The violent anti-government protests in Pakistan have raised serious concerns about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's efforts to effectively deal with a host of serious internal challenges that include fighting the dreaded militants in their last sanctuary, worst energy crisis, and a fragile economy.
The protests are also seen as a setback to Sharif's serious efforts to improve relations with uneasy neighbors, India and Afghanistan, as deterioration in relations with these two countries has increased tensions along the borders.
Protests by Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party and religious scholar Tahir ul Qadri have disrupted normal life in Pakistan with a negative impact on the economy at a time when stability is required to counter terrorism as well as other internal and external challenges.
The PTI party of Imran Khan is demanding resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif since, according to him, last year's parliamentary elections were rigged, a claim that has been categorically denied by the country's election panel. Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PM-N) party had won the elections and on that basis, he formed the government in the center with the support of other political parties.
Qadri, whose several thousand of supporters have camped in Islamabad to "start a revolution", has insisted that the present system does not ensure justice to the common people.
Independent economic experts are saying that the protests could hamper the government's efforts to revive the economy and resolve the energy shortage which has badly affected economic activities. The new government has signed agreements with foreign companies to produce huge amount of electricity to overcome the energy shortfall.
The country has suffered billions of rupees in losses due to the protests that have been going on for the past two weeks. Recession had been seen in the Karachi Stock Exchange while the rupee has been devalued by nearly four percent and prices of some essential items have gone up.
The government said that because of the protests two foreign heads of government, who were scheduled to visit Pakistan in August, have postponed visits. Sharif was also forced to cancel his scheduled visit to Turkey to attend inauguration of the newly- elected Turkish President.
The protests have completely diverted attention of the people from all other important issues and have overshadowed the ongoing military operation against the Taliban in North Waziristan and the plight of nearly one million of people uprooted as the result of the offensive.
Many in Pakistan are surprised at the timing of protests as the Prime Minister has not yet completed even second year of his five- year constitutional term. However, all the major political parties in the parliament have stayed away from the protests and opposed any unconstitutional move to destabilize the elected government.
Khan, whose PTI party has representation in the national parliament and rules the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has been under fire for resorting to the unconstitutional way of destabilizing the current government since August 14 when he orchestrated the protest.
But Khan, despite his angry rhetoric, has failed to muster the support of the common people. His call for a civil disobedience has practically been ignored.
Analysts here are saying that because of the lack of popular support, Khan should reconsider his aggressive posture against the government.
In fact, there are reports of a rift in Khan's own party after PTI President Javed Hashmi disclosed on Sunday that Khan had promised party leaders that they will not march to the Prime Minister's residence but changed his mind later after he received a mysterious phone call.
Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehrik does not have representation in the parliament. His political party has no significant influence among the people; however, his religious outfit "Minhaj-ul-Quran," which runs hundreds of Islamic schools across Pakistan, has produced thousands of his supporters and are now part of the protest.
Prime Minister Sharif has accepted Khan's demand to carry out a thorough judicial investigation by three top judges. However, Imran Khan has refused to accept the judicial inquiry unless the Prime Minister quits.
Khan has been further isolated after Pakistan's National Assembly and Senate unanimously adopted resolution rejecting calls for Sharif to resign and expressing support for the present government.
Majority in Pakistan have completely disagreed with Khan's protest movement, saying that it will not only be disastrous for the country but also to his own political future.