In a move that has created instant controversy, the federal government has decided to deploy the army in Islamabad, ostensibly to avoid any backlash from Operation Zarb-e-Azb underway against militants in North Waziristan. This operation has, of course, been continuing for weeks and it is unclear why this action has been necessitated now. The measure, under which the army will be used for rapid response, patrolling and checking for a period of 90 days, has been taken under Article 245 of the Constitution, which allows the civilian authority to call out the military to its defence and the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act.
The degree of confusion among ministers making statements as to why this step has been taken only raises doubts. While the interior minister has insisted the purpose will be purely to ensure security, ministers such as Khawaja Saad Rafiq have indicated there is also a desire to avoid any ‘chaos’. This is being seen as a reference to the planned opposition protests in Islamabad with Imran Khan and his PTI scheduling a long march for August 14 and Tahirul Qadri also speaking of a ‘green revolution’. The suspicion then is that the government may be hoping to use the army to quash the opposition’s actions.
This is obviously something that cannot be condoned in a democracy. Peaceful protests must be permitted to continue, and there seems to be no reason why regular forces, including the police, cannot manage the rallies and meetings planned for the coming months. The discrepancies in statements over exactly what the army is expected to do and the timing of the call given to place them on Islamabad’s streets can only add to suspicions. The move does not appear to be a particularly sensible one. It has already created angst among opposition parties who have strongly opposed the decision. These parties include the PPP, which is not planning any action itself but holds that involving the army is undemocratic and potentially dangerous. We must hope that the government can at least clarify its position and reach a joint line on quite what the troops in Islamabad will be doing over the coming 90 days.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2014.
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