral youth interest in Paragliding and assured government support in this cause. He issued directives to concerned departments for inclusion of para gliding in sports and tourism events.

Bara tribesmen stage sit-in outside Governor House

The Express Tribune
A large number of people on Wednesday staged a sit-in in front of Governor House in Peshawar, protesting against the killing of the 18 people whose mutilated bodies were recovered from the Bara area of Khyber Agency Tuesday evening. The bullet-riddled bodies were found in the Alam Gudar area. Reporters and media personnel present on the protest site estimated that around 5,000 people took part in the sit-in underway on Sher Shah Suri Road, right in front of Governor House. Bara tribesmen are sitting outside Governor House with caskets of their family members who were killed. The protestors, including family members of the deceased and social activists, chanted slogans against the army and the security agencies stationed in Khyber Agency and blamed them for the killings. The tribesmen from Bara said that the people killed were not militants but ordinary citizens, who they said were murdered in cold blood by the security agencies.

Pakistan’s Newest Martyrs: Why Anti-Shi‘ite Violence May Be the Country’s Biggest Problem

For days, they refused to bury their dead. On a main road in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, hundreds of mourners from the local Hazara community, adherents of Shi‘ite Islam, watched over the nearly 90 coffins in below freezing temperatures. The victims of an increasingly bloody wave of terror were no longer willing to inter the corpses of their loved ones for the world to forget about them. Among the dead was Irfan Ali, a brave and much liked young activist who had to abandon his education because of the appalling security situation in the province of Baluchistan, where Quetta is the capital, yet devoted much of his time telling the world about the suffering of his people. Last Thursday, Ali felt he had cheated death the first time. He tweeted that he had narrowly escaped a bombing in Quetta. When he went to tend to the victims, a second deadlier blast struck the billiards hall in Quetta, raising the death toll to nearly 100. It was the greatest single tragedy to visit the community. The tragedy jolted many Pakistanis, bringing tens of thousands around the country out onto the cold streets. Protests and candlelight vigils sprouted in many cities. Ali, the slain activist, was a familiar face at such protests. In recent photographs, he was seen holding up the image of a Pashtun politician, who was assassinated by the Taliban last month. This time, many protesters held aloft portraits of Ali’s smiling face, some adorned with words from his Twitter bio: “I am born to fight for human rights and peace. My religion is respect and love all the religions.” The protests were eventually heard. Some of the largest crowds had gathered in Karachi, outside the private residence of President Asif Ali Zardari. On Monday, the government dispatched Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to Quetta to meet with the victims. Chief Minister of Baluchistan Nawab Aslam Raisani, a figure of clownish incompetence with a taste for the good life, was told there was no job waiting for him when he returned from his latest foreign jaunt. The provincial government was sacked, having forfeited its mandate. And a form of emergency rule imposed under the province’s more stolid governor. It was enough to persuade the families of the Hazara victims to bury their dead, but more will need to be done to stop others from being sent to an early grave. Last year, over 400 Shi‘ites were killed across Pakistan, double the number killed in 2011. A significant minority in majority Sunni Pakistan, Shi‘ites comprise roughly a quarter of the country’s population. At least a quarter of the recent death toll belongs to the Hazara community in Baluchistan, who migrated there over a century ago from neighboring Afghanistan. Seeking safety, many have been making journeys onward. Last Thursday’s attacks, though deadlier than previous ones, were depressingly familiar. In recent years, Shi‘ite pilgrims from the Hazara community have been hauled off buses bound for pilgrimages in Iran to be lined up and summarily shot. In other parts of the country, as far apart as Karachi in the south, Lahore to the east, the northern hills of Gilgit, Parachinar near the Afghan border, and Dera Ismail Khan in the northwest, Shi‘ite worshippers have seen their processions routinely attacked. On each of these occasions, Shi‘ite worshippers had gathered in the streets, as they have