ISLAMABAD - Clashes between opposition activists and Pakistan's police intensified in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital on Sunday, casting an increasing shadow over the embattled government of Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister of the nuclear armed south Asian country.
Three people have been killed and nearly 400 wounded in the violence so far, reports the Associated Press.
The clashes that broke out late Saturday night were sparked by supporters of Imran Khan, the charismatic former captain of Pakistan's national cricket team turned politician, and Tahirul Qadri, a moderate Islamic scholar with large following. Both men had ordered thousands of followers to march towards Sharif's official residence.
The latest developments came more than two weeks after Khan and Qadri led thousands of followers to Islamabad, seeking Sharif's resignation. Khan claims widespread fraud in elections of May 2013 which brought Sharif to power, while Qadri is seeking widespread reforms in the election process to allow middle and low income Pakistanis to enter politics.
"These protests will not end even if the police takes charge of Islamabad for the moment," said one senior western diplomat in Islamabad who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity. "The protestors will keep on coming back and this will continue to haunt the prime minister" he added.
Pakistan's local news channels on Sunday also reported overnight clashes in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city and the country's political heartland, between protestors and the police.
The protests have come at a potentially difficult time for U.S. interests in the region, notably an uncertain future for Afghanistan which borders Pakistan. More than a decade after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Obama administration is in the process of withdrawing U.S. troops from that country.
The bulk of U.S. military hardware and troops in Afghanistan are expected to leave via Pakistan - the country which holds the shortest land route from Afghanistan to an international seaport at Karachi, Pakistan's southern port city.
"Worsening security conditions in Pakistan could jeopardize U.S. plans for an orderly return from Afghanistan,"" said the western diplomat. The alternative route, said the diplomat, will involve a "significantly longer journey" for U.S.-led Western troops in Afghanistan, via the former Soviet republics in central Asia which border northern Afghanistan.
The continuing political crisis for Sharif has also prompted growing anxieties over the return of Pakistan's military to rule the country. During Pakistan's 67-year post-independence political history, the country has been ruled by the army for roughly half of that time. In the days leading up to Sunday's protests, politicians loyal to Sharif, the prime minister, have privately accused army chief General Raheel Sharif of backing the protests. The two Sharifs are not related.
However, both Khan and Qadri have strongly rebutted the allegations and have said their demonstrations are purely inspired by a civilian opposition to Prime Minister Sharif's rule.