ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani Army stepped into the country’s two-week-old political crisis on Thursday when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif requested that the army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, help defuse a standoff that has crippled the government.
Thousands of protesters led by the opposition politician Imran Khan and the cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri have been camped in Islamabad since Aug. 15, as part of protest movements aimed at forcing Mr. Sharif to resign.
The two movements are allied but have differing goals. Mr. Khan, who accuses Mr. Sharif of rigging last year’s general election, wants new elections, while Mr. Qadri is calling for an interim unity government to run the country. Every night, the two protest leaders have held rallies in Islamabad, defying predictions from government supporters that their movement would fade away.
Efforts by Mr. Sharif’s government to end the crisis through direct negotiations have failed in recent days. Mr. Qadri’s campaign, in particular, has pressed a demand that Mr. Sharif’s younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab Province, resign first.
Mr. Qadri’s campaign has been energized by anger among his supporters and the broader public over a police shooting episode in Lahore in June in which at least 10 of his supporters were killed. Mr. Qadri has accused Shahbaz Sharif, who has direct control over the Lahore police, of ordering the shootings. [eap_ad_1] In an apparent bid to appease Mr. Qadri, the Lahore police on Thursday registered a murder case in relation to the shootings that named the Sharif brothers, several cabinet ministers and police officials as suspects in the case. The legal action falls short of an indictment, but it is an official notice that charges are being considered.
Mr. Qadri and Mr. Khan had billed Thursday as the decisive day of their struggle to oust Mr. Sharif, leading to fears that they would push their supporters to storm the prime minister’s house and Parliament. But any such move could bring them into direct confrontation with soldiers guarding those buildings.
As the tension mounted, Mr. Sharif met with General Sharif, who is not related to him, at the prime minister’s house in Islamabad — their second meeting in three days. The two men “agreed to take necessary measures for resumption of the stalled process of negotiations,” Mr. Sharif’s spokesman said.
Later, Mr. Qadri presented the announcement as a victory. “The army chief has asked us to give him 24 hours to solve the crisis,” he told cheering supporters from atop a shipping container.
Mr. Khan, for his part, said he was postponing his “next plan of action” for 24 hours to allow General Sharif time to mediate. Then he left the protest site to meet with the army chief.
The prospect of an army intervention in the political crisis is likely to make many here nervous, as the Pakistani military has a long history of either manipulating politicians from behind the scenes or directly seizing power in coups.
The army’s relationship with Mr. Sharif is especially turbulent. Mr. Sharif’s last spell in power ended in 1999 with a coup led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, then the army chief. Now, Mr. Musharraf faces treason charges, one of several factors that have soured relations between the prime minister and the army in recent months.
Mr. Sharif came to power hoping to show a strong civilian hand. But he has clashed with the military leadership over policy toward India and the Musharraf treason case, and by publicly siding with Geo, a television network that accused military intelligence officials of trying to kill one of its journalists. (NY Times)