Political tensions in Pakistan rose on Monday with opposition leader Nawaz Sharif openly asking people to come to the streets and the government warning the former prime minister that his anti-government speeches amounted to sedition.
Ahead of a planned anti-government rally by his supporters and lawyers, Sharif stepped up his offensive against President Asif Ali Zardari and asked policemen at a charged rally in Jhelum not to abide by any illegal and unconstitutional orders of the government.
Sharif exhorted the people to get ready for offering sacrifices for a "revolution" in the country. Shortly after Sharif's tirade, Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik in a televised press conference in Islamabad said "inciting people for disobedience is sedition. ... It could get life imprisonment and a fine."
Malik, however, said the government had "no intention" of arresting Sharif but suggested it had the grounds to do so. He also read out extracts from several speeches he said were made by Sharif in recent weeks.
The PML-N rally is due to be held in Islamabad on March 16 and this will be preceded by a 'long march' starting from Lahore on March 12. A potential confrontation between Sharif and the Government also loomed with Malik saying the protesters would not be allowed to rally in front of the parliament building or other downtown areas as planned.
Malik said that government may allow the PML-N rally if it was held in a park on the outskirts of Islamabad. Referring to Sharif's attack against the government following the Supreme Court order banning Sharif and his brother and former Punjab chief minister Shabaz from contesting elections, Malik urged him to negotiate with the government for a solution to the crisis.
Sharif also came under severe criticism from another Federal Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf who said that the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party has been showing restraint to avoid a confrontation with the PML-N but "from now on it will be just tit-for-tat... the PPP and PML-N will be two political entities and on two different paths.Let me make it clear that the PPP cannot be presssed with threats like long marches and sit-ins... Politics should be done in a political way. They negate everything-- judiciary, parliament and president--instigating people for civil disobedience and rebellion. Does it behove a politician?," he said.
At the Jhelum rally, Sharif said the time had come for people to come on streeets to "change their destiny". He said people are facing a grim situation because they had not learnt to rise up against the system.