ISLAMABAD, Sept 5 (Reuters) – Weeks of mounting anti-government protests in Pakistan had been enough to convince five of the powerful army’s 11 Corps Commanders that it was time for them to step in and force embattled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign.
According to a minister close to military circles, top generals met in the garrison city of Rawalpindi at the end of August as demonstrations raged in nearby Islamabad. Thousands of protesters had just tried to storm Sharif’s residence.
At the tense, four-hour conclave, Pakistan’s democratic process was once again in peril, with the military pondering another intervention in a country that has seen power change hands more often through coups than elections.
But army chief Raheel Sharif decided the time was not right to overthrow the civilian leadership, and moved to quell any disagreement in his ranks by overruling the hawks and declaring the crisis must be solved through politics, not force.
Soon afterwards, the army issued a brief statement, reaffirming its commitment to democracy, and the threat of a coup, at least for now, had passed.
The minister, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of discussing the inner workings of the military, said at least five generals had been pushing for weeks for the army to take a more “active role” in defusing the crisis.
“The time for the army to be neutral is over,” was how the minister summed up the message from dissenters around the table.
Two military sources confirmed this version of events. They, like the minister, spoke on condition of anonymity.
A senior security source added: “Raheel Sharif is not interested in direct intervention. The tanks aren’t going to come rolling in. This army believes in compromise.”
The army’s media wing confirmed Sunday’s meeting but declined to share details. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told Reuters the army was a “monolithic institution”. “What comes out from the army is ultimately one opinion,” he said. “And … they have supported democracy.”
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