done for centuries, to mourn the memories of their ancient martyrs. They left having to mourn the loss of new ones. The seventh century massacre of their most revered saint, Imam Hussein, and his followers, becomes not just a retelling of the foundation of their faith. It is relived as a parable for the present, the story of a vulnerable minority brutally slaughtered for its beliefs. The responsibility for these attacks has often been claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), probably the most dangerous group operating in Pakistan today, and its militant allies. LeJ began life as an even more vicious offshoot of the banned anti-Shi‘ite organization, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). A decade ago, the group found common doctrinal ground with newcomers from al-Qaeda and proffered its deep and pervasive network. Al-Qaeda maintained operational control, LeJ supplied the foot soldiers. The lethal combine has been blamed for attacks such as the 2008 bombing of the Islamabad Marriott and the 2009 Lahore attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team. The failure to stop these militants is the collective failure of Pakistan’s power elites: the politicians, the army and the judiciary. Less than 24 hours after the Quetta attacks, Malik Ishaq, a notorious LeJ leader, was in Karachi inciting further anti-Shi‘ite hatred. “I don’t have fun making speeches,” the self-confessed killer of Shi’ites told his supporters. “You know what I have fun doing.” Ishaq was shockingly released from prison in 2011 after the courts said they didn’t have enough evidence to convict him. As is often the case, witnesses are not protected and are either eliminated or reduced to a terrified silence. The prosecution and the police fail to marshal the evidence necessary to support a conviction. There are also questions that analysts raise about Islamabad’s intelligence agencies’ links to sectarian groups like the LeJ and its parent organization, the SSP. Ishaq has barely been prevented from roaming around freely. He was briefly taken into custody once only to be released again. He and his cohorts are also the beneficiaries of sordid deals with Pakistan’s power elites. When the army’s headquarters were under siege in 2009, Ishaq was reportedly flown from prison to help negotiate a stand-down. The Punjab government, lead by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, has courted votes alongside leaders of the anti-Shi‘ite SSP. The failure of Pakistani authorities to protect the Shi‘ite population and act against their killers is eroding faith in the state and its institutions. Their failures amount, as Human Rights Watch has said, to complicity. It also raises troubling questions about Pakistan’s identity. In 1947, after the partition of the subcontinent, Pakistan was founded ostensibly as a state for the region’s Muslims — and the minorities that live there. The founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was himself a secular man of a Shi‘ite background. Over the decades, various minorities have found themselves under siege. Prejudiced laws against the Ahmadi Muslim sect have seen the group’s leadership take exile as its followers have either abandoned the country, fall foul of its blasphemy laws or lose the loved ones in terrorist attacks by the same groups that have targeted the Shi‘ites. The beleaguered Christian community fares no better, similarly trapped between militant violence and laws that make them vulnerable to persecution. The old Parsi community has dwindled sharply, with an estimated three times as many living in Toronto as do in Karachi. For the Shi‘ites, it was supposed to be different. They have long lived peacefully alongside the majority Sufi-inspired Sunni community, marching together at the same annual Muharram processions. There were always levels of prejudice, with bigots comparing Shi‘ites to “cockroaches” and hard-line Deobandis — adherents of a puritanical South Asian strain of Sunni Islam — declaring them heretical. But the Pakistani mainstream never considered them a separate minority. In public, for example, Shi‘ite politicians are not identified by sect. If, however, Shi‘ites are not going to feel safe in Pakistan, it will have grave consequences not just for the country but also the wider region. Pakistan’s Shi‘ite population is second only to neighboring Iran, where Shi‘ites are the majority and Shi‘ite Islam is embedded in the heart of the country’s politics. In the long term, it could be the most destabilizing of all of Pakistan’s problems — with the violence not restricted to a remote borderland, but tearing into the country’s very fabric.

