Pakistan’s Army itching to get into driving seat, calls for dialogue

840494-111101-imran-khanThe ongoing anti-government protests in Pakistan seems to have set the stage for Pakistan’s powerful army to enter the political drama unfolding on the streets of Islamabad.

In its first public reactions to the ongoing crisis, Pakistan’s army has called for a dialogue between the government and the anti-government protesters led by Imran Khan, the former cricket star who leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, and popular preacher Tahir-ul-Qadri.

“Situation requires patience, wisdom and sagacity from all stakeholders to resolve prevailing impasse through meaningful dialogue in larger national and public interest,” said military spokesperson Major General Asim Bajwa August 20. He also called for “meaningful dialogue in larger national and public interest to resolve the prevailing impasse”.

The anti-government protesters have alleged that the 2013 general election was rigged and contended that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must resign.

“Nawaz Sharif, I will wait for your resignation until tomorrow evening and after that, we will enter inside the prime minister’s house,” said Khan in an ultimatum to the prime minister on August 19.

Earlier, the government had warned protesters against entering the Islamabad’s “red zone”, which houses key buildings including Parliament, the prime minister’s house and numerous Western embassies.

Unfazed, Khan and Qadri defied the call, and along with thousands of their supporters, entered the high-security red zone after tearing down barricades. They have vowed to stage a massive sit-in in front of the Parliament, but cautioned supporters against using violence or trying to enter the Parliament.

The turmoil has cornered the government and forced it to turn to the army in a bid to increase security presence. This decision to enhance troop deployment was taken at a meeting chaired by Sharif and attended by army Chief General Raheel Sharif.

Some experts believe that involving the army may save Sharif his position, but it would compromise his influence. He will now have to share political space with the army, and give up bargaining power on issues he preferred to tackle his way, including Pakistan’s battle against the Taliban. Some reports have suggested that the army has assured Prime Minister Sharif that there will be no coup provided he shares space with the army – a euphemism which is widely interpreted as the military reasserting its control over the country’s military and security policy.

What it means for India 

India is closely watching the festering political turmoil in Pakistan. With the position of Pakistan’s prime minister coming under assault by latest bout of protests, the Indian government is doubtful about the prospects of carrying on any meaningful dialogue with Islamabad under the current dispensation. The meeting of Pakistan’s high commissioner with Kashmiri separatist leaders has been officially cited as the prime reason by New Delhi for cancelling the foreign secretary-level talks, which were scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad. However, some Pakistan-watchers feel that the political flux in Pakistan was another reason that influenced New Delhi’s decision to call off the talks as there was widespread scepticism about the viability of carrying on any result-oriented dialogue with a weakened civilian regime in Islamabad.

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