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Something Is Rotten In the State of Pakistan — Even Army Cannot 'Fix' It

Everyone is at loggerheads with everyone. No one is confident or in charge. It’s like watching a train wreck live.

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The best laid plans of the Pakistani military have all once again gone awry and could well spin out of control. After the decision to disband project Imran Khan—also known as becoming neutral—the GHQ found servicemen at the highest levels were not just surreptitiously extending support to Imran Khan (planning his moves, advising him, etc), but going as far as to act as informants.

Reportedly, an inquiry is underway against these officers, some of whom are under arrest. Imran Khan’s statements about having informants in the ISI and the army likely gave a start to the GHQ. 

The issue mystifying most observers was why matters were not proceeding linearly: with the new guard “neutral” and Bajwa gone, where was Imran Khan drawing the audacity from for continually attempting to upend the system without consequences?

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Snapshot
  • The best laid plans of the Pakistani military have all once again gone awry and could well spin out of control.

  • Elements in the judiciary, too, are apparently extending unprecedented support and lenience to Imran Khan.

  • The military establishment is not using the same old tactics of threats of violence or blackmail with the judiciary to continue with its image of “neutrality”.

  • The PDM government is beset by internal strife and does not trust the military.

  • General Asim Munir is stuck with the legacy he has inherited—Afghanistan, Kashmir, hostile neighbours on all sides, and the divisiveness in society his organisation created.

  • Because of the entire mess, and Imran Khan behaving like a brat.

Pakistan Courts Extending Unprecedented Support to Imran Khan

Imran and his cronies like Shaukat Tareen, Fawad Chaudhry could never be expected to show such defiance and almost openly attempt adventures like trying to make Pakistan default on its commitments, or trying to cause a run on the banks etc while in opposition.

Clearly, elements in the judiciary, too, apparently extending unprecedented support and lenience to Imran Khan were, and still are, also acting out of character. He doesn’t appear for any court summons or hearings, continues to get bail before arrest, or, as in the latest incident, is not arrested despite a bail application finally being rejected. The judges in the Supreme and High Courts extending this extraordinary support to Imran Khan are known not to be independent. 

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General Qamar Bajwa Played Games With Everyone 

The aforementioned inquiry has lifted the fog somewhat. As is now confirmed, General Bajwa was playing games with everyone. Whilst apparently on board with his generals on the policy of “neutrality” going forward from February 2021, he tried to stop the vote of no confidence against Imran Khan in March 2022—but failed in the end.

Later, he got busy trying to obtain an extension for himself from the PDM government. This was an open secret last year, but it has now been confirmed publicly by former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. He was also instrumental, together with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Umar Atta Bandiyal, in replacing the PDM’s government in Punjab with that of the PTI in middle 2022. Gen Bajwa’s role was spilled by former Chief Minister Pervez Ilahi, whom he secretly contacted to tell him to vote with PTI in return for the CMship of Punjab. 

But here comes the most fascinating part of the puzzle: the PDM government acting weak and appearing to be in disarray. One basic reason is that the military establishment is not using the same old tactics of threats of violence or blackmail with the judiciary (or the media or the others) if doesn’t play ball. The military wants to continue with its image of “neutrality” and doesn’t want to be caught dead calling or meeting anyone to lean on them. Which is good per se. But, the result is that elements withing the judiciary in key positions are running amok returning illegal or unconstitutional verdicts favouring Imran Khan.

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Pakistan's Coalition Government Cannot Trust Military

The second but most shocking reason the PDM is not surefooted is that it is “observing” the new guard (Gen Asim Munir & Co) because it is not entirely sure it can trust it not to bite again—a case of many times bitten, twice shy.

As it is, it’s always difficult to reach a consensus between eleven parties. But, trouble runs deep between and within the two major parties leading the PDM—the PMLN and the PPP. At the end of the day, the two parties do not trust each other.

Whilst the PPP’s chain of command and unity appears relatively intact, the PMLN’s appears frayed. The PMLN is suspicious of the current high command of the army possibly because it is overreading non-significant events or gestures. It is also beset by an internal power struggle which also serves to further fuel suspicions against the army.

For example, a certain camp of the party suspects that former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is leading a group within the party which may be playing in the hands of the new army guard to wrest control of the party and power in the country from the Sharif family. This appears to be a case of paranoia fed by terrible advice, given Abbasi’s unblemished record of statesmanly and honourable conduct.

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Terrorists' Day Out In Pakistan 

The overall logjam has past domestic and foreign policy gold nuggets contributing to it. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has been shunned and embraced repeatedly over the last two decades, is carrying out daily attacks on security personnel, civil and military.

The Tehreek-Labaik-Pakistan, which the Pakistan Army in its infinite wisdom created and mainstreamed less than half a dozen summers ago to gutterise the domestic political canvas further, has just issued a warning to the state to decrease the price of fuel “or else”; that it will do what “it is known for doing”.

All this, mind you, comes in the midst of an economic meltdown and dismal financial outlook for the country, which is the direct result of repeated political engineering attempts by the army. Clearly, the PMLN is not coping with the mess it has been handed, not least because it is making some terrible decisions because of the reasons mentioned earlier, with some of the best people within it becoming dormant or stepping aside.

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General Asim Munir's Many Battles 

General Asim Munir is stuck with the legacy he has inherited—Afghanistan, Kashmir, hostile neighbours on all sides, and the divisiveness in society his organisation created.

Munir has been moving slowly to consolidate his power within his organisation. This was always going to be his biggest challenge, and if he can manage it within the next three months at the maximum, great! The issue of Officers Training School (OTS) versus Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) has begun to raise its ugly head again.

General Munir was trained at the OTS and the officers in the net of the insubordination investigation right now are all from the PMA. It’s just happenstance because most officers do graduate from the PMA, the OTS being a supplementary military school that deals with inducting officers within a shorter time frame (twelve months) in times of capacity issues at the PMA (which produces officers after a training of 24 months).

But the OTS vs PMA is a faux issue—which academy you graduated from should hardly matter after thirty years of service if you’ve already proven yourself enough to make it to the rank of Lieutenant General.

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Because of the entire mess, Imran Khan is getting a golden chance to behave like a brat. By dissolving the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, he intends to bring General Elections forward by creating a crisis. The two provinces have caretaker governments in place. No one knows when elections will happen in these two provinces. Everyone is at loggerheads with everyone. No one is confident or in charge. It’s like watching a train wreck live.

(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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