How neutral is the establishment?

September 24, 2022

According to a source, Gen Bajwa thinks that since a lot of political engineering has occurred under his command, the process of taking corrective measures should also have started under his watch

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ISLAMABAD: If Imran Khan’s allegations are to be believed, the establishment is still busy in political engineering, and this time, in order to undermine Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

His lawmakers are being threatened through phone calls. Mr X and Mr Y, as he would name intelligence officials, are at work. But, at no point, he has either named who is harassing or who has been harassed.

On the perception front, the allegation is plausible given the track record of the establishment. However, the reality appears altogether different though it is difficult to digest for many observers. At least, there is no evidence or anecdote to establish this. The present situation stands nowhere in comparison with the pervasive involvement noted against Nawaz Sharif’s government, during and after the 2018 elections.

By then, not only political engineering was at its peak, the media was arm-twisted and even judges were pressured to gain favorable verdicts in political cases. Khan increased it further. By his own admission, he would use agencies to retain the support of allies who were unhappy with him. Dissidents within the PTI were being treated with the same stick. A PTI lawmaker who refused to come for voting during a budget session received a call from a spy master. “Should I send men or aircraft to bring you,” he threatened, leaving no option for the MNA but to come.

Things started changing after the top-level changes in ISI. There is no evidence to suggest any role of the establishment in pressuring Khan’s allies to switch sides during the vote of no-confidence. Even Khan has nothing to say in this regard other than blaming the establishment for not supporting him to retain power. The News spoke to several lawmakers known for toeing the line of establishment. None of them said they were under any instruction. Instead, they said they were asked to make their own decision including Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Balochistan Awami Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The News reported about it on March 30: “Umpire’s neutrality leaves smaller parties confused.”

Even after Khan’s ouster, there was no pressure from the establishment on the new government to complete the remaining one year of parliamentary term. Instead, it wanted fresh elections held much like Khan and Nawaz Sharif. However, it was not possible in absence of fresh delimitation as explained by the Election Commission of Pakistan before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Another reason that further delayed the decision on elections was Khan’s announcement of the long march.

The proposal of fresh elections came under discussion again after the march was successfully averted thanks to the significant role played by the Islamabad Police. According to the new plan, Shehbaz Sharif was set to tender resignation on June 18, leaving it to President Arif Alvi to announce new elections. This time, the plan couldn’t be materialised as there was a meeting with the IMF on June 22 and leaving at that point could jeopardise the much-needed financial assistance. “They say why you brought us (in the power). My question is who brought you to power. It was your decision,” said a key establishment figure referring to a statement of Mian Javed Latif while talking to a visitor.

Going by the establishment’s narrative, they decided to pull out of politics a year before the ouster of Khan. “There was a growing impression that the Pakistan Army is the army of PTI. This is dangerous. Army belongs to all people of Pakistan,” according to the establishment figure. There was a consensus at the top level, he continued, that we have supported the PTI government at each and every step and now let them (the PTI government) handle the situation by themselves. Nevertheless, the support was not withdrawn immediately. It took several months and could be actualised only after the change in the leadership of ISI.

How long the establishment remains neutral is a million-dollar question. It had briefly stepped back after Gen Kayani succeeded Gen Musharraf whose political role brought a great deal of disrepute to the army. Why did Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa decide to pull the army out of politics? He thinks, according to a source, that since a lot of political engineering has occurred under his command, the process of taking corrective measures should also have started under his watch. Will the next chief continue this policy of disengagement? It depends on whether the new chief will be of Bajwa’s choice or not, added the source.



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