Friday, 22 August 2014

The foreign side of the Long March, by Hussain Nadim

In 1953, the democratically-elected government of Dr Mossadegh in Iran was overthrown in a coup by the US and the UK as revealed by the declassified documents of the US government. Before the coup, massive protests were stirred against Dr Mossadegh with protestors calling him a dictator who stuffed the ballot boxes.

The protestors demanded electoral reforms and removal of Dr Mossadegh. As suspected, Dr Mossadegh was soon overthrown, and the Shah of Iran was reinstated as the monarch. Years later, it was found out that underneath the sham of election rigging, the US and the UK had toppled the Iranian government under Operation Ajax because of the Iranian government’s decision to nationalise Iran’s petroleum industry which was going to be a major blow for the UK’s economic interest in the region.
Same script, but different country, 60 years later. For social media pundits, and certain media groups, the current protests in Pakistan are about electoral rigging and bringing about a ‘change’ in Pakistan. For the innocent protesters on ground, yes indeed! However, the reality is shrouded in dense layers of fourth-generation warfare (economic and media). Beneath this rhetoric of an ‘Azadi March’ against the corrupt structure is an activity aimed at destabilising the very government which is going against the economic interest of certain global powers, national institutions and ambitious political leaders who can’t wait for their turn.
The ideal way to explain this is that the local ambitions of Imran Khan and a couple of other politicians, coupled with interests of the establishment, matched the international economic ambitions of foreign powers, thereby instigating the current crisis. Imran might not even realise it, but the way with which he is being played in the hands of external actors through local mediators is startling.
What exactly is going on needs a bit of out-of-the-box thinking and a read in history. The UAE is running out of oil, Dubai is already barren. The only thing Dubai is surviving on is its strategically-placed port that still provides a hub for trade. The ‘sin’ of the new PML-N government is that it has generously opened itself up to China, which is rapidly investing and developing the country.
With an estimated 80 per cent of all the international trade being conducted with China, the first country to suffer will be the UAE. A major chunk of its port operations will be shifted to Gwadar.
Now, a country that has its entire survival on its port becoming redundant in a few years would certainly be worried. Hence, for those who understand geo- politics and economics, fracturing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is at the key of the ongoing demonstrations. And interestingly, this time it’s not the US that has a problem, nor the UK or India. In fact, it’s the Arabs of UAE that have a serious cause of concern from the ongoing massive projects between China and Pakistan, and the opening up of Gwadar port.
Those who think that all this is part of conspiracy theory, let me take the pleasure to remind you of a recorded history of the regime changes, now declassified under the Freedom of Information Act, led by the United States. Foreign powers have been involved in the overthrow of democratically-elected governments since the dawn of history.
Politics is all about economic interests. Rarely, if ever, revolutions are caused for ideological reasons. However, to mobilise the public, sensational and emotional messages of ‘change’ ‘democracy, and ‘freedom’ are thrown in as a cover or economic interests to charge up the mob. Why else would thousands of Pakistanis come out against the PML-N government if they had even a hint of what has happened in postcolonial nations in terms of regime changes by the Western powers?
It’s disappointing to see that even after 67 years of independence, this country is still under economic imperialism and under the fourth-generation warfare where media is the key element. Those who support democracy are labelled as badshahs and those that have partnered with the dictators are painted as ‘revolutionaries’.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2014.

Thursday, 21 August 2014


·         Written by  Boriwal Kakar
·         Thursday, 21 August 2014 15:34‘As you know there are many in Balochistan. They believe that Balochistan’s occupation is being maintained through the barrel of gun; hence, Balochistan liberation will also flow through the barrel of gun,’ says Hyrbiar Marri. Son of the late Khair Bux Marri, Hyrbiar is a known spokesperson for Baluchistan national struggle. Read on:
Basically what in your view is Balochistan’s problem?

