by Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, Aug. 18 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed to stay in power despite continued protests in capital Islamabad as he accused leaders of two opposition parties of using their supporters to weaken his elected government.
Thousands of opposition activists have staged a sit-in demonstration over the past three days aimed at forcing the resignation of Sharif's government. The protesters charged that Sharif came to power through a "rigged election" last year.
"I will sleep here until Sharif resigns," cricketer-turned political figure Imran Khan told his supporters early Sunday after he spent the night in a container van.
Thousands of Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party or Justice Movement activists spent three nights on roads of Islamabad city and many said that they would stay for as long as their leader wants them to remain in Islamabad.
A religious anti-government leader, Dr Tahir ul Qadri, who heads Pakistan Awami Tehrik, or Peoples Movement, has set a 48- hour deadline for the prime minister to resign and dissolve the government as well as the national parliament.
Qadri, whose supporters have also staged a sit-in in Islamabad, said he intends to launch a "revolution" since according to him the present system has failed to deliver justice to the people.
Sharif, who is confronted with this challenge to his leadership just two years after he assumed power, has rejected calls for his resignation and vowed to deal with the looming threat.
He has already accepted the demand to hold a thorough judicial inquiry into the allegations of the fraud in the 2013 polls. On Sunday, he reiterated his call for a dialogue with the leaders of the protesters.
Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party won last year's elections but Khan has described his mandate as "fake." Khan also has refused to accept a probe by the judicial commission, saying that he could not expect fairness during the rule of Nawaz Sharif.
Despite Khan's protests, almost all other mainstream political parties, including the major opposition Pakistan Peoples' Party, have stayed away from the anti-government protests and described demands for the resignation of the prime minister and dissolution of the assembly as unconstitutional.
Opposition parties are also calling for dialogue between the government and the protesters.
But Khan has so far refused to hold a dialogue with the Sharif government, insisting that he does not recognize the government.
Independent political watchers and legal experts believed that Imran Khan has set a bad precedent by using the streets, and not the parliament, to air his grievances and demands.
Khan's refusal to accept Sharif's proposal for a judicial inquiry into the alleged cheating in last year's election has also drawn negative comments from independent observers and the legal fraternity.
The protests have so far been peaceful and the demonstrators are camped in specific venues. But the fiery speeches of Imran Khan and Qadri have raised concerns about a possible confrontation between the protesters and the law enforcement authorities. The concerns stemmed from a warning by Imran Khan that he may not be able to "control his supporters from moving towards the Prime Minister and Parliament Houses."
The government is now in a bind and may have to use force to prevent Khan and his supporters from pushing through with their threat to cross the police blockade and enter the "Red Zone" where most of the diplomatic missions and important government buildings are located.
Interior Minister Chuadhry Nisar Ali Khan has issued a warning against any attempt by the protesters to move towards the sensitive areas. He told a news conference that the two opposition leaders had assured the authorities that protesters will not cross the specific areas as such moves would have to be dealt with by security forces to maintain peace and order.
The government has deployed nearly 30,000 security personnel to ensure peace as any confrontation could worsen the security situation in the country at a time when Pakistan needs unity and peaceful political environment to deal with the serious challenges of terrorism, worst energy crisis and a fragile economy.