Pakistan's Protests: Why Opposition Leaders Are Criticizing the Military
6 min read
fairly difficult
Opposition parties have united to call for Imran Khan's resignation—and for the army to stay out of politics.
Why Pakistanis Are Daring to Criticize Their Military

Welcome to Foreign Policy's South Asia Brief.

Today: Pakistan's army chief faces a rare public admonishment, a deadly airstrike hits a school in Afghanistan, Bangladesh passes an economic milestone, and how India is bucking conventional wisdom on clean energy.

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Pakistan's Unusual Protests

Large protests are not uncommon in Pakistan. Just last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan survived large demonstrations calling for his resignation. And throughout Pakistani history, protesters have regularly criticized a variety of administrations. But there's an unwritten rule: Protesters can direct their ire at civilian leaders but should refrain from attacking the all-powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half of its existence.

Last Thursday, something changed in Pakistani politics. Speaking remotely from London to an audience of tens of thousands of people in the Punjabi city of Gujranwala, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not only attacked the current government but also singled out the country's army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

"You rejected the people's choice in the [2018] elections and installed an inefficient and incapable group of people," Sharif said. "General Bajwa, you will have to answer for inflated electricity bills, shortage of medicines, and poor people suffering."

The criticism is extraordinary on several levels. First, no mainstream politician had ever publicly criticized an army chief. Second, the allegations were leveled in front of an audience of tens of thousands. And third, the speech was heard and applauded in Punjab, a traditional military stronghold. Even though the event was not carried on television, video footage of the speech circulated widely on social media.

The protest movement. Sharif's speech was part of a larger event that saw several major opposition parties come…
Ravi Agrawal
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