 In 1947 when Balochistan got independence and it stayed independent for nine months, Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted our Khan to accede to Pakistan. The Khan sought the advice of the Baloch parliament. The House of Lords as well as the House of Commons advised the Khan against accession to Pakistan. The parliament believed that being an independent country, with a distinct culture and language, Balochistan should not accede to Pakistan merely on religious grounds. On March 27, 1948 Pakistan invaded Balochistan whereupon the Khan was forced to sign the treaty of accession. The Baloch did not want it. Accession to Pakistan was secured under duress. The Baloch nation has refused to accept the forced accession. We believe we are an occupied land. We view Pakistan as an occupying force. We want the world to know that it was an illegal occupation of Baloch land. We want the international community to support us in the way it lent support to Kuwait against Iraqi occupation.   

In Baluchistan, disappearances of political activists and political assassinations have become a norm. Thousands have gone missing or been killed. For the last 65 years, extra-judicial killings have been a routine. Nobody is taking any notice. This is indeed sad. When Kosovo was subjected to Serbian oppression, the European Union and rest of the world came to Kosovo’s rescue. Not merely Serbian atrocities were checked, but an army was also dispatched to guard Kosovo against Serbia. Likewise, the Australian army arrived to defend East Timor against Indonesia. Balochistan, however, is being ignored. Through its fanatic groups, Pakistan is blackmailing the Baloch people. Also, it is blackmailing civilized European countries so that these countries do not support the Baloch cause.

What are exactly your demands?

I am struggling for an independent Balochistan. It is a fundamental right of every human being and every nation to enjoy freedom. The Baloch were an independent nation. Balochistan was a sovereign state. Pakistan occupied it. Ironically, Pakistan demands self-determination for the people of Kashmir but it has occupied Baloch country. However, we demand neither a referendum nor self-determination. We want an unconditional withdrawal of Pakistan from Balochistan.

Unlike separatists, the number of Baloch willing to live with Pakistan constitutes a majority. Your comments.

The so-called general elections last year were boycotted in Baluchistan on the call of Baloch nationalists. Look at the turn out. It was five to seven percent. Over ninety percent boycotted. This in itself was a vote for independence.

In your view, the Balochistan Assembly is not legitimate?

Not at all. Firstly, the Balochistan Assembly is a creation of an occupier. Secondly, the Baloch did not elect it. They utterly lack the legitimacy. The occupier has imposed them on Balochistan. Some members of the Balochistan Assembly reached the floor of house by bagging 400 to 600 votes. One cannot reach a district-level government to represent a constituency.  In other words, they lack legitimacy. Had they been genuine representatives, they would have demanded freedom for the Baloch people. But they are slaves to Pakistan.

Your real brother is a member of Balochistan Assembly?

I agree. Also, I consider every Baloch a brother. However, one who accepts Pakistani slavery is not my brother no matter who he is.

I hope you remember that you have also been a member of the same Balochistan Assembly?

True. However, a rational person is one who on realizing a mistake does not repeat it. This is what you also call experience. I realized that the Balochistan Assembly is only a platform to seduce and bribe the Baloch representatives. We were not allowed to speak about or demand Baloch liberation. Through this platform, we were made to think individually instead of collectively. When I realized that being Baloch I am not allowed to struggle for Balochistan, I boycotted it. I have been telling others as well about my experiences.

Did you make a mistake?

No. Even my elders contested elections and were elected for the Baluchistan Assembly. Afterwards, they also advised us to stay away. However, call it Baloch magnanimity or large heartedness that we wanted to give even our occupier a chance. After all, they were invoking Islam and Muslim brotherhood. But it was all a ploy. They committed Bengali genocide in which three million Bengalis were butchered while two hundred thousand women were raped in East Pakistan. They---either as an army or as a nation--- have nothing to do with Islam. Their mindset reflects their occupying nature. They submit before a mighty power while trying to dominate the weak ones. These Pakistanis know nothing about brotherhood.

Do you believe in democracy?

Sure. I perfectly believe in democracy.

How come, when you went in exile instead of staying in Balochistan, contesting elections and raising a voice for Baloch rights from the floor of the house?

As far as Pakistani democracy is concerned, it is a sham democracy. I want a democratic system for an independent Baluchistan. I do not want the kind of autocracy practiced in Gulf sheikhdoms. I want democracy. One person, one vote. Even the son of a poor shepherd, if capable, should have the right to vote and to be elected. . All will have equal voting right. I believe in equality and democracy. I am not for the rule of kings.

