Sharif govt was sanguine about the development — something that further fuelled the imagination of political pundits!
Democracy in Pakistan has taken considerable roots from the time when virtually every March was deemed to be a harbinger of doom — a la Ides of March — for the incumbent government.
As news surfaced about an unprecedented meeting on the last day of March between Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and opposition Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan, it immediately set the tongues wagging across the country.
To be sure, few know what transpired in the hour-long meeting which typically came to light thanks to a tweet from Major-General Asif Ghafoor, Director General, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) — the media wing of the army.
The PTI also shared a press release but neither party was keen to provide a dénouement although it might just be that there really wasn’t any earthshaking revelation to be made.
The ISPR would have us believe that the PTI chairman met the army chief to congratulate him on his elevation to the top job — four months after General Bajwa took over as chief of army staff (COAS). But the ISPR boss did say issues were discussed without elaborating.
“Chairman PTI Imran Khan called on COAS. Imran Khan felicitated COAS on his prom and appointment. Various issues came under discussion,” Major-General Asif Ghafoor tweeted around 9:30pm Friday night.
The PTI release noted that the meeting “focused on national integrity and security”. It went on to say the army chief and PTI chairman also discussed “repatriation of Afghan refugees and the recent wave of terror attacks”.
The next day, on 1st April, after a speech at a ceremony to celebrate the party’s ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ — a much acclaimed project for natural regeneration in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province that the PTI rules — Imran Khan restricted himself to saying his meeting with the army chief bode well for Pakistan’s democracy.
“The only thing I would like to say about the meeting is that the good news is that the army chief stands by democracy,” Khan said before parrying any question on the subject on the pretext that doing so would push the day’s headlines on the coveted tree project in the background.
Predictably, even as Pakistan’s electronic media and the social media went into an overdrive trying to discern the significance of what was discussed between the two and why, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sanguine about the development — something that further fuelled the imagination of political pundits!
Marriyum Aurangzeb, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, who rarely lets go of any opportunity to berate the PTI chairman, publicly welcomed the development!
“It is a good step by Imran Khan and his approach towards integration is welcome,” Marriyum noted before suggesting more of the same would be helpful.
“Imran Khan should continue meeting stakeholders as the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa suffers from terrorism and a refugee problem,” the minister said in the only broad hint at what the Sharif government’s expectation was from the meeting.
The Khan-Bajwa meeting drew interesting observations and analysis from mostly television pundits, who claim to have the eyes and ears of the powers-that-be.
Kamran Khan, a seasoned investigative journalist and talk show host with Dunya TV channel, felt the timing of the meeting had something to do with the “looming terrorism threat” and so “it makes sense that the country’s defence forces want all critical stakeholders to be united in its approach to tackle the issue”.
Khan however, disagreed there was anything “unusual” about the meeting. “National politicians have met the military heads in the past as well. I see it as a positive development for the benefit of the country,” he concluded.
Nasim Zehra, a prominent political analyst and TV anchor with 24 channel, felt the meeting was “significant” and the absence of details from both parties pointed to a “specific agenda”.
Zehra also suggested the meeting was a “confidence-building measure to strengthen civil-military leadership, specifically sending a message that the army chief is not teaming with any one political party” and that “his position remains neutral”.
The “specific agenda” that Zehra referred to — and a slew of other analysts agreed with — was the PTI’s opposition to the idea of Islamabad joining the Islamic Military Alliance and about which the party intended to submit a motion in the parliament. The PTI appears to have eschewed any public critique ever since.
But while this, understandably, grabbed the eyeballs on the prime time circuit, what largely escaped attention was the possibility of a much needed exchange on reforms pertaining to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
Rauf Klasra, an eminent journalist and himself a TV talk show host, avers that the PTI chairman met the army chief to discuss the Fata reforms that the party wants to introduce following its long conceived merger with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The merger is fraught with complexities not in the least because the province continues to face the brunt of terrorism and the infrastructure needed to help people from Fata assimilate into the province remains woefully inadequate. The PTI remains interested, of course, for political reasons since the number of new seats that a merger will produce raises its hopes of considerably swelling its parliamentary arithmetic.
The PTI chairman’s meeting with the army chief is interesting in another context, too. When he launched a protest movement in 2014 that centred on a record 126-day sit-in in front of the national parliament in the capital Islamabad against the Sharif government alleging vote fraud, but which eventually failed after a judicial commission found no evidence to suggest that the election was stolen, it was generally speculated that he may have had the backing of the security establishment.
But this time, the fact that the Sharif government welcomed the meeting would suggest some sort of understanding premised in the “national interest” with no political leaning one way or the other.
*The writer is Community Editor.
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