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Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Ashraf’s arrest over strong suspicions of corruption came as a large demonstration in Islamabad was raising tensions over a possibly upcoming power struggle.
Minhaj-ul-Quran International, a non-governmental organisation, had organised a march on the capital, starting from Lahore, 400 kilometres away, on Sunday, though it failed to rally the number it had hoped for.
An unexpected development is the appearance of self-proclaimed revolutionary leader Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri.
Till December, the 61-year-old had been living in Canada for six years.
This leaves experts raising questions.
Analyst Harry Sultan said: “This particular person has come out of oblivion, from somewhere he was totally unknown and implanted in the political arena of Pakistan at a very convenient time. So, it is confusing most analysts: what is his real purpose? Who is really behind him? And what are his motivations? And what will be the achievement of this protest?”
Speculation about the Sufi scholar-cleric has touched on whether Pakistan’s powerful military or even the US may be backing him.
He has called vigorously to clean up government.
Sultan said: “Some international powers may be funding him for this. Otherwise it is not possible.”
Qadri says elections scheduled for this spring should be delayed indefinitely until Pakistan’s endemic corruption is rooted out.
His reform drive is the latest in a series of challenges for the US-backed administration.
The elections, if they proceed on time, could cement Pakistan’s transition from military rule by marking the first time a civilian-led government has completed a five-year term and handed over power at the ballot box.
Qadri’s surge came as tens of thousands of Pakistani Shiite Muslims began burying the nearly 100 victims of one of the worst sectarian bombing attacks in the country’s history last Thursday.
They demanded better protection.
The government is also struggling with Taliban insurgents near the border with Afghanistan.