Pakistan Army Gets Sharif, Khan and Qadri to the Table
Supporters of Tahir-ul-Qadri gather in front of the Parliament
NEW DELHI: After days of political impasse, with Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), have begun negotiations with the Nawaz Sharif government.
Although both parties, who have led rallies into Islamabad, reaching the “red-zone” on Wednesday, continue to call for the Pakistani Prime Minister’s resignation, pressure from the army has forced the commencement of a dialogue process with the government.
PTI’s “Azadi” March and PAT’s “Inquilab” March, that commenced on Pakistan’s Independence Day 14 August, were called in response to allegations of corruption, including a rigged election, the propelled Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) to power.
On Wednesday, the rallies reached Islamabad’s “red zone,” resulting in a sit-in with Khan giving Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif till Wednesday to step down, vowing to storm the PM’s house if he fails to do so. "If Nawaz Sharif does not resign then we will enter into the PM House," said a committed Khan. Khan, whose party came in third in the elections, has maintained that the process was rigged. On Monday, Khan announced that the PTI would resign from all seats in the National Assembly and all provincial assemblies, barring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which the PTI controls.
Qadri, who has long called for revolution, was based in Canada before he flew back to Pakistan in June -- with the government diverting his flight to Lahore to prevent him from landing in Islamabad. Qadri has presented a list of 15 demands, which calls for the resignation of the provincial and and federal assemblies and for the Sharif brothers to be arrested. Qadri, too, gave the government 48 hours to implement his demands.
With the impasse continuing, and the government showing no sign of agreeing to step down, the army asked both sides to resolve the crisis through discussion.
The United States issued a strong statement condemning Khan and Qadri’s actions, saying extra-constitutional transfer of power in Pakistan is unacceptable, and that those “attempting to impose these changes” should refrain from doing so. “Nawaz Sharif was elected and is prime minister. There is a government that was elected and is in place,” Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokesperson, said, adding ““We support the constitutional and electoral process in Pakistan...That was a process they followed, an election they had, and we are focused on working with Pakistan… And we do not support any extra-constitutional changes to that democratic system or the people attempting to impose them.”
Although the Sharif government had not moved to stop the marches, its actions demonstrated that it took the challenge seriously. This would explain the ban on gatherings, the impounding of vehicles, the closing of petrol stations and the deployment of troops to Islamabad. Ironically however, Sharif’s decision to deploy the army has given his critics more fodder, seemingly indicating that Pakistan’s civilian administration is still heavily reliant on the country’s military, which has ruled Pakistan through a series of coups, for protection.