Pakistan Army’s soft return to its grandiose authoritarian status 

Pakistan army will emerge as the beneficiary of the internal dissension.
Keywords: Pakistan, Imran Khan, PM, Elections, Interim, Army, IMF, Balochistan, Anwar’ul Haqq
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For more than a year, the Pakistan Army has withdrawn to its shell for many reasons. The year witnessed a financial crisis, economic recession and skyrocketing prices of necessities of life. Pak society was under the threat of disintegration. The Pak Army could not help in arresting the downslide and, therefore, decided to be least in the public gaze. 

Towards the last days of his rule, former Premier Imran Khan, had adopted an anti-Army stance accusing it of interfering in the administration. The Army was surprised that a person whose rise to power had happened because of its instrumentality should have gone berserk against the very institution. Imran Khan’s acrimony against the army resulted in people becoming disgruntled with the army for which such a phenomenon was unprecedented. Therefore, the army thought it advisable to lie low and not give any provocation to the angered masses of people. 

Imran Khan’s allegation that Washington was engineering his ouster and his brandishing of an alleged cipher, leaked to the press, came as a rude shock to Pakistan Army. The US apprehended relations with Pakistan could become strained.  

Lastly, the curious statement of the former Army Chief, Gen Bajwa, in a meeting to which only a selected few were allowed, disheartened the Pakistani nation. The General had said that Pakistan might not withstand an Indian attack if it came because the Pakistan army was not equipped to face the challenge. He said that the Pakistan army has outdated arms and equipment and was not a match to India’s updated military preparations. 

Pakistani people are usually fed with the exaggerated profile of the Pakistan army and its modern military hardware obtained from the West as well as China. Ordinary Pakistanis have been told exaggerated stories of the Pakistan army’s extraordinary power and prowess against India. The Army found it difficult to absorb the shock that had come not from an ordinary and commonplace source but from the chief himself.  

The situation was somewhat fluid after the new Army Chief General Asim Munir took over. Imran had been removed but his followers were literally on a rampage, disrupting law and order and creating chaotic conditions in the country. The Army Chief would not want to stand against the huge number of Imran’s followers. He showed no hasty reaction and waited for the law to take its course. 

With the court order to send Imran to jail on charges of corruption, things eased for the government and for the army as well. The time had come when the army would open its wings. 

Under the existing constitutional provisos, elections for fresh National Assembly will be held under the governance of an interim government. For weeks at end, speculations were rife in Islamabad, about who would be the most likely person to be interim prime minister. The search was conducted secretly because several candidates were in the fray. Finally, Shahbaz Sharif announced the name of Anwar’ul Haqq Kakar, a member of the Senate. Recently, President Alavi administered the oath of office to Kakar and his 16 ministers. 

Apparently, Kakar’s appointment was projected to have been made smoothly. But many eyebrow has been raised and many dissenting voices are making rounds on this appointment. It is said that for two days, Shahbaz Sharif and Raja Riaz, a lawyer and a senator, besides being the leader of the opposition in the lower house of the national assembly, were engaged in skullduggery to come to an agreement.  

Anwar’ul Haqq, a senator, hails from south-west of Baluchistan and is reported to be close to the Pakistan Army. He has never been a political heavyweight but managed to grab the prestigious position. At the same time Raja Riyaz, the leader of the opposition in the lower house of the national assembly is also considered very close to the Pakistan Army.  

The situation that developed after the detention and prosecution of Imran Khan in Pakistan, was conducive to the Army to come out of its shell and give a proof that it can be proactive when the time comes.  Since both Raja Riyaz and Anwarul Haqq are close to the army, it became easy for General Asim Munir to lend support to Anwar’ul Haqq. In this way, the army has once again become active and seems to have tightened its grip on the political scenario of Pakistan. Shahbaz Sharif and his party seem to have accepted the inevitable. 

In this way, the Army in Pakistan will continue to hold its grip on Pakistan’s politics whether it works behind the curtain or from the front. Obviously, Imran Khan will not be expecting any concession or consideration from the Army.  

Pakistan Constitutions say that after the installation of an interim government, elections for the new national assembly should be organized within 90 days (about 3 months) of the formation of the interim government. The question is whether the interim government will be able to hold fresh elections at the stipulated time. The odds are many and it is rather wishful to presume that elections will be held soon. It will be recollected that the outgoing government had strongly recommended that the delimitation of electoral constituencies shall have to be completed before a date for the election is announced. There are thousands of electoral constituencies for both national assembly as well as provincial assemblies that must be scrutinized and cleared for holding elections. This is a time-consuming process and three months is too short a period within which a delimitation task can be completed. Political commentators believe that elections may not be held this year because of the huge number of election-related cases pending before the judiciary.  

Raja Riyaz had won a seat in the 2018 national elections on the ticket of Imran Khan’s PTI. In the non-confidence motion, he betrayed Imran and voted against him. After Imran Khan was removed in 2022, Raja Riyaz announced that in the forthcoming elections, he will fight the election on the MNL (N) party ticket. 

In the event of deferment of elections for a longer time, a prospect which the army does not rule out and would be happy with, will allow it ample opportunity of restoring its influence and authority considerably. This is what we call a soft return to power. 

Indications are that the interim government may prolong its tenure indefinitely. This is the reason why voices of dissent are raised in various political circles in Pakistan. The first dissenting voice was raised by the PPP senior member Khurshed Shah who has been an elected member of the national assembly several times. He said that he has been kept in darkness about the proposed candidates for the position of interim Prime Minister. He claimed that it is not a wise decision. However, another member of the PPP and a national assembly member, Shazia Marri contradicted Khurshed Shah. 

Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the chairman of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) wrote a letter to Mian Nawaz Sharif in London severely criticizing Shahbaz Sharif’s handling of the issue of interim Prime Minister. Hè said that the appointment was bound to widen the gulf between the two important parties, namely PML(N) and BAP (M).  He further said that it was sad that Pakistan’s leadership always looked to the establishment for the resolution of problems. Mengal said in the letter that whatever has befallen them as Baluch people might be their destiny but the regrettable thing to say is that you (meaning Punjabis and others) have gone through numerous hardships and pressures, yet you have not learned a lesson from history. When you take decisions without taking your allies on board it means you do not want to have trust in them, he stated. 

In conclusion, we find that firstly, there are clear indications that elections in Pakistan will not be held that soon. The exercise may be deferred to a year or more. In the meanwhile, the interim government will consolidate its influence and power with tacit support from the Army. In other words, the Pakistan army will emerge as the beneficiary of the internal dissension. Secondly, the tug of war among the political heavyweights will exacerbate and the era of political uncertainty in Pakistan may not come to an end that soon. Though the IMF has agreed to provide the loan and the Saudi and UAE may follow suit, but because Pakistan is knee-deep in foreign debts, these small supports may not prove much relief.

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K N Pandita

K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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