Military ‘Establishment’ strikes back in Pakistan

General Bajwa (Photo: AFP)

With Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa telling those who attended lunch at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington that he would step down after completion of his second three-year term and that Rawalpindi has distanced itself from politics, two already well-established facts have further been endorsed. One, as regards granting extension to the army chief it’s not the Prime Minister of Pakistan but the army chief himself who decides the length of his own tenure. Two, the Pakistan army has been an active [and unquestionably the most influential] player in the country’s politics.    

No wonder the word ‘establishment’ in Pakistan is both an accepted and popular synonym for the armed forces, as they are the ones who actually call the shots in the country.Also, the Director General [DG] of Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar declaring that Pakistan army would remain “neutral” during the crisis that led to a no confidence motion being moved against Imran Khan’s government, he has unwittingly admitted that Rawalpindi is indeed very much into influencing Pakistani politics.

Even the international community recognises Pakistan military’s dominance over all other organs of state and that’s why when its army chief goes abroad, he’s treated more like a head of state than a military official. Readers may recall that when the then Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Washington in 2019, the customary state protocol of US officials receiving a visiting Prime Minister wasn’t observed and a miffed Khan had to be content being received by his own foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Pak envoy to the US.

On the other hand, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, was not only received by Chairman Joint Chief of Staff General Joseph F. Dunford, but was even presented guard of honour with a 21-gun salute. Similarly, his recent five-day US trip may have come at fag end of his tenure, but it’s most certainly not a farewell visit. Infact, a majority of analysts view it as a part of the ongoing efforts from both sides to reset US-Pak ties. Furthermore, with Pakistan army’s Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Azhar Abbas [who is likely to be the next army chief] in tow, speculation is rife that Gen Bajwa is attempting to reassure Washington of Rawalpindi’s continuing cooperation, notwithstanding anti-US sentiments being fanned at home by former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his ilk.

Gen Bajwa may wax eloquent on the army’s duty to “respect the democratic institutions.” However, he’s in no mood to give any space to those exercising their fundamental democratic right of expression, especially when it exposes Rawalpindi’s continuing interference in the functioning of other state institutions. So, when Senator Azam Khan Swati tweeted “Mr Bajwa congratulations to you and few with you. Your plan is really working and all criminals are getting free at cost of this country”, and added that “with these thugs getting free you have legitimised corruption”, the former state minister should have known that he was treading on thin ice.

Expectedly, the Pakistani ‘establishment’ wasted no time to hit back. Swati was promptly arrested by Federal Investigation Agency [FIA], which lodged a menacingly worded First Information Report [FIR] claiming that the PTI Senator’s tweet was “a calculated attempt to create hatred in the minds of people and Army Personnel/s against COAS and Pakistan Army and also created distrust towards the Judicial System.” Terming it an “intimidating tweet”, the FIA went on to allege that Swati “has attempted to provoke the general public and personnel/s of armed forces by trying to create a feeling of ill-will among pillars of the State.”

It’s inconceivable that a mere allegation can “create hatred in the minds of people and army personnel against COAS and Pakistan Army”, and “distrust towards the judicial system” as well as “provoke the general public and personnel of armed forces by trying to create a feeling of ill-will among pillars of the State”. On the other hand, Swati’s claim that he was arrested not for breaking the law or violating the constitution, but “for taking the name of Gen Bajwa” and of being “unclothed and physically tortured by agencies” while in custody is more compelling as it certainly gives one a sense of déjà vu.

While the FIA may find Swati’s tweet subversive, let’s not forget that this is not for the first time that allegations of Pakistan army arm-twisting the judiciary and other pillars of democracy have surfaced. During a talk show on Dunya News in 2016, former army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf himself admitted that “Once he [the then army chief Gen Raheel Sharif] got the government to relieve the pressure that they were exerting, the courts gave their judgement and allowed me to go abroad for treatment.” Doesn’t this revelation clearly indicate that the military in Pakistan has the ability to impose its will on the government and change judgments of the judiciary?

In 2018, while addressing Rawalpindi Bar Association, sitting Islamabad High Court judge Justice Shaukat Siddiqui made some scathing remarks against the army. He admitted that “Today the judiciary [in Pakistan] and media have come in the control of ‘Bandookwala’ [gunmen; here a euphemism for the army]. 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”. Not only this, he went on to reveal that “In different cases, the ISI forms benches of its choice to get desired results”. 

On comparative analysis, Swati’s tweet pales in front of Gen Musharraf and Justice Siddiqui’s incriminating remarks about Pakistan army’s effective muzzling of the media and interference with the functioning of judiciary. Surprisingly, while Swati was arrested, Justice Siddiqui was merely dismissed by the President of Pakistan for “misconduct”. As for Gen Musharraf, no cognisance was ever taken for his remark of how intervention of the then army chief enabled him to leave the country despite a court order to the contrary.

So, despite the fact that it brazenly acknowledges that Rawalpindi enjoys extra constitutional powers and is a law unto itself, Gen Musharraf hasn’t been touched because being an erstwhile member of the military fraternity, he remains part and parcel of the Pakistani ‘establishment’ and hence enjoys absolute immunity!

Swati should have realised that he’s no Musharraf and hence must face the consequences for casting aspersions against the emperor sitting in Rawalpindi, which being nothing short of sacrilege merits exemplary punishment for ‘traitors’ like him that begins with the customary practice of being “unclothed and physically tortured by agencies”!

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