ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s power military on Thursday agreed to mediate and become guarantor of an expected give-and-take deal after a formal yet surprise request by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to army chief General Raheel Sharif to help with a deadlocked negotiation process between his government, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).
Supporters of the effort immediately hailed the move by the under-pressure PML-N government, as critics termed it another form of National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) struck between the PPP led by its slain leader Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and the then military ruler General (r) Pervez Musharraf. And very similar to a military chief-brokered deal between the PPP government and PML-N-lawyers long march in year 2009. But friends of foes of the incumbent regime in power, however, agreed by involving the country’s powerful army in the political battle.
The PML-N regime has weakened its authority considerably and would probably have to follow the guidelines of country’s powerful military establishment. The development is all set to settle the 15-day-long political impasse since the PTI and PAT started a long march towards the capital, Islamabad, from the provincial capital of Lahore on August 14, threatening to throw out the incumbent PML-N government or de-seat Premier Nawaz Sharif over the 2013 elections fraud allegations.
The new political deal is expected to materialise through back-channel negotiations during the next 24 hours after the twin sit-ins at the Constitution Avenue entered a critical phase in the wake of deadlines given by both PTI, and especially PAT leaders, and authorities feared violence and anarchy as a result. ISPR’s official Twitter account confirmed the direct role to be played by the COAS in the whole affair, stating that the army chief would hold a meeting with PTI chief Imran Khan and PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri.
Imran Khan left his sit-in venue for a secret meeting with the top general around 11pm in the night after a short speech he made to his jubilant crowd, telling categorically that he was postponing his final call for 24 hours after a message from army chief to immediately engage in the dialogue process. Sources said Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan was also present in the meeting which continued till the filing of this report midnight on Thursday.
DG ISI Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam was also present in the meeting. Earlier, Imran seemed so overwhelmed by the situation, which informed circles said was developed to give him, PAT and the government a much-needed face-saving from the crisis at hand, that he announced the negotiations process had actually begun at some undisclosed location. Sources said the back-channel negotiations would, however, be brokered by a high ranking uniformed representative of the army chief and a written agreement would be inked through the help of legal experts after obtaining consent of the PML-N regime, PTI and PAT top leaders.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is all set to retain his slot through the proposed agreement which would bind the three parties to the conflict, with the outcome of the proposed Supreme Court Commission that would investigate allegations of fraud into the 2013 elections. Reduction in government tenure from a five-year term to four year, or a fresh elections followed by dissolution of the current assemblies if the last elections are found fraudulent, and rest of the details agreed between the PTI and government committees regarding election reforms would be part of the agreement. “The major negotiating thing will, however, be PAT and PTI demands that Punjab chief minister should resign or step aside till investigations into the Model Town killings are completed,” an official said.
It all happened after a meeting between army chief General Raheel Sharif and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday in Islamabad. “It was agreed to take necessary measures for resumption of stalled process of negotiations for an expeditious resolution in the best national interest,” a statement by the PM House said after the meeting. Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, however, made it crystal clear, after a meeting chaired by PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore and attended by top PML-N leaders including Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, that the army chief had agreed to play a positive role to bring the PML-N government, PTI, PAT and march leaders to a negotiating table to end the political impasse that had engulfed the country since August 14.
“Army chief acceded to our request and agreed to play a positive role to end the political crisis,” Nisar told media after the Lahore meeting of the PML-N leaders and government high ups. Earlier in the day the PML-N government ordered registration of an FIR against 21 people, including the prime minister, Punjab chief minister, federal and provincial ministers, and others as demanded by the PAT leadership. Qadri, however, rejected contents of the FIR, saying the anti-terrorism clauses were not added against the PM and CM.
Qadri warned of possible backlash if his lengthy list of demands that included resignations of PM and Punjab CM, dissolution of assemblies and caretaker government were not materialised. But Qadri was quick to adjust within two three hours with the ground realities as he came out of his container to tell his supporters that the army would now broker a deal between the PAT, PTI and Sharif government. He sought consent of the marchers and thousands of sit-in participants to formally enter the said dialogue process to be guaranteed by the Army leadership. Qadri also met army chief General Raheel Sharif at the Army House after Imran’s meeting.
PAT and PTI on Wednesday midnight announced that their separate negotiations with the federal government have ended in a failure following refusal of the PML-N regime to come to terms with their set of demands. Qadri announced “Youm-e-Inqilab” on Thursday in his late-night address to his supporters, wile PTI chief Imran Khan told his workers and followers to continue with his peaceful struggle at the sit-in venue of the Constitution Avenue. But Qadri created chaos and scare in the capital as he indirectly warned of a looming military intervention, and asked workers to get ready for sacrifice and martyrdom on Thursday.
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