Protesters have camped out in front of Pakistan’s National Assembly for over two weeks, despite being repeatedly beaten and tear gassed by the police.
Three were killed on a demonstration outside the prime minister’s residence and hundreds have been injured.
The protests continue as monsoon floods have killed over 100 and marooned hundreds of thousands. They bring to a head a long-running dispute over corruption and rigging in the May 2013 general election.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party head Imran Khan and Muslim cleric and leader of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) Tahirul Qadri have been organising mass protests since independence day in August.
The two political rivals have brought around 20,000 into the capital. Protesters swear that they will not give up until prime minster Nawaz Sharif resigns and fresh elections are called.
There is huge anger among the urban and rural poor underlying the protests. But the new middle class also wants a better deal to replace the dominant corruption.
The new government promised that its free market “reforms” were the solution.
It said it would deal with the frequent power cuts that plague households and industry. It said it would generate economic growth, raise living standards, improve health and education.
And it said it would bring peace with the Taliban and tackle crime and violence.
But the power cuts continue, as does the violence and the corruption.
Most people see no improvement, only rampant inflation and job insecurity.
Investors fear instability not just in Pakistan, but also in neighbouring Afghanistan.
There are also potential flashpoints with India’s new hardline prime minister Narendra Modi.
Many see the army leadership and intelligence service’s hand in the unrest, but it denies any involvement.
Yet it has always been a powerful force in Pakistan. The top brass is certainly angry at Nawaz Sharif’s support for the trial of former army head Pervez Musharraf, the coup leader who overthrew Nawaz Sharif fifteen years ago.
The army also wants a tougher line in negotiations with India and stronger backing for its brutal attack on North Waziristan, where they are trying to destroy a key base of the Taliban.
But no one believes that a military coup is the solution, no matter what the US-backed generals are doing.
Neither the generals nor the government has an alternative to the status quo.
The courage and determination of the protestors has to be supported against this.
The opposition leaders both use rhetoric about “a new Pakistan”, “revolution” and “real democracy”.
Khan may well believe that his record as Pakistan’s most successful cricket captain can be transferred to running the country. But sooner or later they will cut a deal and sell out their supporters.
While the war in North Waziristan is only creating more instability, any real change has to come from below. It must have its own leadership that does not rely on unaccountable politicians such as Khan and Qadri.
Earlier this year the northern district Gilgit Baltistan was paralysed for ten days by a “wheel lock” and “shutter down” mass strike.
It overcame sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia, and so succeeded in reversing savage cuts to bread subsidy. Working class solidarity and independent leadership shows the way to win.