09/02/2014, 00.00
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Paul Bhatti: Without a political solution, army intervention is inevitable

The Catholic leader speaks of "real risk" of a military coup. Meeting between the prime minister and Army chief ends without agreement; the government and opposition exchange blame for recent violence. The Church of Pakistan asks for prayers for peace and the future of the country.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - "If the government is unable to handle the situation, then a military intervention is inevitable. And right now there is a real risk this will happen" , Paul Bhatti, former Federal Minister for National Harmony and leader of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) tells AsiaNews.

The current government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) took office in May 2013. But a faction of the opposition is calling for the executive to resign. The two leaders of the protest - the former cricketer and leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan and the populist religious leader Tahir- ul-Qadri - believe the 2013 elections were rigged and marred by fraud. "It's an extremely complex situation - warns Bhatti - and if nothing happens soon then the army will have to intervene to avoid chaos and innocent victims".

Since August 15 the political crisis paralyzing the nation, with widespread street protests have turned violent. Yesterday, hundreds of protesters stormed the headquarters of the Pakistani state television, forcing a blackout of programming for a few minutes. The mob then clashed with army troops, who intervened to regain control of the television station.

Meanwhile a meeting between Sharif and the army chief, General Raheel Sharif ended with a stalemate; the prime minister has rejected his proposed resignation and, in agreement with the leaders of his own party, filed a complaint against Imran Khan and Qadri with magistrates under anti-terrorism laws. The protest leaders are charged with incitement to violence, attempted murder, theft and interference in internal affairs. In response, the anti-government protester leaders have denounced the prime minister and some members of the government of murder and attempted murder.

Interviewed by AsiaNews Paul Bhatti confirmed that, according to some data, there were "rigged elections", but it is not yet possible to quantify to what extent. Two or three seats with 5 thousand voters were found to have "20 thousand votes," so it is "a fact" that there were irregularities. The opposition had asked for a check in the aftermath of the elections, but "in the name of stability, authorities preferred to keep silent".

The Catholic politician explains that "the supporters of Khan in the north are very determined", and are ready to "die for the cause"; military intervention may be needed "to avoid chaos". Bhatti does not exclude the possible temporary resignation of the Prime Minister "to avoid exacerbating the situation", with the lingering threat of a military coup. "The primary goal - he warns - should be stability, along with safety, and for that to happen, the country is willing to entrust the power in the hands of the army".

The Diocese of Islamabad is also concerned about the current crisis and urges "payers for a peaceful solution". Fr. John Ilyas, of the Diocese of Rawalpindi, recalls the recent the day of prayer on August 31 urges the nation to "remain united" and pray that "the situation will be resolved at the political level".

Maulana Tariq Alvi, of the Council for the Islamic ideology, condemns the "violent" drift of protests, because "it does not solve anything."

Fr. Amir Mall, a priest of the Archdiocese of Lahore, said that "in these difficult times we are asking people all over the country to remain united and pray for their country. We cannot stand by like idle spectators and watch it burn ... We ask for prayers because prayer is a powerful weapon in these difficult times".

(Jibran Khan collaborated)



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