ISLAMABAD/LAHORE (Reuters) - Pakistani
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met the powerful army chief on Tuesday, a
source in his administration said, as a political deadlock over mass
protests for the government's resignation showed no signs of resolution.
Pakistan has been gripped by peaceful opposition protests
demanding Sharif's resignation this month, with thousands of
demonstrators camped outside parliament in a country that has
experienced a succession of military coups.
"The meeting took place at the prime minister's house," said the
administration source, who asked not to be identified as he was not
authorized to speak to the media.
Sharif and army chief Raheel Sharif discussed the political
situation and other matters, the source added. No other details were
The army could not be reached for comment.
Protesters led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and
firebrand cleric Tahir ul-Qadri have vowed to occupy the capital,
Islamabad, until Sharif resigns - a demand the premier has rejected.
Thousands of Khan and Qadri supporters are now camped out in the
heart of Islamabad - the so-called "Red zone" - but the gathering is
peaceful and security forces protecting the key installations have
not used force to disperse them.
Whether the protests fizzle out or take a more violent course
ultimately depends on the stance taken by the military in a country
ruled by generals for half of its history.
Sharif has a difficult relationship with the army: his last term in
office ended in 1999 when then army chief General Pervez Musharraf
launched a coup to usher in a decade of military rule.
Relations with the military soured further when Sharif's government
prosecuted Musharraf last year for treason, angering officers who
see the army as Pakistan's savior and despise politicians as corrupt
Some ruling party officials have accused elements within the
military of orchestrating the protests to weaken the civilian
government. The military insists it does not meddle in politics.
Few believe the military wants to seize power this time, but there
is a widespread perception it is using the protests as an
opportunity to weaken Sharif and put his civilian government under
Government officials and protest leaders have been in sporadic talks
since last week to find a peaceful way out of the crisis but Khan
has refused to back down unless Sharif quits.
Qadri, for his part, has given the government another deadline to
quit by the middle of this week, saying otherwise circumstances
might be "uncontrollable".
(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)