ISLAMABAD: Still reeling from the blowback of asking the military to step in to alleviate the prevailing political crisis, the government received another jolt on Friday evening when the Inter-Services Public Relations clarified that it was, in fact, the government that had asked Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif to “facilitate” negotiations with the protesting parties — the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).
But even as politicians on both sides traded barbs all day long — each side accusing the other of inviting the army into the fray — military sources said that the army was going to continue in its role as mediator between the government and the protesting parties.
“The army’s role (as mediator) is continuing and it will certainly guarantee the implementation of any agreement that the protesting parties reach with the government,” a source privy to the hectic behind-the-scenes efforts told Dawn on Friday.
ISPR tweet contradicts PM’s claim that govt didn’t initiate contact with military; Nisar maintains govt asked for ‘facilitation’, not ‘mediation’
Explaining the role given to the army by the government, the source said their first target was to restart the stalled dialogue between both sides.
Accordingly, Gen Raheel Sharif met PTI and PAT leaders and underscored the need for resuming negotiations.
The source said that the protesting parties had a deep-rooted mistrust of the government and were not ready to trust them. Therefore, the army would guarantee the implementation of any agreement between the two sides.
On Friday morning, Syed Khursheed Shah, the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, asked ISPR to clarify whether the army had been asked to intercede by the protesting parties.
Maj Gen Asim Bajwa, who heads the military’s media relations wing, tweeted on Friday evening: “COAS was asked by the govt to play facilitative role for resolution of current impasse, in yesterday’s meeting, at PM House.”
Mr Sharif had met the army chief on Thursday and asked him to help resolve the crisis brought on by the PTI and PAT protests in Islamabad. Following the PM’s directions, the army chief held meetings with PTI chief Imran Khan and PAT leader Dr Tahirul Qadri late on Thursday night.
Following their meetings, both leaders told supporters that the army had promised to act as a guarantor and a mediator.
This contradicted the stance taken by the government on the floor of the National Assembly earlier in the day, where Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said: “The army has neither asked for a mediatory role, nor have we requested them to do so.”
However, shortly after the tweet, the government tried to fight back from the awkward position it found itself in after the ISPR statement.
The charge was led by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who based his defence on the claim that the government had asked the military for “facilitation”, not “mediation”.
He accused the PTI and PAT of trying to use the army to further their personal political agenda.
Addressing a press conference, he said that confusion about the army’s role in the dialogue had been created deliberately.
“The government has assigned the army the responsibility of playing a facilitative role and nothing should be construed beyond that,” he remarked, downplaying rumours of a rift between the civilian and military leadership.
He said the armed forces were apolitical and discharged their duties within the ambit of the law. The decision to involve the army was also in line with the constitution, he said, adding that the words ‘mediator’ and ‘guarantor’ were being used to convey an incorrect impression. He said the ISPR statement had been issued in consultation with the government and reflected the government’s point of view.
He maintained that the protesting parties had confidence in the army and had already rejected any mediation through parliament, civil society as well as various administrative and judicial forums for the settlement of the prevailing dispute.
The minister, though, was optimistic that a solution to the crisis could be found through dialogue.
He said that two heads of state had already cancelled visits to Pakistan over the sit-ins. The Chinese president is scheduled to arrive on an important visit next month, a visit that will see energy agreements to the tune of 10,000 megawatts and other pacts in the defence arena. “This has also been conveyed to the army chief,” he said.
Separately, sources from the government side denied Chaudhry Nisar’s claim that the ISPR chief’s statement on Friday night was issued “in consultation” with the government.
Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2014