ISLAMABAD: The army has refused to mediate between the government and the protesting parties to defuse the political crisis and has instead asked both sides to work for a settlement on their own.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali met Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif for the fourth time in eight days on Wednesday. They were told to directly engage the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in a “meaningful dialogue” and find out an “urgent solution”.
Gen Sharif asked the government to demonstrate “seriousness” in opening talks with the protesters.
A source privy to the discussions between the government and the army chief said the civilian leadership, besides seeking help for security, had been asking for assistance in negotiating a settlement.
The PML-N had in the past been a staunch opponent of military involvement in political issues.
The source said that the message delivered to the government in the meetings was that the army had no intention of intervening in the political conflict.
“Gen Sharif sees it as a political issue which needs to be expeditiously addressed in a political way,” he said.
The best the government could get from the military through the contacts was a statement that both sides should “break prevailing impasse through meaningful dialogue in larger national and public interest”.
The feeling emerging out of the GHQ to some extent helped in dispelling an impression created by the government that the armed forces had sided with it in the dispute.
It is said to have compelled both sides to at least begin direct parleys, though they stuck to their guns in the preliminary rounds they had on Wednesday.
PTI chief Imran Khan, who announced his party’s decision to start negotiations with the government, said in a television interview that the army wanted them to negotiate, “but it does not mean that I’ll strike an under-hand deal”.
But the army’s insistence on an “urgent settlement” would put additional pressure on the government.
At the same time, the military’s description of ‘Red Zone’ buildings as “symbols of the state which are being protected by the army” has set the red line for the protesters.
Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2014