Can you tell us, if possible, on how many fronts Baloch nationalists are fighting?

One front consists of Baloch exiles. Here in exile, me and my friends are highlighting the Baloch plight to draw world attention. We are pointing out to the world that Pakistan that always invokes Islam has occupied a Muslim land. Balochistan itself is the other front. Many are engaged in peaceful struggle. Ghulam Muhammad, for instance, formed a non-violent organisation. Still he was martyred. Lala Mir is yet another case. In Balochistan, they do not differentiate between a nationalist engaged in armed struggle and the ones practicing peaceful means. Anybody demanding an independent Balochistan is extra-judicially killed. This unIslamic, inhuman policy Pakistan is pursuing in Baluchistan.

  What about armed groups? Who are they? How many are there?

As you know there are many. They believe that Baluchistan’s occupation is being maintained through the barrel of gun; hence, Balochistan liberation will also flow through the barrel of gun.

 Which path in your view is useful. The one you are treading or the one followed by armed resistance groups?

Everyone has to follow tactics according to the place one happens to be. We in exile are promoting the Baloch cause so that the world realizes our plight. Those on the ground in Balochistan are better placed to decide for themselves. They on realizing that negotiations lead nowhere, have taken up the other path.

 Mr Marri! You are struggling for the freedom of Balochistan as is Allah Nazar Baloch. However, you happen to be in London while he is holed up in mountains. You two lead two very different lives.

You are right. We lead two different lives. He is leading a difficult life. There are the troubles of everyday life. He risks his life while we enjoy the safety of London. However, we have been asked to highlight the Baloch cause internationally. But this is how it is. We all can not be at the same place. Representatives of a country are present all over the place. But all we are doing is done in consultation among friends.

Are you saying that you consult each other?

I am not saying I consult Dr Allah Nazar Baloch. I have friends who happen to be in Baluchistan. On their advice, in consultation with them, I am here in London. (To be concluded).  

This is an unpublished transcript of Nawabzada Hyrbiar Marri's interview with Boriwal Kakar of RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. This interview was conducted in October 2013. Radio Mashaal is broadcasting for the Pashtun areas along the Durand Line. Boriwal Kakar tweets at @Boriwalkakar.



  • Written by  Farooq Sulehria
  • Email
First things first. The so-called Azadi (Freedom) March by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI)  and Revolution March by Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT), would not have been tolerated had these emerged from Sindh or Baluchistan. Likewise, the media would not have devoted attention to any such march the way above-mentioned marches have been covered: a wall-to-wall coverage in the press while non-stop live broadcasts beaming into every household with a TV set in Pakistan.
A band of determined Baloch activists literally marched from Quetta-to-Karachi-to-Lahore-to-Islamabd a few months ago. The whole march was nearly blacked-out in the mainstream media until it arrived Islamabad. Noted anchorperson Hamid Mir was warned not to invite representatives of the Baloch marchers to his talk show, Capital Talk on Geo TV. He did not listen. Rest, as we know, is an unfortunate episode of recent history.
The Baloch march was perhaps not as mammoth as Azadi and Revolution marches, arriving on board busses and posh cars. However, the Sindhi nationalists in their hundred thousands have marched to Karachi, from all over Sindh in recent years. While every corner meeting under the auspices of MQM finds detailed coverage, Sindhi processions have met with a media silence.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Pakistan Army’s top brass in a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on August 19, advised the latter to avoid the use of violence against the Azadi and Revolution marchers. The News reports, ‘As the PTI and PAT protests in Islamabad entered into the fifth day on Tuesday, the army put its troops on high alert soon after a two-and-a-half hour meeting between Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Army chief General Raheel Sharif. According to sources, other military leaders were also present along with the COAS Gen Raheel Sharif during the meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The sources said the military leadership advised the prime minister to resolve the issue politically and avoid the use of force against the protesters’. The prime minister duly obliged. The Newsfurther reports that the prime minister ‘has directed the authorities not to use force against the marchers as they include women and children (1).
This is not to imply that the Punjabi ruling class would fight shy of shedding the blood of Punjabi workers and peasants. However, the place that the Punjab---lying on both sides of the GT-Road---occupies in Pakistani hierarchy is a privileged position. It is not a coincidence that army refused to fire on protestors in Lahore during the anti-Bhutto agitation in 1977. However, the same army commanded by General Zia-ul-Haq was pounding the Sindhi villages with gunship helicopters a few years down the line. As of writing these lines (August 21), Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri  have taken the federal capital hostage. One wonders if a BNM march on Quetta would be tolerated with equal level of forbearance?
A soft coup:
‘From czar-like prime minister to deputy commissioner-type character’ reads a much-quoted newspaper headline about the ongoing political theatre in Islamabad. Describing the situation, Reuters claims: ‘as tens of thousands of protesters advanced on the federal capital to demand his resignation, Sharif dispatched two emissaries to consult with the army chief. He wanted to know if the military was quietly engineering the twin protest movements by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan and activist cleric Tahirul Qadri, or if, perhaps, it was preparing to stage a coup. According to a government insider with a first-hand account of the meeting, Sharif's envoys returned with good news and bad: there will be no coup but if he wants his government to survive, from now on it will have to share space with the army’ (2).
In April, a Viewpoint editorial had suggested that military would not stage a coup for the following reasons (Excerpts):

