Hundreds of anti-government protestors stormed the headquarters of state-owned Pakistan Television on Monday, forcing the channel briefly off air, as fresh clashes erupted and the army gave the government an ultimatum to end the impasse soon.
Prime minister Nawaz Sharif met with army chief General Raheel Sharif on Monday afternoon but officials who did not want to be identified said no agreement was reached as Sharif refused a proposal by the army chief to step down.
Pakistan has been shaken by weeks of protests led by opposition leader Imran Khan and firebrand cleric Tahir ul-Qadri to bring down Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government. They say last year’s election that swept Sharif to power was rigged.
PTV’s transmission was suspended after the attack but the army flushed out the protesters and secured the headquarters of the state television within hours.
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But clashes continued in other parts of Islamabad as protesters tried to march on to the prime minister’s house after government offices, including the Pakistan Secretariat, were stormed by supporters of Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Earlier, a meeting of corps commanders of the Pakistan army met in the neighbouring garrison city of Rawalpindi where they urged the government to settle the political crisis as soon as possible.
The army commanders urged a non-violent solution to the crisis and hinted the army was committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state and "would never fall short of meeting national aspirations".
Journalist Mazhar Abbas said the army’s statement was a warning to the government to either resolve the crisis or be ready for military action. "It is a clear cut message to the prime minister," he said.
Pakistan has, in the past, experienced a succession of military coups, and the army is bound to play a key role in how the conflict unfolds but it has not directly intervened so far, apart from meeting the protagonists and calling on them to show restraint.
The president of the PTI, Javed Hashmi, who had earlier distanced himself from Imran Khan on Monday held another press conference in which he alleged that Khan was following a script that has been given to him by the ISI. Hashmi said that Imran Khan was told to follow Tahir ul Qadri and that if he persisted in his protests, elections would be held in December.
Hashmi said that the ISI was engineering the troubles in Islamabad in a bid to put pressure on the Sharif government.
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The possibility of violence looms large in Islamabad as protesters continue to challenge law enforcement agencies. "What we are looking at is a possibility of a large-scale confrontation in the next few days," said Shaikh Rasheed Ahmad, a local politician closely aligned to Khan's PTI.
Political parties continued their meetings on Monday in a bid to find a solution. So far there has been no progress in the discussions.