ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif on Tuesday agreed to resolve the prevailing crisis “in the best national interest”.
Prime Minister Nawaz met the army chief on Tuesday as a political deadlock over mass protests to demand the government’s resignation showed no signs of resolution. Nawaz’s press office said army chief Raheel Sharif and the prime minister discussed the protests and agreed to resolve the issue “expeditiously in the best national interest”. The meeting was one of many the two leaders have held in recent weeks over the impasse, said a senior source at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
“They are discussing solutions,” said the official, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to talk to reporters. “This situation is very alarming for the army. We are dealing with mobs. What if things get violent?” The army’s media wing ISPR declined official comment. Protesters led by Imran Khan and firebrand cleric Tahirul Qadri have vowed to occupy the capital, Islamabad, until Nawaz resigns - a demand the premier has firmly rejected.
Thousands of protesters are now camped out in the heart of Islamabad - the so-called “Red Zone” - but the gathering has a festival-like atmosphere. Security forces protecting nearby installations have not used force to disperse the crowds. Whether the protests fizzle out or take a more violent course ultimately depends on the stance taken by the military. “No one wants to take any steps that would make the situation worse,” the military source said.
The government fears that if the agitation turns violent, the army could exploit the situation to seize power. “It is unlikely,” said a military source. “But if events overtake ... one can’t say,” he said. “We should all work to avoid extreme possibilities.” Sources said the army chief and the prime minister discussed a possible solution to end the present political impasse as a result of the sit-ins by PTI and PAT leaderships on the Constitution Avenue. The crucial meeting was held as the PTI and PAT sit-ins enter their crucial phase, with both Imran Khan and Qadri sticking to their demand of resignations of PM Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Till date there has been no breakthrough in the government-PAT negotiations despite resolve of both the sides to continue with the stalled dialogue process. But a similar dialogue process initiated by the government-nominated committee and PTI had completed its three rounds. The government has agreed to five demands of PTI.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered protest leaders and the government to find a compromise solution so that the “Red Zone” - home to parliament, the prime minister’s home, embassies and government offices - could be cleared by the following day. But protesters defied the court’s orders and stayed put for the 13th day on Tuesday, scattering the area with garbage as a putrid smell of human waste and rubbish hung in the air.
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