In a terse statement that must have deeply disappointed the beleaguered Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the army expressed its “concern” about the escalating political violence. It also said force was not the way to deal with the situation. The crisis must be dealt with through political means. Sharif is under pressure to resign; how much longer can he hold out in these circumstances?
Sunday August 31, 2014, 16:09 DST
After a four-hour meeting of Corps Commanders this evening in Rawalpindi presided over by army chief General Raheel Sharif, the army put out the following statement related to the sudden turn of events for the worse in the ongoing crisis in Islamabad.
“While reaffirming support to democracy, the conference reviewed with serious concern, the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken, resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives. Further use of force will only aggravate the problem.”
The statement further said: “It was once again reiterated that the situation should be resolved politically without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means.”
The army statement brought little comfort to the beleaguered Nawaz Sharif regime that has resorted to brute force to crush the determined but peaceful protests in Pakistan’s capital city Islamabad. Camped for more than two weeks on Constitution Avenue, late last night orders were given by Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaaf chief Imran Khan and Pakistani Awami Tehrik leader Tahirul Qadri to move on the prime minister’s residence.
Imran Khan told his supporters that he will lead them and he did but the crowd soon overtook him. They were met by volleys of teargas as well as baton wielding police. According to latest reports at least 13 persons have been killed and hundreds injured (the government has admitted to three fatalities only).
Islamabad has become a war zone with protesters pelting police with stones while the police resorting to volleys of tear gas. Protesters also stormed the grounds of Parliament Building.
Nawaz Sharif had returned to Islamabad from his estate in Raiwind, Lahore to chair what was officially termed an “important meeting”.
A government statement said the meeting condemned the attack on Parliament and it was decided that it will defend state institutions at all costs.
The beleaguered regime also announced it had called a joint session of parliament for Tuesday. What that would achieve was not immediately clear.
The protesters are demanding the resignation of Nawaz Sharif because they consider him to be in power through fraud. The campaign has been spearheaded by Imran Khan’s PTI. For more than a year, he demanded the recounting of votes in four constituencies but Sharif stubbornly dismissed these calls until it became too late to resolve.
Tahirul Qadri’s group has launched a campaign demanding that the Sharif brothers—Nawaz and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz as well as their younger brother—plus 19 other people be named in the June 17 attack and killing of 14 Qadri supporters.
Hundreds of others were injured when the police attacked PAT headquarters in the Model Town area of Lahore. Instead of dealing with the issue in a proper legal manner, the Sharif brothers tried to obfuscate the crime.
There is widespread feeling, not without some reason, that the attack was carried out at the behest of the Sharif brothers who thought perhaps they would be able to crush the Qadri’s movement before it started.
The Sharif brothers’ names have now been registered in what is referred to as the First Information Report (FIR). This may end up having serious implications for them.
If there were rule of law in Pakistan and respect for the constitution, both should have resigned their posts and allowed the case to proceed. Instead, both brothers are clinging to power by the skin of their teeth.
Why are they so adamant not to resign? For the Sharifain, power is a means to riches. Imran Khan pointed out that when Sharif came to power, his total assets were worth Rs 40 crores (Rs 400 million or $4 million). Now his son alone owns property worth Rs 100 billion ($1 billion).
The PTI chief asked how did they amass such a fortune?
It is believed that the Sharifs have some $200 billion in Swiss Bank accounts making them among the richest rulers in the Muslim world.
The family patriarch, the late Muhammad Sharif started with a scrap metal business in Lahore. He would pay laborers to steel metal (steel) pegs from railway tracks. He would pay these labourers pittance and have the steel pegs melted in his foundries to make steel beams.
The family business grew but it really took off during the rule of General Ziaul Haq who took Nawaz Sharif under his wing making him chief minister of Punjab.
Thereafter the Sharifs never looked back. They have businesses in Saudi Arabia, Turkey as well as Europe worth billions of dollars.
It is widely believed that the Sharif brothers indulged in massive electoral fraud during the last election to grab power. It is this massive fraud that Imran Khan has tried to expose and rectify.
Far from adhering to the rule of law, the Sharifs indulged in delaying tactics hoping it would blow away but the situation has come to this sorry state.
Imran has accused the Sharifs of bribing Election Commission officials as well as judges. That is why he is so adamant that the two brothers must resign before he would accept vote recounting by a judicial panel.
Prior to the last election, the Sharif brothers demanded tens of millions of rupees from each candidate if he/she wanted the party ticket. Given the 342 National Assembly seats and hundreds of others in the four provincial assemblies, it amounted to a lot of seats and a huge amount of money. The Sharifs used the elections as a money-making machine.
Those people that paid the Sharifs to get a seat and were elected through vote fraud are not going to resign so quickly. They want to recover their money and make more in order to be able to fight the next election.
The crisis in Islamabad has escalated with protesters getting angry and the Sharif brothers digging in their heels.
Nawaz Sharif tried to involve the military in his domestic dispute when he met the army chief on August 21. The army politely declined the invitation but agreed to act as ‘facilitator’ for talks with Imran and Qadri.
In their meeting with the army chief, the duo explained their position and said they were willing to give the government 24 hours to implement their legitimate demands.
The beleaguered prime minister has had a troubled relation with the military because he has not lived up to his word. He reneged on his pledge about General Pervez Musharraf’s exit from the country; there are also serious differences on several international issues such as relations with the US, India and Afghanistan.
Nawaz Sharif is used to solo flights but he may be running out of gas.
Commentators are already writing his political obituary. For Nawaz, third time is not lucky; it appears like banishment, perhaps for good, from Pakistan, or the noose around his neck for the Lahore killings.