09.09.2014 Author: Natalya Zamarayeva

Pakistan: the Role of the Army in Resolving the Political Crisis

5645622According to an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) release of the Pakistan Federal Army, “A political crisis should be resolved politically.” This decision was announced after the monthly meeting of the corps commanders. The corps commanders reaffirmed their support to democracy and reiterated that the confrontation between the government of the ruling Pakistani Muslim League (PML) and the opposition party of the Pakistan Movement for Justice, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), and the Pakistani People’s Movement, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), demand that there should be only a political resolution. The Army Chief General Raheel Sharif declared that the corps commanders reject further use of force in the crisis. At the same time, the General Staff expressed “serious concern” over the violent turn of events the Islamabad’s Red Zone. Demanding a recount of the results of the election of 2013 and the resignation of the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, protesters wearing gas masks and armed with sticks attempted to break through a police barricade and enter government buildings. Clashes between protesters and security forces began late in the evening on the 30th of August and, as a result of the clashes, 3 citizens died and dozens were injured.

The political parties of the country, after having made several attempts, were unable to establish a dialog between the opposing sides and have thus withdrawn. Deputies of the National Assembly and the Lower House of the Parliament also failed. The ruling cabinet represented by the Pakistani Peoples Party of Nawaz (PML N) led by the Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and the opposition appealed for “mediation” by the army generals in resolving the crisis. Such an act by the head of the cabinet indicates the measure of his disagreement with the opposition and the frustration of the position of Nawaz Sharif. He is all-powerful and, for the third time in the history of the country, has assumed the office of Prime Minister, launched a campaign of harassment against the former president, General Pervez Musharraf (the General who carried out a military coup in October 1999 which resulted in Nawaz Sharif’s removal from the post of Prime Minister), has underestimated the urgency of the situation, both in the country and in the region.

Earlier this summer, in preparation for the opposition protest march, the ruling administration did not take him seriously. In early August, in response to a question regarding the internal situation in the country, Sartaj Aziz, an adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, denied that there was any threat to the country’s democratic system from the Justice Party of Pakistan and the Pakistan People’s Movement. But by late August, the Prime Minister agreed with all demands put forth by the protesters in the federal capital, except for one thing, his own resignation.

And for the first time in August, the government made a request to the generals to intervene and resolve the political crisis. Going forward, the position of the Prime Minister turned out to be inconsistent. Speaking to the National Assembly, he declared that the generals had intentionally intervened in the situation. The Army “corrected” the Prime Minister, officially stating that the government had asked the General Raheel Sharif to “cooperate” in negotiations with the protesting party. These statements caused further outrage towards the Cabinet from the political parties represented in the National Assembly, who had rejected any involvement of the military establishment in the political life of the country. The Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan justified the involvement of the military as the only way out of the standoff, “… a cornered Nawaz Sharif personally justifies the intervention of the army in the settlement of the political crisis.” The Army commits to a transparent and fair investigation into electoral fraud. The Army is ready to ensure that a fair investigation is conducted into the issue of electoral fraud.

The Pakistani media often referred to the notion of the apolitical army in this situation. But it seems that it is the struggle of the opposition and the ruling administration and the political weakening of the later that play into the hands of the generals in order to manage the crisis and to neutralize the same civil administration.

It is not by accident that today’s demand on a recount of ballots in some constituencies (the general election campaign in 2013 in Pakistan) will coincide with a similar campaign in Afghanistan. Within the neighboring country there has been ongoing recount of the ballots cast for the two candidates for the presidency of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the name of a potential winner and the future leader of the country will be announced in the coming days.

There have been doubts expressed that the political crisis in Pakistan is of a local character. It is difficult to believe that the Justice Party of Pakistan on its own, inexperienced in organizing such political battles and without a strong media presence, without financial and managerial support, was able not only to organize a protest in Islamabad that was attended by 10 to 15 thousand protesters, but to do so in 40 degree plus heat and to also “include” the army to help resolve the conflict. The region of Af-Pak has given rise to a new set of realities, new names and a new political configuration.

Natalia Zamarayeva, PhD in History, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Pakistan at the Institute of Oriental Studies in the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.