No win?

Nawaz Sharif may survive this crisis, but he will not be the powerful prime minister he used to be

No win?
When Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) staged a large rally at the Minar-e-Pakistan in the traditional PML-N stronghold of Lahore on October 30, 2011, Imran Khan emerged as a serious player in Pakistani politics. But according to his critics, he was backed by a spymaster, who allegedly planned and executed his campaign.

As the party began a protest march towards Islamabad on August 14 this year, along with Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT), conspiracy theories about the powerful military quietly engineering the movement resurfaced.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan, who had claimed to bring out a million people, led several thousand followers to the capital vowing to camp outside the parliament until his demands were met. Imran said Nawaz Sharif had no right to rule because last year’s elections were rigged – an allegation Nawaz Sharif denies.

Qadri has a slightly more radical agenda of wide-ranging reforms to be carried out by a new, national-consensus government.

Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri, and thousands of their followers reached Islamabad after a 40-hour journey during which they were not stopped by the government at any point.

[quote]The government was left with no option but to surrender [/quote]

The government handed over the security of Islamabad’s Red Zone to the army under Article 245 of the constitution. Since then, Islamabad has been in a state of constant uncertainty and insecurity. Thousands of followers of PTI and PAT refuse to leave, demanding nothing less than the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

During the two weeks of the political impasse, General Raheel Sharif has held frequent meetings with the prime minister, who picked him as the army chief over two senior generals. There have been reports that the army chief has assured the government there will be no coup, but in return, Nawaz Sharif will have to compromise on certain foreign and internal security policy issues.

Imran Khan claps as Tahiul Qadri delivers a fiery speech on September 2
Imran Khan claps as Tahiul Qadri delivers a fiery speech on September 2

Since Nawaz came to power after a landslide victory in the 2013 vote, a trust deficit could be felt between the government and the army. Nawaz Sharif put former military head Pervez Musharraf, who had brought an end to his previous term as prime minister in a 1999 coup, on trial for treason. He has also been opposing a military offensive in North Waziristan to crush Taliban insurgents and favoring close ties with old rival India. The military has ruled Pakistan for half of its 67-year history by imposing martial law four times in a nation of 180 million people. In efforts to assert civilian control on policies that have been traditionally run by the military, Nawaz Sharif has angered the military establishment, it is said.

[quote]The protesters left the PTV building shouting pro-army slogans[/quote]

The directorate of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), which speaks for the army, has been very vocal in rubbishing any talk of rifts between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and General Raheel Sharif.

After failing to negotiate a solution to end the political standoff in Islamabad, Nawaz Sharif invited the army to help broker a deal between the government, PTI and PAT by acting as a facilitator. The army chief intervened unsuccessfully to resolve the deadlock. This unprecedented move was widely criticized by almost all the opposition political parties. The next day, the prime minister denied in parliament that the government had requested the army to mediate. He said it were Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri who had asked to speak with the military leadership, and the government allowed it. The opposition leader urged the military to clarify who had actually asked them to intervene.

The PAT and the PTI denied having made the request, and military spokesman General Asim Bajwa stated in a tweet that “COAS was asked by the Govt to play facilitative role for resolution of current impasse.”

This was not all. The COAS chaired a meeting of the military corps commanders a day before it was scheduled. After four hours of discussion, the commanders agreed on “reaffirming support to democracy” and that “further use of force will only aggravate the problem,” a statement by the ISPR said. The government was asked to resolve the issue politically, “without recourse to violent means”.

A follower of Tahirul Qadri takes a rest during the riots in Islamabad
A follower of Tahirul Qadri takes a rest during the riots in Islamabad

The government was left with no options but to surrender before the protesters. The violent protesters stormed the state-owned Pakistan Television building and the channel went off air for more than half an hour.

The way the army vacated the PTV building without the slightest of violence showed that the protesters were not ready to anger the troops. They left the building shouting pro-army slogans.

In the ISPR statement, the military had committed to playing its part in ensuring security of key state buildings.

Meanwhile, popular PTI leader Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, who is also the president of the party, announced to distance himself from the protests in a sudden dramatic move. He alleged that Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri’s visit to Islamabad was choreographed, and that the PTI chairman had made some unacceptable decisions allegedly after receiving messages from the army. Imran had claimed that the Supreme Court chief justice was also on board, Hashmi said.

The ISPR categorically rejected the assertions that the military establishment was backing PTI or PAT in any way, and said the army was an “apolitical institution”.

Some analysts say the military has apparently evolved into a force different from what it was before. They argue that despite having many favorable chances to avail in the last two weeks, the army has not taken over, unlike in the 80’s and 90’s. Others believe the military wants to knock Nawaz Sharif out, not by ousting him from power but by weakening his government until it agrees to listen to them on key policy issues.

Nawaz Sharif may survive this crisis, but he will certainly not be the powerful prime minister he used to be.