ISLAMABAD: Top security czar Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan issued a scathing rejoinder to key opposition groups on Sunday – a day after they heaped criticism on the government over its decision to call in the army to “secure the federal capital against any possible terrorist attack”.
The move is being construed as an attempt to thwart the scheduled protest rally of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), though cabinet ministers insist there are no political undertones behind the decision.
“Article 245 is a clause of our Constitution. We aren’t imposing a foreign law in the country. There is nothing wrong with seeking the army’s help to maintain law and order,” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, told a news conference.
The PTI is scheduled to stage an ‘Azadi March’ in Islamabad on August 14 – and the party believes that by invoking Article 245 the government is seeking to place the rally in direct confrontation with the army. Another opposition group, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), has said the government’s decision is “pregnant with serious consequences for the people and the country”.
The interior minister singled out the PPP for criticism. “Article 245 has been invoked 11 times during the last seven years for a variety of purposes,” he said, referring to the five-year tenure of the PPP government. “Those [PPP] who requisitioned the army against the [PML-N] long march for restoration of the judiciary in 2009 are now criticising us,” he added.
He said the army had been called in for election duty, for counterterrorism and for security. The Sindh government has invoked Article 245 multiple times for Muharram security but it was never construed as “failure of the Sindh government to maintain law and order”.
Chaudhry Nisar dispelled the impression that the army has been called out without the consent of the prime minister and without taking the army into confidence. “Let me tell you that the decisions to invoke Article 245 and to launch the military operation in North Waziristan were taken following a precedent set during the 2010 military operation,” he added,
He added that the option was discussed during the prime minister’s recent visit to the GHQ. “We can’t wait for an untoward incident to happen before putting in place necessary security measures,” he added.
The interior minister also sought to explain that the civil administration would run the affairs of Islamabad as usual while the army would support the police and paramilitary rangers in maintaining law and order in the capital city.
Responding to a question, he said that though the notification states that the army has been called out for a period of 90 days but “the timeframe is not sacrosanct and can be reviewed”. The decision to deploy the army would be taken by the district magistrate.
No political undertone
The PTI suspects that invocation of Article 245 is an attempt by the government to thwart its ‘Azadi March’. Chaudhry Nisar, however, said that “it has nothing to do with any rally or political event”. He added that those calling it a political move were only maligning the army.
Responding to a question, the minister said that “the PTI has neither formally sought permission nor submitted any application with the district administration for its rally in Islamabad.” He added that the government would take a decision once it received a formal application from the PTI leadership.
Chaudhry Nisar also pointed out that the political government and the military leadership had “very good relations” and that “there was no threat to democracy”.
At the same time, he also dropped a broad hint that the government might engage the PTI and Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Dr Tahirul Qadri in dialogue. The process might start after the prime minister returns from his religious sojourn in Saudi Arabia.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2014.