ISLAMABAD: The long siege of the red zone by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek neared its end because the ‘umpire’ finally looked up and called time out.
And all the players stopped their games immediately.
At two in the night, PTI Chairman Imran Khan told his followers after his meeting with Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif that he had told the army chief that he was still adamant that the prime minister resign.
He did however add that the army chief had assured him that the army would ensure a transparent and fair investigation of the election rigging.
He told the cheering crowds that if the prime minister resigned by Friday afternoon, he and his party would return to D-Chowk for celebrations.
• An intransigent government turns to the army for help, after having declaimed the supremacy of parliament
• Revolutionaries stop mid-speech at message from the military
• Army promises to ensure a fair investigation into election rigging
But this announcement came after a long, tense day, in which politicians ran back and forth trying to convince the three intransigent players — the two protesting leaders and a stubborn government — and rumours of an impending clash in the red zone kept Islamabad on edge, it seemed as if there was little hope of any reconciliation and agreement.
An intransigent government
By the afternoon it seemed the government had dug in its heels and was not willing to concede anything beyond an FIR for the deaths of the PAT workers who died in Model Town, Lahore.
This much was announced by Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique during the National Assembly session.
He then, along with Defence Minister Khwaja Asif, Zahid Hamid and Information Minister Pervez Rashid spoke to the press explaining their efforts to reach out to the protesters.
Mr Hamid and Mr Rashid stood quietly as the other two dominated the mikes.
Mr Rafique said that “We have even agreed to register a fake FIR against ourselves.”
He and Mr Asif claimed that they had accepted five out of six demands by the PTI but could not allow the prime minister to resign.
They added that the deadlock with Mr Qadri occurred because the cleric said that after the government registered an FIR and made the chief minister resign, he would give simply another 24 hours to negotiate the rest of his conditions.
This was all the government provided in terms of information to the citizens apart from the reports later from Lahore that the FIR was being registered.
A hapless opposition
The Jamaat-i-Islami made another effort to reach out when Sirajul Haq and PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira went together to meet Mr Khan but to no avail even though the indefatigable JI chief kept his hopes up.
He said that the PAT and PTI leadership deserved praise for having achieved 90 per cent of their demands peacefully, adding that “I hope the remaining issues will also be resolved in accordance with the constitution and the law.”
Mr Kaira too praised the two parties and their commitment and efforts. However, they had little else to report in terms of progress. But the real progress was being made elsewhere and quietly.
Earlier in the day it had been reported that the prime minister had met the army chief, a meeting which even at normal times is prioritised by news channels – on Thursday afternoon, it was enough to send the electronic media into a tizzy.
The news of the meeting was soon followed by the information that the government had asked the army chief to play a “positive” role.
Following the third meeting between the prime minister and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif in nine days, the government spokesman said: “The two had agreed to take necessary steps to resume the dialogue.”
But before long, the capitulation of the political class was made public.
The revolution stops short
“Sources” claimed that the military was going to play a role in dispute resolution after the government’s request but the final confirmation came from the two protagonists atop the revolution and azadi containers.
As the breaking news about mediation was still being played out on the television screens, Dr Tahirul Qadri began his speech, which he had promised the night before.
Thundering on about how he refused to accept the FIR that the government had registered, he was told in his ear about a phone call by an aide.
His tone softened there and then; the doctor-cleric stopped short in his tracks, reiterated his ten demands and then called a break for prayers.
The break did not end till after 9.30 when he returned to disclose the army’s offer, which he pretended to accept after the crowd’s aye vote.
A little later, Mr Khan, who was droning on about his efforts to build hospitals, colleges and the Pakistanis he had met at international airports, too stopped mid-way.
Telling his excited crowds that he had to leave them for a short while, he assured them that victory was near.
It was quite clear by then that the political class had officially recognised the real power centre.
This was brought home by the visuals of Mr Khan driving off in a four-wheeler for a meeting with the army chief. Driven by his right hand man during this crisis, Jahangir Tareen, who has served under General Pervez Musharraf, Mr Khan had a wide smile on his face.
He clearly saw it as his moment of triumph; the dark criticism that was pouring in from all sides on the politicians in general for failing to resolve their issues themselves and turning to the military had clearly not reached him.
Director General ISPR Asim Bajwa tweeted that “Army Chief will meet PTI Chairman Imran Khan and Chairman PAT Allama Tahirul Qadri tonight.”
This confirmed the news running on channels that Mr Khan had rushed to meet the army chief.
According to the military, the COAS first met Mr Khan and then Dr Qadri for around half an hour each.
From the government, there was only silence on Thursday night.
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2014