Pakistan’s powerful army on Friday stepped into the political crisis by talking to two protesting organisations but delivered a snub to the beleaguered government which had claimed that it had not sought military’s mediation.
Army Chief General Raheel Sharif talked to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in the presence of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar.
It was agreed that army negotiators will have backdoor interactions with both sides and prepare the ground for an agreement between the two sides, sources said.
Hours after Gen Sharif’s mediation, the protesters and the government were trading charges on who was responsible for army’s mediation.
Prime Minister Sharif told the National Assembly today that “neither had I asked army nor the armed forces sought a role in the present political crisis.”
Sharif sought to scotch media reports that it was he who had “requested” the army to come to his rescue, saying that he approved the military chief’s meeting with the two opposition leaders after they had requested it. Both Qadri and Khan contested Sharif’s statement.
Contradicting Sharif’s statement, military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa tweeted, “COAS (Chief of Army Staff) was asked by the Govt to play facilitative role for resolution of current impasse, in yesterday’s meeting, at PM House.”
In a bid to save face, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar claimed that it was the Prime Minister who had approved army’s role.
“The statement released by the ISPR first came to me,” Nisar said, adding that he showed the statement to the Prime Minister who also approved it.
“ISPR’s statement is echoing the government’s view,” he said.
Explaining the government’s decision of engaging the army, he said “We asked who the protesting parties trusted to which they said they trusted the army…on this the government gave the army the responsibility to facilitate the process within the constitutional and legal ambit.”
Amid the contradictory statements, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and protesting parties — Khan-led PTI and Qadri’s PAT — returned to the negotiating table and held talks here.
However, the talks did not make any headway in resolving the crisis, with PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying, “We (PTI) have come with a positive approach, however the government has not said anything new.”
Qureshi lamented that the deadlock on negotiations is prevailing and said talks will not move forward due to the “trust deficit”.
Responding to Sharif’s statement on protest leaders requesting the army to intervene, an angry PAT chief Qadri shot back, “I say this categorically that the Prime Minister asked the army to intervene. I am saying, on the record, that we did not make any request asking the army to intervene.”
“I had not even spoken to the army chief before our meeting continued…