The top brass of the powerful Pakistani army chaired by its chief General Raheel Sharif held an urgent meeting tonight to discuss the political crisis that has engulfed the country after night-long clashes here between security forces and anti-government demonstrators left three people dead and nearly 500 others injured.
The army corps commanders met in Rawalpindi to take stock of the situation created by the 18-day siege of the heart of the Pakistani establishment, housing the Presidency, the National Assembly, the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister's Office, took a turn for the worst since yesterday.
Embattled Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose ouster is the main demand of the protesters, decided to summon joint sitting of parliament on Tuesday to discuss the political crisis which erupted into widespread violence in the capital last night after supporters of opposition leader Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri sought to storm Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's residence nearby by breaking through the police barricade.
The violence continued throughout the night and subsided this morning but the stand-off continued to force Sharif's resignation over alleged rigging during last year's elections.
Cricketer-turned-politician Khan vowed to fight till the last breath and asked Pakistanis to rebel against the "illegal" regime while Qadri alleged seven of his supporters were killed by security forces which could not be confirmed.
A security official said that the meeting called by general Sharif was initially planned for Monday but it was rescheduled due to "deteriorating internal security situation".
Ghulam Mustafa Khan, a former army general, told Duniya TV that the commanders will discuss the entire security situation and try to conclude whether the civilian government can control it or not.
"They will also decide the level of army intervention," he said. The army holds the key to resolving the impasse which has plunged the country into the worst crisis, 15 months after Sharif's PML-N was voted to power.
A high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sharif decided to summon the joint session of the parliament to discuss prevailing crisis in the country and is expected to adopt another resolution for upholding the Constitution and supremacy of parliament.
The meeting condemned the attack on parliament by protesters and termed it against the Constitution. Sharif again offered dialogue to Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party and Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehrik. "Invasion on PM house was made despite commitment of not doing this," said an official statement issued after the meeting.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said the government remained open to negotiations to end the crisis peacefully.
"The government did not initiate the clashes. They turned violent and tried to enter sensitive government buildings, which are the symbol of the state," Rashid was quoted by Geo News channel as saying.
"They wanted their demands to be met at gunpoint but still, our doors are open for talks," he said. Sharif, who yesterday went to Saturday with his staff, returned to the capital on Sunday.
Among those injured in the overnight clashes were several journalists. Reporters, who were covering the protests, were brutally tortured by rioters and the police.
A crowd of protesters gathered outside the office of Geo News and attacked it with stones early on Sunday. Yesterday, Sharif dismissed the protests, describing it
as a "tiny storm" that will end soon.
"This is just a tiny storm, a tumult, which would be ended in a few days," Sharif said. Indicating that certain forces were trying to target him, the Pakistan Premier asserted that "conspiracy" against democracy will not be tolerated.
Meanwhile, clashes continued between police in riot gear and protesters. Many protesters had come armed with batons and slingshots.
Shipping containers were set ablaze, several vehicles torched in normally quiet Constitution Avenue following more than 15 hours of battle.
Police fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters outside the prime minister's official residence and the adjacent parliament building.
Hundreds of protesters entered the lawn of parliament but they were pushed back at the main entrance of the building where army was deployed.
About 481 injured were brought to Polyclinic and Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, the two premier state-run hospitals, a government official said.
A police official said over 90 policemen and five frontier Constabulary personnel were injured in clashes with protesters armed with sticks, catapults and stones.
After police crackdown, Khan asked Pakistanis to join him in the protest.
"I request all the nation, civil servants, bureaucrats and police to rebel against this illegal government," Khan told his supporters.
He asked officials to ignore all illegal orders from the government. "I am prepared to die fighting for the freedom for my
people," he said, adding, "allah ya azaadi ya maut (either freedom or death)".
He said his party would file a FIR against Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Khan for killing people.
Addressing his supporters, Qadri said Sharif was interested in governance as it helped him with his business. "These people came to power to engage in corruption and
carrying out their businesses they are corrupt in every respect...day and night, the only thing these people want to ensure is that they deprive this country of as much of its wealth as they could," he said.
"I will sacrifice myself in fighting against the treatment meted out against my sisters, daughters and party workers," he said.
So far the protesters failed to break into the security cordon and reach the Prime Minister House.