Nawaz Sharif and Gen. Raheel Sharif agree on need to end political crisis ‘expeditiously.’
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif agreed Tuesday on the need to “expeditiously” end a political crisis triggered by protests aimed at unseating the government.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said Gen. Sharif called on the P.M. at his official residence in Islamabad’s ‘Red Zone.’ Thousands of demonstrators led by opposition politician Imran Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri have camped out in the zone for the past week, demanding Sharif resign.
Khan claims last year’s general elections, which swept Sharif to power in a landslide, were rigged despite international observers saying it was largely fair. The crisis has rattled Sharif’s government 15 months into a five-year term and prompted rumors the Army may intervene to resolve matters—and in doing so effectively put the elected government under its thumb.
Pakistan has been ruled by the military for more than half its 67-year history and the armed forces still have strong influence.
General Sharif and the prime minister met and discussed the “overall security environment including the prevailing situation” on Tuesday, the statement said. “There was a consensus on the need to resolve the ongoing issue expeditiously in the best national interest,” it said. Two senior military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to media, confirmed the meeting had focused on the ongoing protests. “The prime minister told the Army chief that the government was ready to negotiate with every stakeholder to resolve the issue,” they added.
The protests have so far been peaceful, with security forces taking a passive approach to the demonstrations. The only public statement from the military so far came in the early hours of Aug. 20, shortly after Khan threatened to storm the P.M.’s residence. Then the Army’s chief spokesman warned that the armed forces would protect any state assets in the ‘Red Zone’ and urged “patience, wisdom and sagacity” to find a solution through dialogue.
Efforts to find a negotiated end to the crisis have made little headway, with Khan sticking to his hardline demand that Sharif must quit. The government says the prime minister will not resign and accuses Khan and Qadri of undermining Pakistan’s fragile democracy. It also says the protests are an unnecessary distraction at a time when Pakistan is battling homegrown Taliban militants in the northwest and struggling to get its economy on track.
The rupee has lost more than four percent against the dollar in the past fortnight as the crisis has rumbled on, with analysts warning that gains made thanks to an International Monetary Fund bailout could be under threat. Neither protest movement has mobilized mass support beyond its core followers, and opposition parties have shunned Khan’s call to unseat the government and begin a campaign of civil disobedience.