1. A military coup requires a clear rationale, no matter how bogus it may be. The Musharraf case can be neither a rationale [for domestic and international consumption] nor an actual motive. At the moment the only sellable pretext is a Taliban insurgency. However, it is exactly because of the Taliban factor, that the military will stay away.

2. The military in power will not have a civilian cushion in case of a likely failure to subdue the Taliban insurgency.
3. If, as a result of a coup, the military takes the helm it will have to own its Taliban policy. The civilian cushion available at present, will not be available. 

4. The economic crisis has rendered the Sharif government extremely unpopular in less than one year. Likewise, in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province, the PTI-JI government is proving to be a big disillusionment for its supporters. In power, the military will have to take responsibility for the economic mess it can not manage [even when it is largely responsible for it].

5. As a result of the Advocates Movement and the bankruptcy of the Musharraf dictatorship, mass consciousness even in the Punjab, situation is not very favourable for a military coup 
Through the Azadi and Revolution marches, army has staged a soft coup. The Economist has aptly commented: ‘Whether or not Mr Sharif survives, coup-prone Pakistan’s strides towards greater democracy have been severely damaged’ (4).  If any thing, these wrong marches have led to anti-freedom and ‘counter-revolution’. A visionless Muslim League leadership has only abetted in the soft coup by effortlessly capitulating.
Visionless civilian leadership:
In the first place, democracy’s best defence is to make it a source of improved living standards for a vast majority. A democracy that does not help lift millions out of poverty and fails in addressing grave problems besetting the country, breeds disillusionment in politics. A depoliticized population is a poor shield against military adventures. The performance of the present government has hardly inspired any section of the population. Hence, no spontaneous counter-mobilizations have been witnessed as could have been the case had a popular government been besieged by anti-democratic forces.
Secondly, political challenges should be dealt with politically. The PMLN government resorted to administrative means to diffuse the challenge.  Or, secret deals and negotiations with the army were attempted. All these efforts may help Nawaz Sharif to survive in the days to come. But the cause of democracy has been dealt another severe blow.  Lack of vision has helped amplify the blow.


Does government want to take Kashmir out of bilateral talks?

