A Clarification By the Pakistani Army, But a Political Dispute Up in the Air
Posted at 5:42 p.m. on Aug. 30, 2014
On Friday, the Pakistani Army clarified their involvement in negotiations between two leading political parties, all in one simple tweet. But that doesn’t mean everything is settled in a democratic nation where the Army’s role in governing has sometimes been a source of complexity.
The Pakistani Army’s spokesman, Gen. Asim Bajwa, said that the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif, was “asked by the Government to play facilitative role for resolution of current impasse,” referring to a meeting at the prime minister’s house the day before. That tweet has been retweeted more than 22,000 times since Friday morning.
The clarification suggested that the military might be chaffing at the notion that they sought the involvement themselves; the intermingling of the Army and politics has sometimes caused anxiety in Pakistan. But it also points to the difficulties Pakistan’s government is facing in resolving its democratic challenges. Indeed, the Army spokesman’s statement fueled another round of political clashes.
This month, since the country’s independence day on Aug. 14, the leaders of two well-known political parties marched towards Islamabad and have been camping out in protest, asking for the resignation of the current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. Imran Khan, who is the leader of the “Pakistan Threek-e-Insaf” (PTI) political party, and Tahir ul Qadri, the leader of the “Pakistan Awami Tehreek” (PAT) political party, have rallied thousands of citizens. Khan, a former cricket star-turned politician, has been calling for the resignation of Sharif, also complaining of unfair election.
Zain H. Qureshi, a candidate for the National Assembly of Pakistan, a supporter of PTI and son of former prime minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, spoke via telephone with CQ Roll Call from Pakistan.
“Personally speaking, it was quite shocking,” said Qureshi, referring to the government’s alleged request to the military for being a mediator in the current political negotiations. “It is very unfortunate that these political decisions have to be taken to Army headquarters.”
Gen. Sharif has met with the prime minister, and both leaders of PTI and PAT.
The nuclear-armed country of around 180 million residents has been an important ally to the United States. According to the Center for Global Development, the United States has provided nearly $67 billion to Pakistan since 1951 for economic assistance and military aid.
The United States Embassy in Islamabad issued a statement a week ago indicating that they are not involved in the political discussions between any of the parties.“The United States firmly believes all parties should work together to resolve differences through peaceful dialogue in ways that strengthen Pakistan’s democratic institutions and rule of law,” the statement read.
That points to the United States’ own sensitivities.
“The U.S. government is much more aware of its role in influencing civil military relationships in Pakistan,” said Shamila Chaudhary, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and former Pakistan director for the National Security Council at the White House.
Chaudhary said she does not believe the military is supporting either political party. In fact, the prime minister involving the military presents “them an opportunity to show that they still have a role as an arbiter in domestic policy,” she said.
How the military and the civilian government handle the current situation in Pakistan is still unpredictable, but some in Pakistan hope that it can be resolved with political negotiations and without further involvement of the military.
“I hope that we can come to some sort of settlement. Prime Minister can see reason. But with the current stance, posturing, democracy may not be the winner in the end,” said Qureshi.
On Saturday, Pakistani police fired tear gas at the protestors as they marched towards the prime minister’s home, according to the Associated Press. Other media reports indicate around 120 people have been injured in Islamabad.