Rattled by the sudden re-emergence of crusading cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, Pakistan's two main political parties -– PPP and PML-N –- have joined hands to deal with his planned protest in Islamabad on January 14 and are speaking in the same voice against him.
Qadri recently returned to Pakistan after living in Canada for seven years and announced he would lead a "long march" from Lahore to Islamabad this month to pressure the Pakistan People's Party-led government to hold consultations with the judiciary and army on forming a caretaker set-up to oversee the upcoming general election.
Former premier Nawaz Sharif, whose PML-N party rules the most populous province of Punjab, chaired a meeting in Lahore today to review the situation arising from Qadri's threat to launch his long march.
"If the participants of Qadri's long march do not take the law into their hands, the Punjab government will allow them to reach their destination," Sharif said.
However, he said the PML-N would block all efforts to derail democracy and elements behind such efforts would not succeed.
Qadri has attracted criticism from several political parties for his demand that the army and judiciary should be consulted for the formation of a caretaker administration.
Many leaders of both the PPP and PML-N have accused him of acting as a front for the powerful security establishment to delay the polls, which are expected to be held in April or May.
The cleric, who heads the Tehrik Minhaj-ul-Quran, has said he is ready to meet President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to discuss the formation of a caretaker set-up but would not take back his call for the long march.
"The world will see another Tahrir Square in Islamabad on January 14," he claimed.
PML-N leaders have been rattled by the support extended to Qadri by parties like Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and PML-Q since he held a massive rally at the Minar-e-Pakistan on December 23.
Both the MQM and PML-Q are members of the PPP-led ruling coalition at the centre.
Senior PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal said it is a "great concern" for his party and all democratic forces that Qadri was demanding "extra-constitutional measures that will only push us backwards".
President Zardari, who heads the PPP, yesterday sent Interior Minister Rehman Malik to London to meet MQM chief Altaf Hussain and to request him not to participate in Qadri's long march.
The PPP and PML-N fear any untoward incident during the protest in Islamabad could lead to a delay in the general election, insiders said.