ISLAMABAD: After initially resisting the military operation in Punjab, the provincial government is now trying to reach an understanding with the army on the issue that at one stage appeared to be disturbing the civil-military equation.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan quietly met Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif at the General Headquarters on Thursday evening. This was the first high-level contact between the military leadership and the civilian government since the army unilaterally went ahead with launching a crackdown on terrorist networks and their infrastructure in the province after Sunday’s bomb attack in a Lahore park.
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The meeting was not made public by either side, but senior civilian and military officers confirm it in their private discussions.
The initial contact was followed up by a visit by a finance ministry team led by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to GHQ on Friday. The visit prima facie was for seeking army’s proposals for the upcoming defence budget but a source, who is keenly following the developments, said that the visit by Mr Dar, a close aide to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was part of the messaging being done by the federal government with the military on the matter.
The government had been deeply upset over the military’s decision to initiate the action in Punjab, without getting a nod. The cancellation of PM Sharif’s visit to Washington for attending the Nuclear Security Summit was said to be for standing in solidarity with the victims of Lahore bombing, but it is widely believed that the premier decided against the trip due to developing situation in Punjab, which is PML-N’s stronghold.
“The meetings on Thursday and Friday between top PML-N leaders and the army chief are important for the continuation of the operations in the province,” the source opined.
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The differences between the government and army on the military-led counter-terrorism operations in Punjab had been continuing for months at least, but they came into limelight at a joint press conference by Information Minister Senator Pervez Rashid and Military Spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa earlier this week where the two openly diverged on the issue of authorisation of the operation.
The information minister was then of the view that initiating such an operation was the purview of the provincial government (Punjab in this case), whereas the military spokesman insisted that operations had begun under an agreement between various stakeholders that action would be taken against all terrorist groups and in all parts of the country, including Punjab.
The source was, however, not clear if the contacts between the military top-brass and political leaders resulted in softening of the Punjab government’s hard line position in this regard. “It is too early to say if these meetings would deliver something concrete,” he maintained.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2016