Pakistan: Lust for power at full display

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IMRAN KHAN arrested
Former Pakistan Prime Minister and PTI chief Imran Khan was arrested by Pakistan Rangers outside Islamabad High Court (Photo: Reuters)

The Pakistani version of Game of Thrones is at a crescendo, with the spectacular arrest of Imran Khan, the former prime minister of the country, from the premises of the Islamabad High Court (IHC), where he had gone to appear for one of the hundreds of cases, ranging from sedition to corruption, that have been pressed against him by the incumbent coalition government of the country.

The difference between the original Game of Thrones and this Pakistani version is that while the former was a fantasy, the latter is very real and much more diabolic. The protagonists have let loose their political machinations due to their lust for power and the people are suffering terrible deprivation.  Pakistan today is a certified failed state where the poor are literally starving, law and order is at its nadir and militant overlords are taking over the reins of the country.

Imran Khan holds the ignominy of being the first premier of Pakistan to be ousted from power after losing a no-confidence vote. He was replaced by a motley coalition of parties in the form of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). The main constituents of the PDM are the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan People Party (PPP). Both have ruled over the country at some point in time and both have been victims of the high handedness of the Pakistan Army, yet, they chose to “sleep with the devil” and took assistance of this very army to oust Imran Khan.  

The Shahbaz Sharif led government was shaky from the word go and has not gained much in terms of stability with the passage of time. It is no surprise, therefore, that the streets of the country are dominated by the supporters of Imran Khan. 

Buoyed by the support, Imran Khan launched an acerbic attack on his opponents. He alleged that his ouster was part of a US-led conspiracy that targeted him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China, and Afghanistan. He openly blamed former Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa for his ouster. “This man pushed Pakistan into crisis. . . Bajwa ruined Pakistan’s political and economic gains”, Khan said. The diatribe did not end here, he soon took on the current Army Chief and, in recent days, has been insinuating that Major General Faisal Naseer and the notorious spy agency of Pakistan Army, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), are trying to assassinate him.

The Pakistan Army has slammed Imran Khan for making “highly irresponsible and baseless” allegations. “This has been a consistent pattern for last one year wherein military and intelligence agencies officials are targeted with insinuations and sensational propaganda for the furtherance of political objectives,” said the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) of the Pakistan Army.

With elections in Pakistan due in October this year, Khan’s growing popularity has set alarm bells ringing in both the Army as well as Government circles. They have responded by pressing numerous charges against him with the intention of putting him behind bars.

Attempts by the Police to arrest Khan from his residence at Zaman Park in Lahore were unsuccessful. In what seems to be an act of desperation, he has now been picked up from the court by the Rangers, a paramilitary force of Pakistan. It is being said that the arrest had been made by the National Accountability Bureau for causing losses to the national treasury by giving undue favours to a real estate firm called Bahria Town. However, unlike India, where the paramilitary comes under the Home Ministry, the Rangers of Pakistan come under the Pakistan Army. Therefore, the arrest had been made by the Pakistan Army.

The IHC has reserved its verdict on the legality of Imran’s arrest with Chief Justice Aamer Farooq saying that if the PTI chief was arrested illegally, “he will have to be released”. “Come to court and tell us why Imran has been arrested and in which case,” Justice Farooq said while threatening to summon the prime minister if a satisfactory answer is not given. On being summoned, the Police Inspector General of Islamabad denied any knowledge of the arrest and said that he got to know of it from the media.

The President of Pakistan, Arif-ur-Rehman Alvi has also come out openly in support of Imran Khan and admonished the Government.  “I am deeply saddened by today’s events. Unhealthy revenge politics. Poor priorities of the Government of a country that should focus on the economic misery of the people. Are we destroying the political landscape? Am I concerned about the safety & dignity of @ImranKhanPTI like that of all politicians?,” he said in a Tweet.

Obviously, the Army has taken things in its own hands, with the support of the Government. But the people are agitated and the Judiciary remains unconvinced about the constitutional legality of the action taken. The battle lines are clearly drawn.

Before being arrested, Imran Khan exhorted his supporters to abjure violence. Despite his appeal, his supporters launched violent protests across the country with reports of agitated crowds attacking government property in important cities like Lahore, Peshawar and  Karachi among many others.

In an unprecedented development, protestors attacked military establishments also. Reports, supported by videos, of protestors vandalising the house of Army Corps Commander in Lahore and even the Army Headquarter in Rawalpindi are doing the rounds.

Surprisingly, the Army has not reacted to this vandalising of its property and assets, indicating the possibility of a big divide on the Khan question within the establishment itself. It is well known that the Army Chief, General Syed Asim Munir is wholly against Imran Khan. The possibility of a revolt within is gaining credence by rumours of the Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Committee (CJSC) General Sahir Shamshad Mirza taking over the reins of the Pakistan Army doing the rounds.

Undoubtedly, there is a civil war like situation in Pakistan though the civilians are without weapons and the Pakistan Army still holds the power to crush them ruthlessly. The evolving situation throws up a number of possibilities.

First, Imran is riding a sympathy wave even as no prediction can be made about his future. It cannot be said with any surety whether he will live to see the elections or be wasted away like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Presently, his whereabouts are not known.

Second, the inept government of Pakistan has joined with some elements of the Army and carried out an act that could be a big political miscalculation. Whether it will be able to ride through is a big question.

Thirdly, if the Government falls, the Army leadership could attempt to revive its image by imposing martial law. The Pakistan Army is known to put aside internal dissensions when the question of its survival comes up. This self-interest may well become dominant in the present context too.

A certainty that emerges is that the people of Pakistan are fed up with the current situation and are looking for change. They also seem to have lost the traditional respect and regard that they held for the Army and are questioning its position in the affairs of the country.

It is well known that the Pakistani elite, comprising the feudal and political families, the business magnates, bureaucracy and judiciary, has been responsible for the endemic governance deficit in the country marked with corruption and nepotism. This elite cannot go against the super elite which comprises of  Army Generals (retired and serving) and the militant warlords who are possibly stronger than the Generals. The battle for resurrection, therefore, is lost before it can even begin.

The economic situation of the country is such that even the best and most committed economic pundits will find it difficult to turn it around, what to speak of the ham-handed politicians.  The dismal situation is quite evident from the economic parameters – hardly $4 billion in foreign exchange reserves; a trade deficit of $50 billion and the Pakistani rupee in free-fall. The skyrocketing prices of fuel, gas, electricity, food, and medicines are putting tremendous strain even on upper and middle class families, what to talk of the poor and marginalised. How can the country survive?

India shares with the world a concern about the nightmare that a failed Pakistan entails. There is every possibility of the Army directing a misadventure towards India in order to save its teetering image. India therefore needs to watch the proceedings closely and remain ready for any and every eventuality.

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