Pak Army Emerges As The “real Caretaker”

By ensuring the appointment of Anwarul Haq Kakar, a hitherto little-known senator from the Balochistan Awami Party as the caretaker Prime Minister, the Pakistan Army has consolidated its position that was threatened only a few months, under relentless attack from Imran Khan, its one-time proxy-turned rebel.

According to Abbas Nasir (Dawn, August 13, 2023), “Mr Kakar has not been very vocal as a senator and has quietly marked time, perhaps because he was being readied for the big job. He is among a crop of relatively new, military-backed politicians…”

The army can now go about “setting things right” to its advantage until the general elections, whenever they are held. The current speculation is for February-March 2024, beyond the 90-day limit set under the Constitution for a caretaker government to hold the polls and usher in an elected federal government, and in the provinces. 

Independent analysts in Pakistan and outside see the army’s hand in the choice of Kakar, who while not from a political family, had his peers in the services of the Khan of Kalat. The Khan, like much of the feudal gentry in British India, was close to the British and later the military establishment. Well-educated, Kakar may help to display a moderate image that Pakistan severely needs. 

An ideal choice, analysts say, would have been an economist, given the dire economic situation. But the army, and probably the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also thwarted efforts by outgoing Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to thrust Ishaq Dar in the post. As the finance minister, Dar had frustrated many IMF moves to improve the economy by playing the popularity card. He is held responsible for much of the mess the Shehbaz Sharif government landed the country in, albeit after inheriting it from Imran Khan. The army has thus denied the Sharifs the obvious political advantage they would have enjoyed under Dar and has thus ensured a level playing field. 

Here, the “level playing field” needs to be redefined in the current context. The army needs to find the right horse to back, after being bitten many times, the most recent being Imran Khan. It got a willing Sharif-led government to push Khan’s conviction in the Toshakhana case, leading to his detention and disqualification from holding any public office. To the army’s satisfaction and advantage, Khan remains the Sharifs’ bete noir.

Besides, the military-civil establishment has ensured an increasing role for itself, through amendments of laws pertaining to various law enforcement agencies. Legislations were passed by the just-dissolved National Assembly, surreptitiously, without opposition or debate. 

Security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana (Dawn, August 13, 2023) notes this as “a new development in Pakistani politics, where all political actors surrender themselves to align with the centre of power.”

He laments that “a few courageous legislators” had blocked the Violent Extremism Bill, 2023, “which was solely intended for political use, the treasury and opposition failed to prevent the amendment of the Official Secrets Act, 2023.”

Rana laments that “Security-related legislation in Pakistan has a broad scope — the country has a history of misusing such laws to target politicians.” He criticises the role of all governments of the recent past, including those of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, for pushing legislation that would consolidate the military’s role with the hope of staying in the latter’s good books.   

He recalls: “In January 2015, the Senate voted in favour of the 21st Amendment, allowing the creation of military courts.” That did not stop the military establishment to turn against Nawaz Sharif’s Government and work toward his ouster, disqualification from holding office and eventually, his exile.

Rana says: “Many security-related laws that have been passed by parliament, such as the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014, and the Fair Trial Act, 2013, have empowered law enforcement agencies at the expense of human rights.”

“The irony is that political parties know that security-specific laws will eventually be used against them, and even then, they forge ahead. Many politicians and political workers have been tried under the Anti-Terrorism Act.” In contrast to the persecution of politicians, the trial of militants, like Malik Ishaq, one of the founders of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has witnessed long delays. “This is because “Pakistan’s power holders have a binary perspective, which manifests itself in paradoxical ways. Their approach to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants is a manifestation of this perspective. This approach has been applied to both international and regional militant forces.”

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