Internal Forces Besiege Pakistan Ahead of Voting

Barely a year after fears of a possible military coup plunged Pakistani politics into chaos, the country is in crisis again — this time besieged on multiple fronts by forces that threaten the civilian government just a few months ahead of elections. An enigmatic preacher is camped before the gates of Parliament with thousands of followers, demanding the government’s immediate ouster. The top court on Tuesday suddenly ordered the arrest of the prime minister. Violence is surging, with militants stepping up deadly attacks against both government forces and religious minorities. And relations with India have dipped, after ill-tempered border skirmishes in which soldiers on both sides were killed. As it is all unfolding, the country’s powerful military command, long at odds with the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, is in sphinx mode. The army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and his commanders have maintained a cool distance from the unfolding political chaos, their silence stoking speculation about whether the military’s days of political intervention are really, as it claims, over. “It’s the silence of the legions that is unnerving,” said Ayaz Amir, an opposition member of Parliament. More than anything else, there is a sense that gears are again shifting in Pakistan, in a direction few dare to predict — bad news for Mr. Zardari’s government, of course, but also potentially for American interests, which see stability in Pakistan as crucial to a smooth withdrawal in Afghanistan next year, as well as a guarantor of the security of the country’s nuclear arsenal. “There’s a sense that things are snowballing — hard to predict in any way,” said Cyril Almeida, a senior writer at Dawn newspaper. The chief catalyst of this jolting change comes in the form of a 61-year-old preacher, Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, who catapulted himself into the political limelight less than a month ago, and now finds himself issuing ultimatums to Mr. Zardari from inside a bulletproof container within view of the soaring presidential residence. A giant rally in Lahore last month signaled the start of Mr. Qadri’s assault on Pakistan’s political classes, which he derides as incompetent and irredeemably corrupt — a resonant message in a country of high unemployment and crippling electricity shortages. He drove home his message with an intensive television advertising campaign, paid for with generous amounts of money, the origins of which he has not fully explained. On Monday evening, he stepped up the attack, leading tens of thousands of followers into the heart of Islamabad, where he renewed demands that Mr. Zardari resign immediately. The crowd fell short of the promised “million-man march,” but was enough to spook the government: by Tuesday morning, he had pushed forward to a square in front of the Parliament. “There is no Parliament; there is a group of looters, thieves and dacoits” — bandits — he said in a thundering voice, pointing to the building behind him. “Our lawmakers are the lawbreakers.” The dramatic climax of that speech, however, came not from the preacher himself, but from the marble-walled Supreme Court about 200 yards up the street. As Mr. Qadri spoke, news broke that Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had issued an order for the arrest of the prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf. The report visibly thrilled the crowd, prompting loud cheers and a sense that the promised “revolution” was going their way. It was a typical surprise maneuver from Chief Justice Chaudhry, a mercurial judge with a stubborn streak who, over the past year, has carved out an influential space through aggressive judicial action. A bruising court battle with Mr. Zardari claimed the career of the previous prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, who was forced to resign in June; the chief justice has also called senior generals to account for human rights abuses and election-rigging efforts stretching back two decades. The move against Mr. Ashraf was not entirely unexpected; a corruption case against him, related to his three-year stint as minister for water and power, has been pending for more than a year. But its timing was striking. Speculation that the judge and the preacher acted in concert, perhaps with the backing of powerful generals, has electrified the political firmament. Mr. Qadri, in his speech, impatiently dismissed such a notion: his support came from God, the Prophet Muhammad and the 180 million people of Pakistan, he said. And in the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi, the generals, led by General Kayani, watched and waited. Rumors that they are manipulating events from behind the scene are unproved. But, equally, they have done nothing to help the Zardari government. While Pakistani military rulers once purged their disdain for civilian rule through bloodless coups, the latest breed of generals has chafed under new constraints — the military’s damaged popularity after the humiliating American commando raid in May 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden, sharp scrutiny from an emboldened media, and judicial challenges from Chief Justice Chaudhry’s court. General Kayani, in particular, has stressed that the military’s role in politics is over. But senior generals continue to wield heavy influence behind the scenes — foreign policy is effectively the army’s domain — and contempt for Mr. Zardari’s governance is palpable in military circles. But the opposition challenger Nawaz Sharif, who was himself deposed as prime minister by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 1999, is not much more appealing to the generals. And so there is continuing uncertainty about the military’s commitment to allowing elections to take place within the next four months, as scheduled. The drawing rooms of the political elite have been humming with speculation of a “soft coup” — the imposition of a technocratic government, backed by the generals — for several years. But for now, the army seems content simply to watch as Mr. Qadri takes his “people’s revolution” to the streets of Islamabad, where he has promised an uprising along the lines of the Egyptian revolt in Tahrir Square. “The government is twisting in the wind, and they are just watching it happen,” said Mr. Amir, the opposition politician. The difference with Egypt, of course, is that Pakistan has no dictator to overthrow. And while Mr. Zardari’s government has faced criticism as having governed poorly in many respects, it has made considerable strides in anchoring the country’s democratic structures. Through a series of constitutional amendments, all of them approved by the opposition, Mr. Zardari has gradually devolved power to the provinces, reduced his presidential powers and made the electoral process more transparent. Now, advisers say, he is intent on completing the government’s term in March — the first time in Pakistan’s history that a civilian government would have seen out its five-year term. But first that government must make it through the coming days. The law minister, Farooq Naek, said Tuesday that he would challenge the arrest order against Mr. Ashraf in court on Thursday. But the most potent test could come from Mr. Qadri, whose supporters were bedding down in neat rows of tents in Islamabad on Tuesday night, waiting for the next speech from their leader on Wednesday morning. Having shut down the center of Islamabad, and dominated the news cycle, Mr. Qadri is unlikely to surrender the limelight easily. His well-organized supporters insist they will not budge until their demands are met, and are encouraging other Pakistanis to join them. If that happens, the government may have little option but to break up the protest by force. And it would be at that point that the army, sitting quietly on the fence, would be most likely to step in.