Pakistan’s powerful military, on Sunday, expressed serious concern over the prevailing political turmoil in the country with the government of embattled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif locked in a showdown with protesters. The Corps Commanders’ conference of the top military brass was held at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif presided over the meeting.
In a terse statement, the military showed support for democracy but also expressed displeasure over Saturday night’s violence. “While reaffirming support to democracy, the conference reviewed with serious concern, the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken, resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives,” the military said. It also warned that “further use of force will only aggravate the problem”.
The generals, who have ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history since independence from Britain in 1947, said that the “situation should be resolved politically without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means”. While trying to stay neutral in the current campaign against Premier Sharif led by protest leaders Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri, the army said it “remains committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state and will never fall short of meeting national aspirations”.
The key meeting which was rescheduled and advanced from Monday to Sunday sent a clear message to the political leadership that the army was with “democracy” and the “state of Pakistan” and not with a particular individual. The army has indicated that it will not intervene to save Prime Minister Sharif who is fighting a bitter battle against two tough opponents.
The tone of the statement does not endorse the handling of political crisis by the prime minister and especially the use of force which resulted in injuries to over 500 people. There is veiled warning against the blatant use of force by the police as it could “aggravate the problem”.
The statement is in fact a carefully worded assertion of policy which leaves open the option of intervention by the army if the situation gets out of control. But if such an intervention happens, it will only be to save “democracy”. Khan and Qadri have been agitating since August 14 outside Parliament with thousands of supporters, demanding Sharif’s ouster. Khan alleges that last year’s general election which brought Sharif to power was rigged.