Does government want to take Kashmir out of bilateral talks?
The sudden shift from what was perceived as a friendly secretary level talks has brought Indo-Pak relation back to square one. dna learns from sources that the government wants to take the issue of Kashmir out of bilateral talks. Pakistan's stand on the other hand is that other issues can be sorted out once Kashmir is sorted out the two prime ministers may meet twice this year in other venues..
What does the calling off of secretary-level talks mean in realpolitik terms?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assumed a strident position by telling Pakistan to desist meeting Kashmiri separatist leaders ahead of any bilateral engagement with India. Modi may have done so with his eye on votes in the Jammu region in the forthcoming assembly elections. But a view that is gaining ground very fast is that it may be the first step towards removing Kashmir as a subject for discussion from bilateral engagements.
What are murmurs over Modi's decision?
Officials in the security establishment as well as in the MEA are divided on Modi's new line. Such moderates would have favoured issuing a demarche or protesting publicly at Pakistan's behaviour. They feel the cancellation of talks on this pretext would take the situation to depths from, which it cannot be retrieved. Questions are also being raised as to why in the first place the separatist leaders were allowed to arrive in Delhi and meet the Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit, who on Thursday again defended his meetings, and called Kashmir a trilateral issue, promptly rejected by India by reminding him 'read the print of Shimla Agreement'.
What is likely to be Pakistan's response?
"This new line of engagement sets the bar higher by telling Pakistan to agree to Indian terms and contitions if it wants any progress on dialogue," a senior official told dna. Further, it was Pakistan's prerogative so far to determine whether it wants to talk to either Hurriyat or India. Now that may change. Knowing internal dynamics of Pakistan, this means there will be no further bilateral engagement, as it will be impossible for Islamabad to reverse its position to 180 degrees and talk to India only on the issue of trade, commerce and cultural exchanges.
What does the term bilateral mean?
Late prime minister Indira Gandhi had succeeded in coverting Kashmir from an international issue to a bilateral one, during 1973 Shimla Agreement, which now forms the basis of any India-Pakistan meetings.
Will now Modi set a new precedent by erasing Kashmir issue from the bilateral agenda? Has the recent turn of events anything to do with the impending assembly elections?
Jammu and Kashmir goes to the polls later this year. The BJP has already launched an operation code named "Mission 44+" to emerge as a stakeholder in the state assembly which has 86 seats. The BJP hopes to ride on the success of recently concluded Lok Sabha polls, where it romped home with three seats in the Hindu and Buddhist majority regions of Jammu and Ladakh respectively, leading in some 28 assembly segments. It plans to achieve the party's long-cherished dream of abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution, through legal means.
Where do India-Pakistan relations go from here?
Even those who were preparing for the now cancelled secretary level talks in Islamabad, say deeper differences were already eating away much of their work. These talks were primarily focused on preparing a calendar and agenda for the meeting of Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York in September and then in Kathmandu in November. India had sent a wish list that included grant of non-discriminatory market access, reminding that it had granted an MFN status to Pakistan way back in 1996. Pakistan had also sent its list of demands, which included easing visa regime for pilgrims and families visiting India. There was no agreement, however, on any other issue; be it the judicial closure of the trial of Mumbai attacks or putting a stop on ceasefire violations.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Don’t wreck democratic process in Pakistan, By Hashim Qureshi

