LAHORE: The unusual decision to deploy the army in the Pakistani capital Islamabad is just the latest step in a two-month-old military campaign against the Taliban. That, at least, is how Nawaz Sharif’s government tells it, Financial Times reported.
Senior members of the government say the move is designed to block reprisals for army attacks against the Taliban in the North Waziristan area along the Afghan border – a zone described by western officials as the centre of terrorism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. According to Mr Sharif’s opponents, however, the decision to hand the army control of the capital for three months is really a ploy to block an anti-government protest in Islamabad planned for August 14, Pakistan’s independence day, led by Imran Khan, the cricket star turned politician. Whichever version is correct, many Pakistanis are interpreting the move as a sign that Mr Sharif is nervous about his hold on power only a year after his Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) triumphed in a general election and made him prime minister for the third time.
Mpreover, Mr Sharif risks handing an expanded role in policy making to the generals who have ruled Pakistan for almost half of its 67 years of existence as an independent state.
“What you are seeing effectively is the government conceding that their survival depends on the military’s support. This decision will be widely seen as a total failure of the government,” says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a commentator on national security and politics.
“The average Pakistani sees this decision as an act of panic because things are looking so bad.”
Farhatullah Babar, a leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s party (PPP) warns that “the decision is pregnant with serious consequences for the people and the country as it means not only failure of the civil administration but also total suspension of the jurisdiction of the High Courts”.
The army is to be deployed under Article 245 of Pakistan’s constitution, which bars individuals from challenging the army’s actions in court. The popular view that Mr Sharif is floundering has been reinforced by his failure to end power cuts lasting up to 16 hours a day during the heat of summer and by his 10-day visit to Saudi Arabia on a spiritual journey at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Saeed Qureshi, an Islamabad college student, said: “He does not seem interested in Pakistan. At a time when Pakistan is at war and there is an emerging internal crisis, he takes time to visit Saudi Arabia. This is pathetic.”
As leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) or Pakistan Justice Movement, Imran Khan says he is well placed to win support from the “many Pakistanis who are miserable and fed up with a major energy crisis and unemployment”.
In recent months, Mr Khan has campaigned for investigations into the 2013 election, which he says was rigged by Mr Sharif’s PML-N.
“It was the most rigged election in Pakistan’s history. We tried to go through the legal channels to expose this but the legal channels have been exhausted,” said Mr Khan in a Financial Times interview. “We had said we will be out on the streets after exhausting the legal channels and that is our plan.”
Many ordinary Pakistanis say they are disillusioned with Mr Sharif. In the poor Barakahu neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad, Faqeer Khattak, a truck driver who voted for the PML-N last year, echoes common complaints about power cuts and electrical appliances being damaged by unreliable electricity supplies.
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