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PRESENT PLEASE

The vague footprints of the army in the unfolding political crisis in Pakistan are gradually turning into clearly discernible pugmarks. Even if one doubted the recent accusations made by a disenchanted former member of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf party about the army being in league with the PTI chief, Imran Khan, to pull down the Nawaz Sharif government, one cannot deny that the army’s role in the crisis has done nothing but complicate the situation. Despite the Sharif government having given the army charge of Islamabad’s security before the long march began, the army failed to protect government installations. A ham-handed police and paramilitary force were found managing the red zone against violent protestors, who, ultimately, stormed the headquarters of Pakistan Television — an act symbolic of almost every coup in the country. Far from playing its constitutional role of assisting a democratically-elected federal government, the army has usurped the role, like so many times before, of playing the arbiter in a political crisis — a job that should be, technically, left to politicians themselves, or, failing them, to the judiciary. The army vehemently denies trying to play mediator, but it has talked to both the PTI chief, Mr Khan, and the Pakistan Awami Tehrik chief, Tahir ul-Qadri, without clear instructions from the government. It is now also directing the government to resolve the crisis as soon as possible. More strangely, it has ‘advised’ the government on how such a resolution should take place — by sparing the bullets. The decision about when to use force, how and how much, is not for the army to take. It did not mind the government taking a call on when and how to start the counter-insurgency operation in North Waziristan. Why then should it deny the Sharif government that authority now?

The Pakistan army is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about right now, least of all Mr Sharif. He insists that he has “no issues” with the army. So long as this shadowy presence is felt, political mavericks such as Mr Khan will find it highly feasible to dream of engineering a political change. It is deplorable that such machination is invariably disguised as a democratic upheaval. Pakistan’s people know how disastrous this sham democracy has proved to be. It is for them to show that they will not be forced to subscribe to it.