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PAKISTAN ARMY AT THE CROSSROADS

By Maj Gen Harsha Kakar (Retd)@

Comments over the weekend by Imran Khan on the addresses by Nawaz Sharif to his party and at the conclave of the Multi-party Conference, leading to the formation of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an amalgamation of all opposition political parties, displays the fear gripping the Pak establishment. It simultaneously displays growing solidarity within opposition leaders against the Government and the Army. Nawaz has challenged the Army on its role in appointing selected governments, taking over each pillar of governance and acting as a ‘state above a state.’[i]

In his latest address to his party from London, Nawaz stated, ‘we have broken free of the colonisers only to be enslaved by our own. Today, we are not free citizens.’[ii] He added, ‘We don’t give any importance to him (Imran). He is a selected prime minister which you (army) have imposed upon this country.’[iii] He also accused the Army of running the Parliament.[iv] The view is the same with the rest of the opposition, which is displaying unity to force the hands of the Army.

Imran’s comments against Nawaz in a press interaction, including, ‘whose interest is it that our Army weakens? Our enemies’, ‘if it weren’t for our Army, our country would’ve been in three pieces’, and ‘only one institution is intact which is the Army and we take their assistance to fight COVID, locusts, etc,’[v] displayed that for the first time in years the Army is facing heat on multiple grounds including corruption, interference in politics and running the nation from behind. Imran was evidently playing the last card which the Army employs to win national sympathy, when all else fails, accusing India of being behind the move.

Imran defended the Army Chief speaking to political party leaders on the conversion of Gilgit Baltistan into Pakistan’s fifth province. He stated, ‘It was important that the [army] explained to them what security issues are coming up. Whenever there is a security matter, I prefer the Army to explain because they have institutional memory.’[vi] Maryam had stated after the conference, ‘(Gilgit Baltistan) is a political issue, an issue of the people’s representatives, for them to solve and deliberate upon. These decisions should be made in Parliament, not in GHQ.’[vii]

Despite the push by the Army, the constitutional amendment needed to change the status of Gilgit Baltistan remains in limbo. Imran does not have the 2/3 majority and instead of uniting the opposition to support the move, the Army has united them to oppose it.

The Pak Army, which always projected itself as the guardian of the state against India and its presumed proxies, is facing heat on corruption and direct interference in politics. Currently, there is no organ of the state where the army does not possess a hold. The failure of the government to investigate Lt Gen Bajwa, the current head of the golden goose, CPEC, and owner of Bajco, a company raking in millions in the US, while acting against politicians and the judiciary is increasing anger within Pakistan.

In desperation, the Pak Government ordered PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) to ban all speeches and talks by Nawaz. On the contrary, the army forced all media houses to project the statement by Lt Gen Bajwa defending his family against corruption charges, while downplaying the investigation report. The explanation of Bajwa, which lacked proof, remained unquestioned, was termed by the Army as historic.

Imran went on the defend Bajwa and stated, ‘(he) produced a detailed document with all the answers.’ Maryam commented, ‘when Asim Bajwa felt the pressure, he gave a clarification. Then the media was told to run Bajwa’s clarification. We didn’t know about the news (Bajco), but we knew about the clarification that came out.’[viii] She added, ‘If there is any semblance of justice in Pakistan, then instead of Shahbaz Sharif, Asim Saleem Bajwa should be arrested.’[ix] The Army had by its strongarm tactics hidden every accusation against it, but now the Pandora’s Box is opening.

Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (F) Chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, was nominated as head of the PDM over the weekend. Mohsin Dawar, the leader of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement congratulated the Maulana and stated, ‘we hope the forum will continue with its struggle against the hybrid regime and for the strengthening of democracy with the same clarity as during its inception.’[x] The European Foundation of South Asian Studies (EFSAS), stated in an article, ‘the opposition will need to stick together if it really intends to loosen the stranglehold that the military establishment has had over governance and indeed the economy of the country ever since its inception.’[xi]

The first public rally of the PDM has been planned for Quetta on Oct 11. There would be a series of similar rallies to spread awareness prior to moving to Islamabad in Jan 2021. All rallies in recent years were against the government and most even had the backing of the Army however, for the first time the rally is against the Army, a situation it had never envisaged. Therefore, it faces a dilemma.

If the Army counters Nawaz, it is admitting guilt. If it maintains silence, it is complicit. Thus, it instructed Imran to counter Nawaz and the opposition. It also leaves the Pak Army with little choices if it seeks to safeguard its hold and ensure that the common Pak national does not join the movement, pushing the Government and the Army to the wall.

