Nawaz Sharif, Pakistani Prime Minister-under-siege, has been forced to beg the army chief, General Raheel Sharif (no relation) to rescue him. Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf led by Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehrik led by Tahirul Qadri are both demanding his resignation, Imran more forcefully than Qadri. The next 24 hours may prove crucial for Pakistan.
Thursday August 28, 2014, 18:13 DST
The political impasse in Pakistan has entered a new phase. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who is under siege whose resignation chief of Tehrik-e Insaf Imran Khan is demanding over election rigging allegations, met the army chief General Raheel Sharif twice in three days, the last time earlier today. It emerged that Nawaz Sharif asked the army chief to act as ‘mediator’ and ‘guarantor’ of a judicial investigation into electoral fraud in order to end the current political impasse.
Following the Nawaz-Raheel meeting, Imran Khan also met the army chief. He revealed this in an address to his supporters early on Friday (Pakistan time where it is well past midnight). Imran said he told the army chief that without Nawaz's resignation there can be no independent investigation. The PTI chief said he expressed his concerns to General Raheel and told him “we can compromise that he (Nawaz) remain party leader and his ministers remain in their posts but he should step down for 30 days for an independent investigation to take place.”
Imran Khan further said “If the government accepts our demand for resignation by tomorrow afternoon (Saturday afternoon Pakistan time), we will celebrate here otherwise we will announce our further course of action of how to expand our protests to other cities.” Earlier on Thursday night (Pakistan time) Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Tahirul Qadri and PTI Chairman Imran Khan had announced that they had given the prime minister 24 hours upon General Sharif’s assurances.
It was also announced that the Punjab police had registered a murder case against Nawaz Sharif over his alleged involvement in the killing of 14 supporters of Qadri in Model Town, Lahore on June 17.
The case was filed by Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party and names 20 other defendants, including Sharif's younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the chief minister of Punjab, as well as other ministers and police officers. The June 17 attack resulted in 14 deaths including two women, and more than 100 others were injured after the police clashed with Qadri’s supporters in Lahore.
Clashes broke out when the police tried to forcibly remove security barriers in front of PAT headquarters. Qadri’s supporters resisted the move resulting in police firing and killings. Instead of lodging FIRs (First Information Reports) as is customary, the Punjab government tried to rubbish the incident blaming instead Qadri’s supporters. The Canadian-returned Qadri (he is a Canadian citizen!) launched a campaign demanding that the police register a case and insisted on naming the Sharif brothers as culprits.
Prior to that, Imran Khan had announced that he was giving the prime minister until July 31 to do a recount of four constituencies that he claimed were won by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) through fraud. Failing that, the PTI chief said, he would launch a campaign and march on Islamabad.
Since August 14, Imran Khan’s supporters have camped in one part of Islamabad opposite the parliament building while Qadri’s supporter at another. Constitution Avenue, one of the major thoroughfares of Islamabad has been occupied by protesters. If Nawaz Sharif thought the protesters would get tired and go home after a while abandoning Imran Khan and Qadri, it has not happened.
Imran Khan has laid out six demands including the dismissal of members of the Election Commission of Pakistan, judicial inquiry into election fraud, electoral reforms, Nawaz Sharif’s resignation and fresh elections under a neutral government. The ruling party has said it will accept all of Imran’s demands except resignation. Imran is adamant on his resignation saying there cannot be an independent judicial inquiry as long as Nawaz is at the helm. He has accused him of bribing even judges.
Will General Raheel’s guarantees be sufficient to win over Imran; and if the latter does not accept such guarantees, what will the army do? Most observers dismiss talk of an army coup saying it has its hands full. Besides, there is no law and order situation in the country that the army can use as justification for intervening. Imran Khan’s demands are not unreasonable in terms of getting the system cleaned up somewhat. Will he succeed or is he playing a high stakes poker game? As former cricket captain, the PTI chairman plays to win. This may be the toughest match of his life. There are many imponderables; it will be interesting to see who blinks first.