In an attempt to ward off any blowback from the military operation in North Waziristan Agency, the civilian government has placed key installations in the federal capital under the army’s control for the next three months.
The army troops will also serve as a rapid response force in the federal capital.
“The army had been requisitioned at the ICT [Islamabad Capital Territory] under Article 245 of the Constitution read with Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 to pre-empt any possible blowback of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The army will be used for rapid response, patrolling and checking for a period of 90 days,” a government spokesperson said.
Some television channels had earlier quoted Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan as saying that the government was handing over Islamabad’s security to the army from August 1.
The objective is to secure the federal capital and pre-empt any possible terrorist attack. But critics say this is just another underhand way to thwart the upcoming rallies of opposition parties.
Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is scheduled to stage a long march in Islamabad on August 14. And Dr Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek has also threatened to topple the government in what it calls a ‘green revolution’.
Interior Minister Nisar, however, clarified that Islamabad was not being handed over to the army. “Neither Islamabad is being handed over to the army nor is there any relevance of August 1. In fact, the army has been called out to assist the police and civil administration for a limited period to avert any possible terrorist attack and to maintain law and order in Islamabad,” he added.
The minister said the government had been studying legal and constitutional aspects for the past few weeks and decided to issue a formal notification in this regard on July 24.
Under this order, contingents of the army’s special units will be deputed at Islamabad airport and some other sensitive installations to assist the police and civil administration. “Army troops will also act as a rapid response force and they will be provided a legal cover under Article 245 of the Constitution,” the minister said in a statement. If needed, the same could be replicated in the provincial capitals, he added.
Strangely, however, army officials denied receiving any such notification. Interestingly, government officials don’t appear to be speaking with one voice. The statements of ministers do not corroborate each other.
The interior minister’s statement doesn’t mention any role for army troops at security checkpoints erected at all entry points to the capital city and at dozens of other places inside the city. There is also no mention of army troops joining patrolling duties, as claimed earlier by a government spokesman in a text message to journalists.
“The army has been called out for the whole of Islamabad. The entire federal capital is sensitive. It will be up to the army how to deploy its troops,” Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid told The Express Tribune when asked to clear the ambiguity.
In a separate statement, he sought to quash the impression that the army will take over security of Islamabad. “The decision was taken just to provide a constitutional cover to earlier responsibilities of securing sensitive installations given to the army in wake of Operation Zarb-e-Azb,” he said.
These responsibilities were given to the army to deal only with terrorists and anti-state elements and not to stop any political activity.
However, his cabinet colleague, Railways Minister Khawja Saad Rafique gave a different interpretation. Article 245 is being invoked to deal with any possible chaos, he said. “This decision has been taken to avoid any kind of ‘Fasad’ [chaos],” he tweeted on micro-blogging website Twitter.
Military officials, meanwhile, say they haven’t received any new directions from the government.
“Article 245 was invoked after we launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The army will perform its duties in case of any terrorist threat in the wake of the military operation. The army cannot be used for political purposes,” a senior army official said requesting not to be named. Currently, the army is only deputed at Islamabad airport, he added.
PPP opposes the move
The main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is strongly opposed to the handing over of Islamabad to the army under Article 245 of the Constitution.
“The decision is pregnant with serious consequences for the people and the country as it means not only failure of the civil administration but also total suspension of the jurisdiction of the high courts. Worse still, in practical terms it also means setting up of military courts which cannot be permitted,” PPP spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said in a statement.
The PPP has always opposed invoking Article 245 for calling out the army in aid of civil power whether it was in Karachi or other parts of the country, he said.
“The government fails to recognise that if today it is Islamabad tomorrow Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore, indeed the whole country, may have to be handed over to the army under Article 245 and practically dispense with the high courts,” Senator Babar said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2014.