How Shehbaz prodded Pak Army into turning over a new leaf

In his last address before demitting office as Pakistan army chief, Gen Bajwa said the top army brass have agreed to remain politically neutral . Only time will tell how the new Army chief, Asim Munir will ensure ‘apolitical’ role of military in the coup-prone country, writes Gopal Misra

With the Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif appointing Lt Gen Asim Munir as the new Pakistani army chief and Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on November 24, the uncertainty regarding the top jobs in the uniform is finally over.

Meanwhile, in his last address as the army chief, General Qamar Jawed Bajwa, asserted that the political interferences of the army has harmed Pakistan as a country and army as an institution. He reiterated that the top commanders have agreed that we have to remain politically neutral, and army is going to observe this discipline in coming years.

The crucial appointments accompanied by Bajwa’s historical observations, according to political analysts, have also given a setback to the ongoing grand march of former PM Imran Khan, who had plans to  storm Rawalpindi and Islamabad to prevent the crucial appointments. In Rawalpindi, the army headquarters are situated and Islamabad, near Lahore, is the seat of the federal government. Earlier, his demand for having a say in the appointment of the army chief, was rebuffed by the government.

It is quite known that for getting Khan’s favourite appointed as the new army chief, his supporters had unleashed a grand plan of using the fifth generation social media platforms abusing and blackmailing armed forces and also forcing the government to order early elections.

During the past fortnight or so, Pakistan being a nuclear weapon country, the issue of the appointment of the army chief had drawn worldwide attention. There was also a last minute uncertainty regarding Munir’s elevation, who was set to retire on Nov 27, two days before the present incumbent Qamar Jawed Bajwa demitted his extended tenure on November 29.

A little delay on the part of the GHQ in sending the summary about the generals to be considered for the top post to the PM office had also caused anxiety in the corridors of power in Pakistan. All the speculations, however, were put to rest, when the final summary also included the names of Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Lt Gen Azhar Abbas, Lt Gen Nauman Mehmood, Lt Gen Faize Hameed and Lt Gen Muhammad Amir. It is stated that Gen Faize Hamid was the choice of Imran Khan.

Khan’s Grudge

Imran Khan, a cricketer-turned politician, had adopted a confrontational approach against the army in recent months. He is not fighting for the civilian supremacy, but wants that the army and the ISI should have ensured his government’s political stability. Following his ouster in a no-confidence vote in April this year, he lost majority in the National Assembly with 174 votes cast in favour of the no-confidence resolution in the 342-strong House. He used to brand the leaders of other political parties as corrupt and anti-national.

It is a well-known fact that Khan’s political outfit, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was established with the active support of the army’s dreaded secret institution, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). During the 2018, polls, ISI had successfully rigged the elections, thus ensuring the victory of PTI, paving the way for Khan’s elevation as the country’s PM.

It is also known that the ISI had deliberately implicated in cooked up corruption and money transfer cases against the leaders of the country’s two mainline political parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Noon (PTI-N) and Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP).

The main focus was on Nawaz Sharif, his younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif (now PM) and daughter, Maryam, and the PPP chairperson, Asif Ali Zardari, one of the finest political negotiators of Pakistan’s tumultuous political spectrum. Nawaz Sharif, the three-time PM, was the main target of the army and the ISI. The GHQ also manipulated higher judiciary to get Nawaz Sharif convicted.

Fortunately, on the medical ground, Nawaz Sharif was allowed to go to London’ but he continued to stay there despite the efforts of the Khan government to seek his return to Pakistan from the British authorities.

His daughter, Maryam, now a Federal Minister, has recently been exonerated by the courts, but Shehbaz is still facing the allegations of corruption levied by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Even after being sworn-in as PM, he regularly attends the court hearings.

