After thousands of PTI and PAT supporters forced their sit-ins deep into the government’s nerve centre in the Red Zone on Tuesday night, the Pakistan Army called upon all stakeholders to resolve the prevailing political impasse through meaningful dialogue.
“Buildings in the Red Zone are symbols of the state and being protected by the army, therefore sanctity of these national symbols must be respected,” the military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said in a statement.
“The situation requires patience, wisdom and sagacity from all stakeholders to resolve [the] prevailing impasse through meaningful dialogue in the larger national and public interest,” it added.
The statement came hours after army chief General Raheel Sharif and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a marathon meeting and after the security of key government buildings and foreign diplomatic missions in the Red Zone was handed over to the army.
Officially, there was no word on what was discussed in the over three-hour long meeting between Gen Sharif and Premier Nawaz. However, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar told a news conference later in the day that the focus of the discussion was the security situation.
After the meeting the prime minister reportedly directed Nisar not to use force against PTI and PAT supporters even if they entered the Red Zone, which houses key government installations including the prime minister’s office, Parliament House and Diplomatic Enclave.
Hours later the prime minister went into a huddle with his close aides where it was decided that the protesting parties would be offered an open dialogue.
“We are ready to talk to both the parties at any venue and at any level. Every one of us is ready to go to them,” Information Minister Senator Pervaiz Rashid, said when asked if the prime minister himself could approach the parties.
Some indications have started coming that the government could show some flexibility in the coming days. “We might have to give big sacrifices,” a federal minister remarked without elaborating when asked if there was any way out of the debilitating political turmoil.
Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique also said that the government was ready to negotiate. “We have been trying to contact both the PTI and PAT directly as well as through intermediaries. I myself have been in contact with PTI leaders Javed Hashmi, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Arif Alvi and Asad Umer,” Rafique told Express News.
“Khyber-Pakhtunkwa Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak has also been approached by the Jamaat-e-Islami top leadership while Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar has been trying to initiate talks with the PAT. And we will continue our efforts to negotiate,” he added.
Within an hour after the government warned the PTI and PAT not to enter the Red Zone by threatening that security of the area had been handed over to the Pakistan Army, both rallies left for what was declared prohibited zone.
Government ministers claimed that they allowed the protesters to enter the Red Zone to avoid any untoward situation. “They had made a written commitment that they would not enter the Red Zone. How can you believe in the leaders who cannot keep their words” said PML-N senator Mushahidullah Khan.
Nadeem Afzal Chan, a PPP leader who was part of the committee constituted by PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari to engage political forces in a dialogue, told The Express Tribune that the ball was in the government’s court and it should take the matter seriously.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2014.