Don’t wreck democratic process in Pakistan, By Hashim Qureshi
AUGUST 19, 2014   

It is just fifteen months when elections were held in Pakistan, Imran Khan’s PTI formed its government in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Its 35 members were elected to National Assembly, took the oath of office; some of them became members or office bearers of different committees of the assembly. Appeals were filed with the Election Tribunal in some instances of irregularities in election and some of these were formally disposed off.
Thus the march of democratic process in Pakistan was smooth. Economy was reviving and the army was meeting with success in dealing with terrorism in its Operation Zarb-e-azab. On international level also Pakistan was appreciated for taking desirable steps against Taliban terrorists. Nawaz Sharif’s government conducted agreements with various countries especially with China for expanding trade and commerce and more importantly for generating ten thousand megawatts of electric power and road and rail link from Gilgit to Gawadar.
But the enemies of Pakistan and their stooges within the country are not happy with Pakistan stabilizing its democratic institutions. They are not happy with Pakistan recovering from economic downslide as well as Pakistan taking care of its security. These inimical forces are hell bent to destroy all these achievements.
A dissection of the motives of those who have given a call for ‘ Long March’ or ‘Freedom March’ will show that Muslim League (Q), Chowdhury Brothers and those who have been supporters of military dictatorship and have been occupying the seats of power in the centre or in Punjab, have never felt comfortable with Pakistan hanging on to democratic dispensation. They cannot come to power when democracy is entrenched in Pakistan. Sheikh Rashid has been an ardent supporter of military establishment and has invariably betrayed his colleagues.
Tahiru’l Qadri has been cooling his heels at the doors of the Pope and other Christian leaders in the West, and has been surviving on social assistance in Canada. Wherefrom did he get all this enormous wealth to run a movement? What can one expect from religious maniacs like him? Hazrat Ali has rightly said about such people that “by obliging a man of cheap mentality, seek refuge with God Almighty from his evil nature”
What an irony that a noble family like Qadris should produce an evil like Tahiru’l Qadiri. Don’t forget that even religious fanatics have caused no small damage to the Muslims. The nexus formed by these groups in which Imran, Qadri and others are involved is striving to bring about destruction of Pakistan.
General Musharraf has also announced that he would be joining the inquilab march of Qadri. He and his other cohorts, too, are readying to destroy Pakistan’s democracy. After going through the speeches, video messages and religious thoughts of Tahir, one feels that he is a psychological patient and needs medical treatment. All his speeches show that there is an external enemy instigating him and prompting him in his malicious utterances. It is curious that in this 21st century a religious leader is shifting from his statements and stands every time and is instigating his blind followers to resort to violence. It is baffling how Pakistan is tolerating such a rabid fanatic and his blind followers. His followers may not number more than a few thousand persons and they want to hold a country of 18 crore people as a hostage?
Joining hands with Imran Khan and other undemocratic elements, Qadri wants to bring down the entire democratic system including the parliament and democratic institutions of the country. And all this is happening at a time when the Pakistani army is engaged in destroying the stronghold of international terrorists in North Waziristan.
How can one explain the fact that in the National Assembly,Khan’s PTI occupies the third place, and additionally, it has formed the government of one province namely Pukhtunkhwa, and still he wants to cut at the roots of democracy in the country? Hardly has the government of Nawaz Sharif been in the seat of power for a year and half when Imran is there asking for his resignation?
Let it be noted that Khyber Pukhtunkhwa has become the centre of international terrorists. It also remains a backward area. Here runs the government of Imran Khan’s PTI. He could have undertaken social work on a large and positive note and brought about a big change in the entire region. This would have brought him great credit among the people of Pakistan and he would have achieved commendable national profile. It is unfortunate that he has chosen to work against democracy which Pakistan has been struggling hard to stabilize. The marches for which he has given a call can lead to disturbances and civil war and thus provide the army an opportunity to step in.
The question is that if these groups, now in tandem, demand renewed election after just fifteen months of the existing government, and for that purpose they resort to ‘Long March” type of process, what guarantee is there that this practice will not be repeated once they succeed derailing the existing government? They know it well, and yet they are persisting with their nefarious design which can be summed up as follows:
1.Not to allow Pakistan become a peaceful country and free from terrorism
2. Uproot or weaken democracy at any cost.
3. Punish Nawaz Sharif for his independent foreign policy.
4. Shield Musharraf from legal cases.
5. Maintain domination of the army.
6. Maintain Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism.

7. Constitute assemblies under the control of the army
8. Imran Khan’s accusation against the former chief justice is to avenge latter’s (CJ’s) animus against Musharraf.
9. Spread disorder and turmoil if you want to instigate army’s revolt and wind up democracy as the political system of the government.
10. Foment civil war in Pakistan leading to its collapse is the plan of the Jews and the Americans so that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is snatched away from them.
One can only say that all these anti-national activities are carried out either by blind, dumb and deaf followers (of these leaders) or that the literate youth are just day-dreaming?
Pakistanis should remember that they are becoming the enemies of their own. By dragging their country to a civil war, they are planning to destroy their country and in the process they, too, shall get decimated.
The present government has people’s mandate for five years. It must be allowed o work for the full tenure as is the usual system with all democracies in the world. Its delivery will have to be judged after it has completed its term. People can decide at that time but demanding its ouster before it completes its tenure, will only weaken Pakistan’s democratic institutions. Do the above mentioned groups want that?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Pakistan crisis puts army back in the driving seat

Pakistan crisis puts army back in the driving seat
Aug 20 (Reuters) - As tens of thousands of protesters advanced on the Pakistani capital last week to demand his resignation, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dispatched two emissaries to consult with the army chief.

