News / Asia

Pakistan's Army Steps in to Resolve Political Crisis

A supporter of Tahir ul-Qadri, Sufi cleric and leader of political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) ,reacts as she listens to her leader's speech in front of the Parliament house building during the Revolution March in Islamabad, Aug. 28, 2014.
A supporter of Tahir ul-Qadri, Sufi cleric and leader of political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) ,reacts as she listens to her leader's speech in front of the Parliament house building during the Revolution March in Islamabad, Aug. 28, 2014.
Reuters

Pakistan's army stepped into a political struggle between the country's embattled prime minister and the opposition on Thursday, signaling a possible end to a crisis that has destabilized the coup-prone nation.

Pakistan has been gripped by mass rallies for more than two weeks, with protesters led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and firebrand cleric Tahir ul-Qadri camped outside parliament demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign.

Attempts to resolve the crisis through talks have failed, creating a deadlock and raising the specter of violence as thousands of increasingly impatient activists, some armed with sticks, massed in the heart of Islamabad despite intense heat.

Addressing the roaring crowd late at night, Qadri said the army had offered to mediate in the stand-off, a proposal he immediately endorsed.

“The army chief has asked us to give him 24 hours to solve the crisis,” he told thousands of flag-waving supporters. Khan, speaking shortly after him, echoed his remarks.

“The army will compile and put together a package of our demands and make sure they are implemented,” Qadri added.

The army's press wing tweeted that army chief General Raheel Sharif would meet both opposition leaders late on Thursday. No other official comment was immediately available.

Some officials in Sharif's administration have accused the army itself of orchestrating the protests as a way to weaken the prime minister, and many believe that the fate of the anti-government movement ultimately lies in the military's hands.

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 180 million, has been ruled by the military for half of its entire history and has repeatedly swung between democracy and military. Sharif himself was toppled in a coup in 1999 during his previous tenure.

What next?

This time few observers expect the army to try to grab power again, although the prime minister seems sure to emerge significantly weakened from the crisis, with the military likely to further sideline him on security and foreign policy issues.

A military source told Reuters late on Thursday that the prime minister had asked General Sharif to “play his role” in resolving the conflict.

“All stakeholders have been requested to negotiating table to resolve the issue ... but it's just the beginning,” the source said.

At least 10,000 people have crowded Islamabad's so-called Red Zone, where parliament, the prime minister's residence and embassies are located since Aug. 15. With many sleeping rough, the site is now littered with rubbish and reeks of human waste.

Tensions came to a head earlier on Thursday, with Qadri declaring it “Revolution Day” and security forces sealing off the protest site in case the crowd tried to storm nearby government buildings, which had been evacuated.

Pakistan's cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, center, is surrounded by aides as he addresses supporters near the parliament building in Islamabad, Aug. 27, 2014.Pakistan's cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, center, is surrounded by aides as he addresses supporters near the parliament building in Islamabad, Aug. 27, 2014.
x
Pakistan's cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, center, is surrounded by aides as he addresses supporters near the parliament building in Islamabad, Aug. 27, 2014.
Pakistan's cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, center, is surrounded by aides as he addresses supporters near the parliament building in Islamabad, Aug. 27, 2014.

Both Qadri and Khan used fiery language throughout the day refusing to back down.

The army's mediation could provide a face-saving solution to both of them in a country where the military is still respected widely and seen as an antidote to a civilian government many resent for corruption and red tape.

When Qadri told the protesters that the army was getting involved, the crowded chanted and waved flags in approval.

Sharif, who met the country's powerful army chief earlier in the day, flew to the city of Lahore - his political powerbase -  for a funeral but was expected back late Thursday night.

The demonstrations come at a difficult time for Pakistan, already plagued by an Islamist insurgency, sectarian tension and recurrent power shortages. Many Pakistanis are deeply unhappy with the government's performance since it came to power after winning an election in May last year.  

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs