ISLAMABAD : The corridors of power have been abuzz with speculation since reports emerged that Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif in Rawalpindi had a secret meeting with Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Rawalpindi according to newspaper reports.

Sources privy to the development told Dawn that the meeting took place on the night between Sept 30 and Oct 1 when Mr. Sharif visited Rawalpindi and went to meet the army chief without security and protocol. The sources said that only two vehicles were present at the airport and no prominent official was present to receive the chief minister when he arrived late on Wednesday night.

The sources said Mr Sharif reached the Punjab House in Rawalpindi straight from the airport, had a shower and changed. In the meantime, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan came to the Punjab House in his own vehicle and then drove away with Mian Shahbaz Sharif. The sources also said that initially no one was aware of the destination of the vehicle carrying the two leaders, but later it became known that they had gone to the Army House to see Gen Kayani.

Before the general election last year, General Kayani had barred military officers from meeting politicians, but he himself crossed the red line when he met Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan in July. There was no word about the agenda of Kayani-Shahbaz meeting. PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal denied that any such meeting had taken place. He even denied that the cheif minister was in Rawalpindi that night. But sources at the airport and eyewitness in Rawalpindi are confident that Ahsan Iqbal is not telling the truth. Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said he was not aware of any such development.

Meanwhile, political analysts in Islamabad initially thought of a change of government or some dramatic political developments taking place in the federal capital. In Pakistan, army plays a big role in making and braking of the governments.

Though Pakistani army is under great pressure from the US for not interfering in country’s political affairs, the sources here maintain that “Army chief is still more powerful than country’s President and prime minister,” said another source.

The meeting report which was carried by some Pakistani and western newspapers, was neither confirmed nor denied. It could not be ascertained whether Kayani invited Shahbaz for the  meeting  or the Punjab chief minster requested for it.

Some analysts say that Shahbaz had gone to Rawalpindi on his own to seek Army chief’s help for his brother Nawaz Sharif who is unable to contest the coming byelections as Sharif brothers had an agreement with Gen Pervez Musharraf to stay away from politics till 2010.

Source – Daily dawn, & Asian News, Oct. 5, 2009, Volume 13, No. 169

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