ISLAMABAD: In moves that could provide a breakthrough in the political crisis, Pakistan's powerful Army today stepped in to try and resolve the standoff between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and protesters as both sides returned to the negotiating table.
Hours after Army Chief Raheel Sharif mediated between the embattled government and protesters headed by Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, the two sides were trading charges on who was responsible for the intervention.
After Khan and Qadri met the Army Chief in Rawalpindi late last night, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and protesting parties -- Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) -- held talks here.
However, the talks did not make any headway in resolving the crisis, with PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying, "We (PTI) have come with a positive approach, however the government has not said anything new." Qureshi lamented that the deadlock on negotiations is prevailing and said talks will not move forward due to the "trust deficit".
Prime Minister Sharif told the National Assembly today that "neither had I asked army nor the armed forces sought a role in the present political crisis."
Sharif scotched media reports that it was he who "requested" the army to come to his rescue, saying it was Khan and Qadri who approached Army Chief Raheel to become a mediator.
Responding to Sharif's statement on protesters requesting the army to intervene, an angry PAT chief Qadri shot back, "I say this categorically that the Prime Minister asked the army to intervene. I am saying, on the record, that we did not make any request asking the army to intervene."
"I had not even spoken to the army chief before our meeting yesterday," Qadri said, adding that Sharif made the statement after he saw his government was losing strength. The fiery cleric claimed that Sharif was lying.
Khan also slammed the premier for saying Qadri and he asked for the army to intervene.
"I want to tell you what I told the army chief. I told Gen Raheel that I do not trust Nawaz Sharif at all. I told Gen Raheel every reason as to why I will not leave without their resignations," Khan said, adding that PTI did not ask the army to mediate.
"I am not going to backtrack on the resignation of the prime minister on any account," he said.
Both PTI and PAT have remained unflinching in their demands, especially on Sharif's resignation, with Khan saying he will not give in to the government's efforts to "buy him out".