The carefully constructed veneer of neutrality that the army leadership had constructed through much of the national political crisis instigated by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri has been torn apart.
First, came the army’s statement on Sunday, the third in a series of statements in recent days on the political crisis, which quite astonishingly elevated the legitimacy and credibility of the demands of Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri and their violent protesters above that of the choices and actions of an elected government dealing with a political crisis.
Consider the sequence of events so far. When the army first publicly waded into the political crisis, it counselled restraint on all sides — as though it was the government that fundamentally still had some questions hanging over its legitimacy simply because Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri alleged so.
Next, the army crept towards the Khan/Qadri camp by urging the government to facilitate negotiations — as though it was the government that was being unreasonable, and not Mr Khan and Mr Qadri.
Now, staggeringly, the army has ‘advised’ the government not to use force against violent protesters and essentially told it to make whatever concessions necessary to placate Mr Khan and Mr Qadri.
It is simply extraordinary that it is the PAT and PTI supporters who want to break into and occupy state buildings, but it is the government that has been rebuked.
It’s as if the army is unaware — rather, unwilling — to acknowledge the constitutional scheme of things: it is the government that is supposed to give orders to the army, not the other way around.
The government has already issued its order: invoking Article 245.
On Saturday, as violent thugs attacked parliament, it was surely the army’s duty to repel them.
But the soldiers stationed there did nothing and the army leadership the next day warned the government instead of the protesters — which largely explains why the protesters were able to continue their pitched battles with the police and attacked the PTV headquarters yesterday.
If that were not enough, yesterday also brought another thunderbolt: this time from within the PTI with party president Javed Hashmi indicating that Mr Khan is essentially doing what he has been asked and encouraged to do by the army leadership.
It took the ISPR a few hours to respond with the inevitable denial, but a mere denial is inadequate at this point. The functioning of the state stands paralysed because a few thousand protesters and their leaders have laid siege to state institutions.
Where is the army condemnation of that? Would the army allow even a handful of peaceful protesters to gather outside GHQ for a few hours?
The army is hardly being ‘neutral’. It is making a choice. And, it is disappointing that choice is doing little to strengthen the constitutional, democratic and legitimate scheme of things.