Pakistan Army and its political games

Islamabad: Pakistan Military establishment is being questioned like never before. It is the fourth press conference in many weeks in which Army spokesperson disapproves the tone and the language used for criticising the Pakistan army and its remote controlling for these many years.

While Khan behaves like the proverbial jilted lover, feeling let down after being wooed and wedded in power, the new rulers who felt slighted over the last four years, are now confronting the military mandarins for their recent “sins”.

Of course, the language is not as rough as what the politicians use against each other. Call it fear or awe, or acute awareness of the army’s overall superior role in the country’s polity, the language is diplomatic. But there is no mistaking the anger of the politicos at the army, the God that failed them by turns.

The ball had begun rolling in the autumn of 2020 when three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. From the safety of self-exile in London, he helped cobble up the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). In his telecast speeches, he named Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa and his then ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed for “engineering” the 2018 elections that put Khan in power. Hameed was supposedly the principal architect of the 2018 “engineering” and forging an anti-Nawaz political alliance.

That opposition movement somehow dissipated by early 2021, only to revive after a year. Khan provided the opportunity that the Bajwa-Hamid combine had not calculated. Bailed out by the duo, Khan turned increasingly petulant and sought to even interfere in the army’s transfers and postings.

How Khan opposed Hamid’s transfer out of the ISI, upsetting Bajwa, and opening the path to desertions from the ‘Khan Camp’ is central to the latter’s being formally voted out of power.

Khan makes wild allegations against the ‘establishment’ (read the army) for being part of the “international conspiracy” (read the US) to facilitate coming in of an “imported government” (led by incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif). He has persisted with all the three points, except that he has mellowed his language when it comes to the army.

But he let the cat out of the bag by saying that he did not mean to ‘interfere’ with Hameed’s transfer out of the ISI, but that he did want this “eyes-and-ears” officer to stay in the key post to help him against his political opponents.

This only proved Bajwa’s fears. Hameed was becoming too big for the boots he was assigned to wear and could be the next Chief, should Khan decide not to give Bajwa a third extension due this November.

To be fair to all, a third three-year extension would put Bajwa in the top office for nine years, which is not good for the army itself. Khan was definitely under pressure, but his preference was Hameed.

Significantly, the army spokesman in a previous briefing, spoken for Bajwa saying that the latter did not wish to seek a third extension and would refuse if asked. This let the cat out of Bajwa’s bag as well. He appears to have resigned himself to a quiet fade-out, like predecessor, Gen. Raheel Sharif. He has been attending army exercises and official functions and avoiding saying anything remotely political.

Despite its spokesman’s repeated warning-laced declarations, it is clear that the army is unable to put the genie of criticism back into the bottle. Because of its claims of having “nothing to do with politics”, it cannot be seen as changing sides in a political situation that remains volatile since the new government is yet to settle and Imran Khan remains on the offensive.

In the coming months, the army (the Bajwa-Hameed combine) would need to watch the man who feels most wronged by it — Nawaz Sharif. He calls the political shots, whether or not he returns from the London exile. The fact that half of the new government was in London to listen to his counsel is too stark to be ignored.

It was led by Shehbaz, the Prime Minister who, despite being ‘amenable’ to the military establishment, is respectful to elder brother and is unlikely to do anything the latter would not like. It is likely that the Sharif Brothers may put the army in its place, for now, without annoying it.

The army is caught in a cleft. Bajwa or not, the prime minister will choose the next army chief, come November. This may be even earlier. It could take Bajwa’s lack of interest in extension, declared through the spokesman, at face value.

Gen. Hameed’s story cannot be different. After being “let down” by his chief Bajwa, who shifted him out of the ISI, by an out-of-power Imran Khan who admitted to having soft corner for him and thus throwing him to the ‘wolves’,the political opponents, the chances are that the new regime may put him in the dog house till he retires.

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