Thousands are currently marching on the capital of Pakistan as a foreign remake of a “Ferguson moment” when protesters violently clash with police could be in the offing.

Pakistan Imran khan red zone

Anti-government protestors claiming Pakistan’s elections were rigged

The protesters, supporting opposition candidate Imran Khan and anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, are claiming the recent election in the country was rigged and are demanding Pakistan’s ruler, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, step down over fraud allegations.

Sharif has refused to step down and instead brought 700 troops into Islamabad’s “Red Zone,” a highly secure area in the country’s capital that includes official government buildings, the homes of government officials such as the president, and diplomatic posts, according to press reports. Nawaz Sharif was himself overthrown in the 1999 coup that ushered in former army chief Pervez Musharraf to power.  He has been meeting with top advisers over potential plans to declare martial law ahead of the protests, a rarely used article in the constitution.

The troops are re-enforced by 30,000 soldiers stationed in the immediate area.  Government forces will meet an oncoming group of protesters armed with cranes and other pieces of equipment designed to dismantle government Red Zone barricades, which could lead to lethal force, observers note.

Pakitan red zone

Imran Khan encouraging his followers to turn the outside of the parliament into Tahrir Square

Protest leader Khan encouraged his followers to make a “Tahrir Square” outside the parliament, referencing the mass protests in Egypt in 2011 that led to a hard line Islamism regime taking control.  Pakistan is a nuclear power and concerns among US officials have been voiced both publically and privately that the country and its nuclear bounty falling into the wrong hands could be catastrophic.

The protests come as the Pakistani military is reported to be fighting a major operation against local and foreign militants in the infamous North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan.  The government claims to have carried our multiple airstrikes Tuesday in the Khyber and North Waziristan tribal region that killed 48 militants.  It is unknown if the protests are either linked publicly or privately to the action against the Islamic rebels in the region, best known for its lawlessness and being a favored hiding place for terrorists fighting against US interests.