Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today decided to meet opposition leader Imran Khan in an effort to end the anti-government protests here seeking his ouster, as Pakistan's powerful military called for calm and asked all stakeholders to resolve the impasse through meaningful talks.
"It has been decided PM (Sharif) will meet Imran Khan for the sake of country," Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique, a close aide of Prime Minister Sharif, tweeted. Rafique did not give the time for meeting.
It is hoped that Sharif will offer Khan a full audit of ballots to address his concerns about rigging in last year's poll which Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party lost. In the polls, Sharif's PML-N had won 190 out of 342 seats. Khan's PTI got 34 seats, the third largest bloc in the legislature.
Khan wants Sharif's ouster, while Canada-based cleric Tahir-ul Qadri wants to bring a revolution in Pakistan. Sharif's decision came after Khan threatened to storm the Prime Minister House if he refuses to step down by today.
"If Nawaz Sharif does not resign then we will enter into the PM House," Khan said while addressing thousands of anti-government protesters who entered the heavily fortified 'Red Zone' and set up camp in front of the Parliament House.
Meanwhile, the military called for calm after protesters breached the Red Zone that houses important government buildings including the Parliament House, Prime Minister House, President House, the Supreme Court besides embassies.
"Situation requires patience, wisdom and sagacity from all stakeholders to resolve prevailing impasse through meaningful dialogue in larger national and public interest," military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa tweeted.
He said the buildings in the red Zone are symbol of state and being protected by army, so the sanctity of these national symbols must be respected.
Earlier, the rallies led by Pakistan Awami Tehreek and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf marched into the Red Zone and set up camp in front of the Parliament House.
Police baton-charged Qadri's Awami Tehreek protesters as they neared the Parliament. Clashes took place between them and the police. After the initial minor skirmishes, police slowly retreated as part of policy to avoid violence. The protesters had reached the Constitution Avenue as the government decided to withdraw security forces.
"PM just told me he has ordered the police not to use any kind of force against the protesters as women & children are in the front rows," Sharif's daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif tweeted late last night. Pakistan Army has taken charge of the Interior Ministry's control room, Dawn News reported.
The protesters of Khan and Qadri started separately but later moved towards the Parliament together. Information minister Pervaiz Rashid told Geo TV that the marchers have violated written commitment that they will not enter the Red Zone. Khan asked supporters to come back at 4 pm today for fresh phase of protests.
Qadri, whose supporters were in fact the first to breach the Red Zone, addressed his party workers in open area in front of the parliament and announced to stay in the capital till Prime Minister Sharif resigns. "My supporters will not leave until National Government is formed," Qadri said.
So far all efforts to settle the unrest through talks have failed as Khan and Qadri have refused to settle for anything less than Sharif's resignation. In his latest tweet, Khan vowed to continue his efforts to build what he called a new Pakistan.
"When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty. Yesterday we took a giant step for Naya Pakistan and democracy," he said in the latest tweet.The routine protests have turned quite ominous and the fear of military intervention has increased.
The international community has also become alive to the threat to democracy in Pakistan. The US has appealed to all sides to refrain from violence and resolve their differences through peaceful discussions in a way that strengthens democracy in Pakistan.
"We are carefully monitoring the demonstrations in Islamabad. We urge all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and respect the rule of law," State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters at her daily news conference.
In a statement today, British foreign secretary said, "We strongly support a democratic Pakistan and the use of democratic institutions to resolve political disputes. I hope that all parties in Pakistan can work together under the Constitution to peacefully resolve current political differences."