Dialogue process in quandary over role of army


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s central government and protesting PTI and PAT leaders on Friday got embroiled into yet another controversy over the ambit of Army’s role to resolve the current political impasse, bringing the latest round of dialogue process to a grinding halt after disagreement on most contentious demand that the incumbent Prime Minister should resign. 
Failure to achieve the desired results prompted PTI Chief Imran Khan to announce protest demos in four cities of the country i.e. Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan.   PAT Chief Dr Qadri, who had earlier chaired his party’s meeting inside his sit-in container, yet again extended his deadline till Saturday after a PTI delegation led by Shah Mahmood Qureshi and KPK Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak requested him to extend the deadline.  Both side joined hands to come up with a joint strategy on Saturday evening as adversaries said this was part of the often mentioned “script” both PAT and PTI are tediously following since August 14 when the twin long marches initiated from Lahore. 
PTI side told the rag-tag yet frustrated PAT crowd to give sometime to the government, in a last ditch effort to force resignation of PM Sharif, as Imran Khan told his workers that if the twin-marchers disperse the ruling regime would back track from their already made promises. The Prime Minister meanwhile left for home town Lahore after chairing a consultative meeting with federal ministers and top aides who advised him to stay put arguing that morale of the march leaders was dwindling amidst strong back channels signals from the military establishment to vacate the sensitive Red Zone, especially Constitution Avenue. Sources said there was a strong opinion in establishment’s circles that in absence of any agreement, the marchers should vacate the present venue and carry out political agitation in any city or town of their liking. The expected mid-September arrival of Chinese President and entourage is also being spelled out as a major reason to bring to life the Constitution Avenue and capital city, blocked by marchers for the last two weeks.
Meanwhile, the sit-in venue got charged as the PAT deadline ended and its workers reportedly got ready to invade the Parliament and adjacent buildings amidst high level preparedness by the Police and civil armed forces who were given strict orders not to use weapons but  baton charge and use tear gas if the protestors enter Parliament or any building. PAT’s strategy to use innocent women and children as human shields remained most debated and criticized point in a cross section of society, especially military circles, as emphasis was laid on finding some way out to stop negative signals and image the PAT crowd is brining for the country internationally.  
The negotiations process got hit by a controversy Friday afternoon as country’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told agitated opposition and ally legislators in the Parliament that he didn’t ask the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif to mediate or become a guarantor of the difficult yet gridlocked negotiation process between him and PTI Chief Imran Khan and PAT Chief Dr Tahirul Qadri. Instead, the Premier clarified that the meeting between COAS and the protest leaders took place following a desire by Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri – both angrily denied Premier’s claim immediately, terming it a face saving effort.  Independent observers and analysts however felt that an under pressure PM had told the half truth amidst fears of losing support of parliamentary forces who had traditionally been wary of military’s involvement in political matters.  Both the march leaders, Imran and Qadri, told media and workers from their sit-in containers Friday afternoon that the Army leadership had in fact invited them for a meeting following a request made by the central government to mediate. Imran limited his claim to “mediation” by Army as he returned after a much desired meeting with the top general late Friday, Dr Qadri however termed Army’s role as of mediator and guarantor as he left for a meeting Thursday night with COAS. He later on claimed that the meeting spanned more than three and a half hours, not confirmed by the military’s side.  The overall claims by the protest leaders, government’s clarification and resultant confusion prompted Army’s official body… ISPR to tweet a statement which said: “COAS was asked by the government to play facilitative role for resolution of current impasse, yesterday’s meeting at PM House.” Top Ministers Ishaq Dar and Ch Nisar Ali Khan meanwhile rushed to Army House for a meeting with Army Chief General Raheel Sharif Friday night in an effort to clarify their position and controversy arising out of PM’s statement in Parliament. They also sought continued support of his good offices to resolve the political impasse. 
 These developments came on the heels of a joint meeting between government, PTI and PAT delegations at a meeting room of Convention Centre. “No agreement was reached today as we termed the demand for Prime Minister or Punjab Chief Minister to resign…PAT’s Model Town FIR technicalities with some adjustments, formation of a three member judicial commission over the incident is agreed…their reform  agenda is a long term matter,” government’s chief negotiator, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar told media after the meeting. A PTI delegation member Jahangir Tareen however dropped a hint regarding fresh proposal forwarded to the PML-N side, but didn’t disclose details. Sources said PTI side could agree to a fresh proposal put forward by back channel intermediaries that revolves around agreeing to a mechanism of investigations into 2013 elections through a new independent body that should not be controlled by PM Sharif. This proposal could end the whole controversy if the government side keeps on refusing resignation of PM or his proceeding on leave.   Meanwhile, the sit-in venue got charged as the PAT deadline ended and its workers reportedly got ready to invade the Parliament, but , prompting PTI to send a delegation led by Shah Mahmood Qureshi and KPK Chief Minister Mr Khattak who requested the PAT to extend the deadline.

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