That the Pakistan army is no longer interested in running the government directly — by capturing the reins of power through a coup — has been proved conclusively by the way it is believed to have managed the July 25 National and Provincial Assembly elections. The outcome of the electoral exercise is almost as the top generals wished: giving a chance to cricket legend Imran Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), to run the government with a view to having a “Naya Pakistan” as promised.
Perhaps, the military leadership — also called the Deep State, which also includes the top bureaucracy and the judiciary — believes that the coup idea is no longer relevant or as attractive as it was in the past. There are different kinds of avoidable risks involved, including the possibility of the military getting completely discredited in the eyes of the public all over Pakistan as it happened a few years back in the tribal areas when half-hearted anti-Taliban military operations were launched under intense international pressure. In view of this, the army leadership has begun trying a new idea: controlling the levers of power by having a government of its choice by influencing the judiciary and the media.
However, all judges and journalists cannot be made to toe the military line as has been proved by the indirect refusal to cooperate by Dawn, Jang and some other groups as well as the disclosures made by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court at a programme organized by the Rawalpindi Bar Association. He stated in the course of his address: “Today the judiciary and the media have come in the control of ‘Bandookwala’ (army). The judiciary is not independent. Even the media is getting directions from the military. The media is not speaking the truth because it is under pressure and has its interests.”
Justice Siddiqui further explained how the army had been trying to ensure that court verdicts were in accordance with the Bandookwala’s designs. Alarmingly, it has been found that “in different cases, the ISI forms benches of its choice to get the desired results. The ISI had asked the Chief Justice to make sure that Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz should not come out of jail before the July 25 elections. It had also asked him not to include me (Justice Siddiqui) in the bench hearing the appeal of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter in the Avenfield case. The CJI told the ISI that he would make a bench of its choice.”
The Pakistan army meddling in elections is not new. It has always done all it could to get elected the rulers of its choice though without success sometimes. The judiciary in Pakistan too has a history of succumbing to pressures from the army, which has got military coups justified by courts. Of course, exceptions have been there as noticed during the days when Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary was the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court.
So, it is not surprising if the army has shown its preference for a federal government under the leadership of Imran Khan this time. Khan’s PTI is, in fact, the obvious choice for the army leadership as it is disappointed with the Bilawal Bhutto-led PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) after remote-controlling their governments in the past. What is, however, alarming is that the Deep State can go to the extent of politically eliminating a non-cooperating leader — judicially unseated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — who has shown the guts to take on a former Chief of Army Staff, Gen Pervez Musharraf, slapped with charges of subverting the constitution when he captured power through a bloodless coup.
Nawaz Sharif also angered the army by ignoring it in matters related to defence and foreign policies. These include expressing his inclination for normalising Pakistan’s relations with India without taking the military leadership into confidence.
The corruption charges against Nawaz Sharif and his children relating to the acquisition of two flats in London’s Avenfield Apartment complex have been used as an excuse to send across the message that any political leader who dares to take foreign or defence policy decisions without the army’s consent will meet Sharif’s fait. Or any government which tries to punish an ex-army chief for his misdemeanors of the past will not be spared.
The armed forces’ leadership found an excellent opportunity to destroy the PML (N) leader’s political career when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists came out with what became famous as the Panama Papers, exposing illegal money transfers by Nawaz Sharif and his children in the 1990s when he served twice as Prime Minister through foreign bank accounts. An investigation into the matter by a court-appoint team led to the preparation of a 275-page report on his and his family members’ money-laundering activities, resulting in his first getting unseated as Prime Minister and then being jailed for 10 years by the powerful National Accountability Bureau.
So, with Nawaz Sharif having been replaced by Imran Khan at the helm of affairs, courtesy the Deep State, the world should get ready for new initiatives to transform Pakistan in accordance with the designs approved by the military. Imran has all the plus points which Nawaz ad in the past till the 2013 elections when the latter was the army’s favourite. Today the cricketer-turned-politician not only has the army’s full backing but also of the religious right, including the Taliban factions. Of course, he is, perhaps, the only mainstream political leader who has openly opposed the US drone attacks to eliminate the Taliban. He also expressed his displeasure over the military’s anti-militant drives in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) owing to the large-scale suffering caused to the innocent public for no fault on their part; Imran wanted militancy to be contained through dialogue. He has also never faced any charge of being involved in financial corruption.
Despite these advantages, he will realise that political batting is an entirely different area unlike winning a world cup or scoring runs in a cricket match. His controversial personal life may not be troubling him as much as the disguised messages from the Deep State to refrain from being too much independent in the conduct of particularly defence and foreign policies. Stubbornness in his character and his dictatorial temperament may put him on a collision course with the army. How he handles such a situation, if at all it emerges, remains to be seen.
Interestingly, Imran Khan reportedly has the same thinking vis-à-vis India as Nawaz Sharif had come to be known for: treating India as a partner for promoting economic growth in South Asia. Will the Deep State allow Imran to function accordingly?