Last week, the Pakistani government invoked Article 245 of the constitution, which calls for the army to take control of law and order in the capital of Islamabad. Dawn, the national daily, explained:
Following the minister’s press conference, an interior ministry spokesperson said the capital was not being “handed over” to the army. “In fact the army is being called out for a limited time to assist the police and civil administration to obviate the possible threat of a terrorist attack and (improve) the security situation,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The statement said the legal, constitutional and administrative aspects of the move had been ironed out over the past few weeks. He said a contingent from the Pakistan Army would assist the police and civil administration at sensitive installations such as the Benazir Bhutto International Airport and serve as a rapid response force.
On the surface, the move has merit. Ever since the government launched a full-fledged military operation against the Taliban last month, it has tightened up security in Pakistan’s major urban areas. Islamabad, the nation’s capital, is an obvious target, and given the incompetence of Pakistan’s police forces, the army is a better bet to secure the city. That’s how the government is trying to present it, anyway.The other side of this move is the resurgence of cricketer-turned-politician-turned-demagogue Imran Khan. Not satisfied with simply governing Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, he believes he can win over Sharif’s support base in Punjab, Pakistan’s largest and most populous province. He has recently stepped up his efforts to undermine Sharif’s government, and has found an opportunity in the government’s floundering responding to allegations of fraud in last year’s elections. It just so happened that the army was called right before a rally by Khan’s supporters scheduled for August 14 (Pakistan’s independence day) in Islamabad to protest against the alleged rigging.Khan himself believes, perhaps not without reason, that the move to bring in the military was an attempt to thwart his rally. The PTI, Khan’s party, has already taken the government to court for invoking what would effectively be martial law and has promised that it will stage the rally in any event.The last few days have seen Sharif’s administration do everything it can to control the situation. Sharif spoke with Khan over the phone and sent his Interior Minister to Khan’s residence to avert a crisis. Khan, however, has declared that the “time for talks is now over.” Khan seems to be going all in. Most recently, he collected the resignation of all his party’s MPs, reportedly to be submitted the eve before the rally. Whatever Sharif thinks he can achieve by negotiating with Khan, it’s unclear what Khan could possibly be satisfied with other than the Prime Minister’s office.