ISLAMABAD - The government-supported effort by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif to help facilitate resolution of political crisis suffered a serious blow on Friday after confusion was caused about the nature of his role.
The window of face-saving opportunity for all the stakeholders seemed to have closed on Friday after Prime Minister Nawaz and his interior minister tried to address reservations of other political parties in the National Assembly on Army’s involvement. Their ‘clarification’ led to further confusion.
Nisar said in his speech: "These two groups (PTI and PAT) did not trust the judiciary; they did not trust the opposition parties in this assembly; they do not trust lawyers, tribunals – if they do not trust anyone but the army what option did the government have?"
“Let me make clear that this step to involve army was taken on a request by the protesting parties...the government allowed this facilitation, it should not be interpreted beyond that," he added.
After this, Leader of Opposition Syed Khurshid Shah made a fiery speech on the floor of the House. He said: “We are democrats and have rendered sacrifices for democracy...they (the protesters) may set the Parliament on fire, burn down the Supreme Court, torch the Capital, but we will not let a single page of the Constitution be destroyed.”
He said though Nisar had made the government’s situation clear, the ISPR (army’s public relations wing) should also clarify if the government requested the army chief for this role or was it done on the request of the protesting parties.
Visibly defensive PM then endorsed Nisar’s point and said Qadri and Imran requested a meeting with General Raheel Sharif. Nawaz said he gave permission for the army chief to engage the two leaders and play the role of a mediator.
Both Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek were quick to strongly reject the government’s claims that it was Imran and Qadri who sought Army chief’s involvement.
These statements inflamed the situation when PAT chief Dr Qadri told participants of his sit-in on the Constitution Avenue that the PM and the interior minister had told a blatant lie to the National Assembly about his late night meeting with the army chief and therefore he should be impeached.
Later in the day, the ISPR director general issued a statement that the government had requested the Chief of Army Staff for ‘facilitation’ in defusing the crisis. While many perceived the statement as a strong rebuttal to the government’s claim, the interior minister said at his subsequent press conference that ISPR clarification “endorsed the government’s claim”. He also said the ISPR statement was issued after his consultation and approval by the government. He however struggled to give his explanation to the difference between 'mediator', 'guarantor', 'arbitrator' and 'facilitator'. He said the COAS was asked for facilitating the negotiating process and not to play the role of a mediator or guarantor as claimed by Imran and Qadri.
In a related development, Prime Minister Nawaz held informal consultations with heads of parliamentary parties in the National Assembly and decided to continue dialogue with PAT and PTI leadership. He took them into confidence about the role of the army to resolve the impasse. The government teams later held separate series of talks with PAT and PTI leaders but those remained inconclusive. Talking to the media after talks with PAT leaders, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said that PM's resignation was out of question.
"We have said the same about Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif that he will only resign if he is proven guilty by courts", said Dar.
He said, "PAT's FIR is exactly what their lawyers had given to police. If there will be some issues, they can be rectified".
Talks between government team and PTI team also did not make any headway. Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal said: "Insisting on resignations meant that PTI and PAT did not want the talks to move any further."
Speaking to journalists, PTI senior leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that PTI demands explanation from government regarding the position it took in the National Assembly. "Unless the government explains its position, any meeting will remain futile," he added.
In another development PAT and PTI agreed to join hands and continue their struggle. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz left for his hometown Lahore and he is expected to return to Islamabad on Monday.