ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the country’s powerful army chief agreed Tuesday, August 26, on the need to “expeditiously” end a political crisis triggered by protests aimed at unseating the government.
A statement from Sharif’s office said General Raheel Sharif called on the PM at his official residence in Islamabad’s government district known as the red zone.
Thousands of demonstrators led by opposition politician Imran Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri have camped out in the zone since August 15, demanding Sharif resign.
Khan claims last year’s general election which swept Sharif to power in a landslide was rigged, though international observers said it was largely fair.
The crisis has rattled Sharif’s government 15 months into a five-year term and prompted rumors the army may intervene to resolve matters – and in doing so effectively put the elected government under its thumb.
Pakistan has been ruled by the military for more than half its 67-year history and the armed forces still have strong influence.
General Sharif and the prime minister – the two are not related – met and discussed the “overall security environment including the prevailing situation” on Tuesday, the statement said.
“There was a consensus on the need to resolve the ongoing issue expeditiously in the best national interest,” it said.
The protests have so far been peaceful, with security forces – deployed in huge numbers in the capital – taking a stand-off approach to the demonstrations.
The only public statement from the military so far came in the early hours of August 20, shortly after Khan threatened to storm the PM’s residence.
Then the army’s chief spokesman urged “patience, wisdom and sagacity” to find a solution through dialogue.
Efforts to find a negotiated end to the crisis have made little headway, with Khan sticking to his hardline demand that Sharif must quit.
The government says the prime minister will not resign and accuses Khan and Qadri of undermining Pakistan’s fragile democracy.
It also says the protests are an unnecessary distraction at a time when Pakistan is battling homegrown Taliban militants in the northwest and struggling to get its economy on track.
The rupee has lost more than 4% against the dollar in the past fortnight as the crisis has rumbled on, with analysts warning that gains made thanks to an International Monetary Fund bailout could be under threat.
Neither protest movement has mobilized mass support beyond their core followers, and opposition parties have shunned Khan’s call to unseat the government and begin a campaign of civil disobedience. – Rappler.com