The first step it could undertake is to arrest selective opposition leaders while employing selective leaks hoping to break the unity of the opposition. The second is to utilize its blackmailing unit, ISI, to force senior opposition leaders to back down, leading to breaking the PDM. The third is to accuse India of backing this movement. Fourthly, accuse India of attempting to sow seeds of sectarian violence within Pak, thus moving focus away from the movement. Fifthly, is to enhance tensions along the LoC, claiming Indian forces are likely to attack POK or Gilgit Baltistan. At the ultimate level, while it may permit some rallies to test the water’s it would never permit the movement to march towards Islamabad.

The counter movement by the Pak Army has already been launched. The ISI and DGISPR attempted to break unity within the PDM by making selective leaks on the meeting organized by the Army Chief. Nawaz had to counter this step by warning his party cadre not to meet army representatives. The arrest of Shahbaz was the next step in the process. Nawaz’s assets are under orders for being confiscated.[xii] Others would soon face the heat. Blackmailing would be done selectively and aimed at dissuading leaders from joining the rallies, as the date comes close.

Currently Pak is facing an anti-Shia sentiment in addition to its problems in Baluchistan, Waziristan and Sindh. Pak has blamed India for these growing insurgencies, terming them as Indian proxies. On the anti-Shia protests, Imran stated, ‘they (India) were aiming for the assassination of Shia and Sunni scholars. Thank God our agencies caught that.’[xiii] It was an attempt to project the Army as the saviour of Pakistan.

Growing ceasefire violations along the LoC in recent days is being done to enhance patriotism and display sacrifices of the Pak Army, which could enable Imran to launch another attack on the PDM claiming it is weakening the Army at a time when threats to the nation are increasing. Possibly, the Pak Army could attempt a terrorist strike in the valley to divert national attention from itself and warm of an imminent attack from India. How many rallies will the Army permit, without employing desperate measures to break them, remains to be seen.

Imran’s comment that anyone against the Pak Army is anti-national may gain some sympathy for the moment. As the rallies take root and the PDM gains ground, there would be moves and countermoves within the country, adding to political confusion. It could lead to Army highhandedness at display, for which PDM leaders need to be prepared. The Army could also dump Imran if it becomes imperative to ensure survivability. Indian reactions to Pak Army’s misadventures may loosen or tighten the latitude of the PDM in pushing through its agenda. The FATF sword hanging over Pak will place some restrictions on the deep state.

The coming weeks could turn a new chapter in Pakistan history, which could benefit the subcontinent. The Army may not surrender without a fight; hence, how far the PDM is willing to risk is the mute question.

 

 

[i] https://swarajyamag.com/insta/pakistan-army-has-gone-from-being-a-state-within-a-state-to-being-a-state-above-a-state-ex-pm-nawaz-sharif

[ii] https://www.dawn.com/news/1582473/i-am-told-someone-else-is-running-parliament-nawaz-tells-pml-ns-central-executive-committee

[iii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/ex-pm-nawaz-sharif-lashes-out-at-the-military-establishment/articleshow/78434891.cms

[iv] https://www.dawn.com/news/1582473/i-am-told-someone-else-is-running-parliament-nawaz-tells-pml-ns-central-executive-committee

[v][v] https://www.dawn.com/news/1582671/india-helping-nawaz-in-attempts-to-weaken-army-says-pm-imran

[vi] ibid

[vii] https://www.news18.com/news/india/political-decisions-should-be-taken-in-parliament-not-army-hq-maryam-nawaz-2902761.html

[viii] https://www.dawn.com/news/1582671/india-helping-nawaz-in-attempts-to-weaken-army-says-pm-imran

[ix] https://www.geo.tv/latest/310379-maryam-nawaz-holds-press-conference-after-opposition-leader-shehbaz-sharifs-arrest

[x] https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/pakistan-fazlur-rehman-appointed-chief-for-newly-formed-pdm-alliance/story-cXtV0c0FsoOmwppY3f4cmO.html

[xi] ibid

[xii] https://www.dawn.com/news/1582659/accountability-court-orders-seizure-of-nawazs-assets-in-toshakhana-case

[xiii] https://www.dawn.com/news/1582671/india-helping-nawaz-in-attempts-to-weaken-army-says-pm-imran

@Major General Harsha Kakar (Retd) writes and speaks on national security and the armed forces. Commissioned into the Regiment of Artillery in Jun 1979 he has held a number of appointments in field and peace. He was the head of department of strategic studies at the College of Defence Management. He was the first Indian Army officer to attend the National Security Studies Course at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto.

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