He wanted to know if the military was quietly engineering the twin protest movements by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan and activist cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, or if, perhaps, it was preparing to stage a coup.

According to a government insider with a first-hand account of the meeting, Sharif's envoys returned with good news and bad: there will be no coup, but if he wants his government to survive, from now on it will have to "share space with the army".

Even if, as seems likely, the Khan and Qadri protests eventually fizzle out due to a lack of overt support from the military, the prime minister will emerge weakened from the crisis.

The army may have saved his skin, but its price will be subservience to the generals on issues he wanted to handle himself - from the fight against the Taliban to relations with arch foe India and Pakistan's role in neighbouring, post-NATO Afghanistan.

"The biggest loser will be Nawaz, cut down to size both by puny political rivals and the powerful army," said a government minister who asked not to be named. "From this moment on, he'll always be looking over his shoulder."

A year ago, few would have predicted that Sharif would be in such trouble: back then, he had just swept to power for a third time in a milestone poll that marked nuclear-armed Pakistan's first transition from one elected government to another.

But in the months that followed, Sharif - who had crossed swords with the army in the past - moved to enhance the clout of the civilian government in a country that has been ruled by the military for more than half of its turbulent history.

He irked the generals by putting former military head Pervez Musharraf, who had abruptly ended his last stint as prime minister in a 1999 coup, on trial for treason.

Sharif also opposed a military offensive to crush Taliban insurgents, sided with a media group that had accused the military of shooting one of its journalists and sought reconciliation with India, the perceived threat that the army uses to justify its huge budget and national importance.


Sources in Sharif's government said that, with civilian-military relations in such bad shape, Sharif suspected that the street protests to unseat him were being manipulated from behind the scenes by the army.

He also feared that, if the agitations turned violent, the army would exploit the situation to seize power for itself.

However, the two close aides who went to see army chief Raheel Sharif in the garrison town of Rawalpindi last Wednesday were told that the military had no intention of intervening.

"The military does not intend to carry out a coup but ... if the government wants to get through its many problems and the four remaining years of its term, it has to share space with the army," said the insider, summing up the message they were given.

"Sharing space" is a familiar euphemism for civilian governments focusing narrowly on domestic political affairs and leaving security and strategic policy to the army.

The army's media wing declined to comment on the meeting.

The fact that the military is back in the driving seat will make it harder for Sharif to deliver the rapprochement with India that he promised when he won the election last year.

Indian media speculated this week that Sharif had already been forced by the generals to scuttle peace talks.

New Delhi on Monday called off a meeting between foreign ministry officials of the two countries, which had been set to take place on Aug. 25, because Pakistan announced its intention to consult Kashmiri separatists ahead of the meeting.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since both gained independence in 1947. The two nations have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir, and came close to a fourth in 2001.

The Pakistani army's predominance could also mean it could torpedo the government's relationship with Afghanistan, where a regional jostle for influence is expected to intensify after the withdrawal of most foreign forces at the end of this year.


Few believed that the army would back Khan's bid for power even if it used him to put Sharif on the defensive.

"Even the army knows that Imran Khan may be a great pressure cooker in the kitchen, but you can't trust him to be the chef," said a former intelligence chief who declined to be named.

Sharif may now pay the price for miscalculating that the military might have been willing to let the one-time cricket hero topple him.

"Thinking that Imran could be a game-changer, Nawaz has conceded the maximum to the army," a Sharif aide said.

"From a czar-like prime minister, they (the army) have reduced him to a deputy commissioner-type character who will deal with the day-to-day running of the country while they take care of the important stuff like Afghanistan and India. This is not a small loss."

But Sharif's aides say a stint in jail under Musharraf, followed by exile from Pakistan and five years as leader of the opposition party, have made him realise that he needs to share power to survive.

"This is not the old Nawaz, the wild confrontationalist," said an adviser to the prime minister in Lahore, the capital of his Punjab province power base. "This is the new Nawaz who has learnt the hard way that politics is about living to fight another day." (Editing by John Chalmers)