Sitting in the Kot Lakhpat Prison

Earlier, Shehbaz Sharif was brought to the same Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore, where in August, 2019, his niece; Maryam Nawaz was put behind the bars. She was arrested, when she had gone to meet her father, Nawaz. It is believed that during his solitary confinement, Shehbaz pondered about the overall political situation in the country, and decided to win back the armed forces support or make it a politically neutral institution.

His success in this mission could be attributed to the non-performance of the Khan Government, and thus he convinced the GHQ that political neutrality would be in the interest of the armed forces.

For this, he also convinced his brother, Nawaz Sharif, indeed, a herculean task. Initially, the senior Sharif had refused to trust Bajwa. However, with the passage of the no-confidence resolution against the Khan government, the neutrality of the GHQ was established, but Bajwa faced the fire from Khan’s social media platforms.

Interestingly, the strategy Shehbaz might have conceived in the high-wall enclosure of the Kot Lakhpat that the necessary law should be enacted in the National Assembly for extension of Bajwa tenure without any hassle. It has also ended the confrontation between the opposition parties under the banner of the PDM with the establishment.

In its 75 years of history, the Pakistani army never faced unprintable abuses in public gatherings, which unfortunately were hurled on the force by Khan’s supporters and his cronies. He did not spell out any plan for rescuing the country’s economy. Since the army had installed Khan’s government, the people were now disenchanted with the armed forces. It was blamed for imposing ‘a non-performing’ hybrid government on the people of Pakistan.

It is stated that the wrath of common people against army was so loud that finally Bajwa and his corps commanders decided to keep a distance from the political cesspool, and this has forced them to remain politically neutral. Bajwa, perhaps was re-echoing these sentiments in his last address.

Democracy Finally Knocks

During the high-pitch drama relating to the appointment of the new army chief, Shehbaz, is being admired for successfully steering his position as the PM, and thus outwitting Imran Khan. He quietly overruled Bajwa’s advice for the top position, as he, perhaps, was keen to anoint one of his favourites as his successor. He, however, found himself on a back-foot, when suddenly a website disclosed his fabulous wealth. Shehbaz showing his magnanimity has reportedly adjusted Bajwa’s nominee as the CJCS.

Meanwhile, the sudden visit of Asif Zardari, a former president, to the Prime Minister’s House in Islamabad is being attributed for an amicable settlement of the tricky issues related to the key postings in the army. It is stated that Zardari, being a former president has prevailed upon the President, Arif Alvi, to adhere to the advice of the PM regarding the appointments. Alvi, however, has denied hatching any mischief against the government, but claimed that he was asking Imran Khan to see reason and adhere to the constitutional provisions.

Bajwa’s Fabulous Wealth

It is for the first time that the financial details of a Pakistani army chief are being openly discussed worldwide. The credit for this stunning revelation goes to a Pakistani journalist, Ahmad Noorani’s report on the website, Fact Focus. It is supported by a lot of data that looks into the financial dealing of Bajwa’s family including his wife Ayesha Amjad, his daughter-in-law Mahnoor Sabir and other close family members. It is being claimed that since his elevation as the army chief, the Bajwa family had started new businesses, purchased farmhouses in prominent Pakistani cities and also bought foreign properties, making billions of dollars in the process.

“The total worth of the assets of his daughter-in-law were declared zero in the last week of October 2018, it jumped to more than one billion (Rs 1271 million) just one week before her marriage on November 02, 2018,” Ahmad Noorani claims.

Earlier, Ahmad Noorani had exposed a Quetta Corps Commander Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa. According to the website, Asim has earned the notoriety as “General Papa Jones” or “General Pizza” after an expose of how his family had invested tens of millions of dollars in the Papa Jones Pizza chain in the US. His sons were also given lucrative contracts when he had been occupying key positions in the GHQ.  During his tenure as the chairman of the Chinese funded CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) Authority, he had halted its activities causing huge financial loses to China. He was also accused of siphoning off huge public funds, but the Imran Khan government allowed him to leave the country without any enquiry.