|Nawaz Sharif and (below) Pakistan army chief
Islamabad, Aug. 20 (Reuters): Besieged Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been assured by the country’s military there will be no coup, but in return he must “share space with the army”, according to a government source who was privy to recent talks between the two sides.
Last week, as tens of thousands of protesters advanced on the Pakistani capital to demand his resignation, Sharif dispatched two emissaries to consult with the army chief.
He wanted to know if the military was quietly engineering the twin protest movements by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan and activist cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, or if, perhaps, it was preparing to stage a coup.
According to a government insider with a first-hand account of the meeting, Sharif’s envoys returned with good news and bad: there will be no coup but if he wants his government to survive, from now on it will have to share space with the army.
The army’s media wing declined to comment on the meeting.
Thousands of protesters marched to Parliament on Tuesday, using a crane and bolt cutters to force their way past barricades of shipping containers, as riot police and paramilitaries watched on after being told not to intervene.
Military spokesperson General Asim Bajwa tweeted a reminder to protesters to respect government institutions and called for “meaningful dialogue” to resolve the crisis.
Even if, as seems likely, the Khan and Qadri protests eventually fizzle out because of a lack of overt support from the military, the Prime Minister will emerge weakened from the crisis in coup-prone Pakistan.
Sharif may have to be subservient to the generals on issues he wanted to handle himself — from the fight against the Taliban to relations with arch foe India and Pakistan’s role in neighbouring, post-Nato Afghanistan.
“The biggest loser will be Nawaz, cut down to size both by puny political rivals and the powerful army,” said a government minister who asked not to be named. “From this moment on, he’ll always be looking over his shoulder.”
A year ago, few would have predicted that Sharif would be in such trouble: back then, he had just swept to power for a third time in a milestone poll that marked nuclear-armed Pakistan’s first transition from one elected government to another.
But in the months that followed, Sharif — who had crossed swords with the army in the past — moved to enhance the clout of the civilian government in a country that has been ruled by the military for more than half of its turbulent history.