Pakistan Army Can’t Be Confined To Barracks

Experiments in democracy interrupted by long periods of military-led rule have shaped Pakistan’s life. The difference in this winter of discontent is that for the first time, the military is being challenged. Ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, addressing protest rallies through video links from his London home, has named serving Army Chief, General Javed Bajwa and other top brass.

Voices of some opposition leaders are relatively muted. But when they call incumbent Prime Minister Imran Khan a ‘puppet’, there is no hiding who the ‘puppeteer’ is. It is tough going for an institution used to playing the umpire among its proxies, selecting and discarding them by turns. Questioning it are yesterday’s political adversaries with deep ideological differences turned allies today. Worse, they include yesterday’s proxies – called laadla (favourite).

With five ‘jalsas’ (protest rallies) through October-November and three more lined up for December, the 11-party Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is gathering momentum.  Its Lahore rally slated for December 13 is Nawaz’s direct challenge to Imran. The battle in the most populous and powerful Punjab could bring both Khan and the army under greater pressure.

The cacophony is caustic. When protestors chant “Go, Niazi, Go” their target is as much Imran who rarely  uses this surname, but also refers to late A A K Niazi, who led the Pakistani forces in erstwhile East Pakistan to surrender to the Indian Army in 1971.  Unsurprisingly, Khan and his ministers accuse their opponents of taking cue from India.

Analysts say the Army has lost some of its image as the nation’s ‘saviour’.  But it has had a record of bouncing back and regaining control. It had done so after losing the erstwhile east-wing and again, after a mass movement brought Pervez Musharraf down.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman is the PDM’s surprise Convenor. Like most Islamists, he has remained on the right side of the military.  Then, the two mainstream parties, PPP and PML(Nawaz), are forever competing.

At the other end of the PDM’s spectrum are ‘nationalist’ leaders and parties of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, targeted as ‘secessionists’ by the military, irrespective of who holds the office in Islamabad.

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These diverse forces have combined thanks to Imran’s handling of the economy that is in dire stress, his failure to hold the prices of essential commodities and the rising Coronavirus pandemic.  Above all, he has been targeting just the entire opposition with a messianic zeal in the name of corruption. This has made various agencies and judiciary partisan and parliament redundant. 

Support from sections of the judiciary and an under-pressure-media has helped him. But like most people in power, Khan has forgotten that all this support is but transitional and the army’s support, transactional – till he delivers or shows the potential to deliver. He has shown neither so far.

The Peshawar and Multan rallies took place despite the government’s warnings of terrorist attack. Imran also sought to put the fear of Covid-19, like the fear of God, but crowds broke police barricades and milled at the venue. The Islamabad High Court this week refused to ban protest rallies saying it had set the standard operational procedures (SOPs) and now it was for the executive to decide.  

A glance at the military’s role in the country’s life that begun with General (later field marshal) Ayub Khan, shows that rule by the generals — Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf –has meant that with bureaucracy in toe, the politician was  demonized — with some justification — in the eyes of the public. They played favourites among the politicians, but at each end, were forced to return the country to elections and civilian rule.

All these generals headed the army and ruled directly or through pliable prime ministers. That script is old, but situation is new. Not formally in charge, the army has an alleged ‘proxy’ in Imran. During the rule by earlier ‘proxies’ of which Nawaz was certainly one, the military was not exposed to attacks like the ones at the four rallies.  It is unrelenting so far and the military has found no answer.

Nawaz accuses the generals of ousting him and engineering the 2018 election through which they ‘selected’ Khan. With his entire family targeted for graft and himself declared an ‘absconder’, he has little to lose. Islamabad is lobbying hard with London to secure Nawaz’s deportation. But the ‘sheriff’ is unlikely to relent.

Nawaz’s apparent aim is to cut off the top few generals from the lower tiers of the army establishment and thus drive a wedge between the military’s leadership and rank and file.

There is dissatisfaction among the top brass at Bajwa’s extension as the Chief that Khan worked out, upsetting the seniority line up. A media expose of graft involving retired general Asim Bajwa is attributed to an insider’s leak. He had to resign recently as Khan’s key Advisor, a ministerial post.  

The PDM has declared a change of government by January next. This is political rhetoric. But then, Pakistan has witnessed many changes triggered by mass movements.

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Post-Multan rally, coming weeks should see more detentions of the opposition leaders and curbs on media.  Alarm bells are ringing over this showdown that neither could decisively win. The Imran government is definitely stirred and on the back-foot, but is not shaken, yet. Professional groups like lawyers and media who had helped bring down Musharraf are keeping distance. The man on the street, used to shenanigans by politicians of all hues, is aware that at some stage, the military could intervene to ‘discipline’ everyone.

Fissures have surfaced within the PDM and within member-parties. Some want to play down the army’s role. While Nawaz and daughter Maryam are blasting the military, his jailed brother Shahbaaz has called for a “national dialogue.”

The situation could change with Punjab becoming as the main battleground. Imran could sacrifice his protégé, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, whom he has lambasted for failing to block the Multan rally.

If Buzdar is incompetent, critics say Imran is more so. But the fact is a government in Pakistan has never gone because it was incompetent – it went because army said enough-is-enough.

Analyst Zahid Hussain notes that the opposition’s anti-establishment drive has sparked a new political discourse across Pakistan. People are asking whether a new social contract is required to rebuild flagging public trust in the state’s institutions.

On the army-civil relationship, Ayesha Siddiqa, a political scientist and author of the book Military Inc tweeted right at the outset, on October 27: “Each party has an interlocutor with the military but for a meaningful change, PDM parties will have to start a dialogue with the army that can ensure a meaningful negotiation of power for the long run.

But short of that, things need to be done, by the political class, not the military. As Siddiqa says: “A social contract will have to be much wider. It will have to extend to smaller provinces but also religious and ethnic minorities. Pakistan has little chance to become secular but a healing hand will have to be extended to minorities or else it will remain exploitable.”

For the foreseeable future, any notion that the army will simply return to the barracks is naïve. At best, or worst — depending upon the reader’s preference — the ‘laadla’ may be changed.

The writer may be reached at

Will China Usurp Twin Sindhi Islands?

By Francesca Marino

Rome [Italy], October 14 (ANI): Days of demonstrations and protests all over Sindh are being held, led by leaders of the major political parties against the umpteenth nail on the coffin of democracy in Pakistan, to claim the right of the citizens of Sindh and to decide for themselves, according to the Constitution of the country and the international conventions.

The Government of Pakistan – Law, and Justice division has in fact established, with the ordinance XI OF 2020: “The Pakistan Island Development Authority”. Stating in the first lines: “Whereas it is expedient to establish an authority for the development and management of the Islands in the internal waters and territorial waters of Pakistan. And whereas the Senate and the National Assembly are not in session and the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action”.

Translation from the bureaucratic language: the ordinance has been emanated without a discussion in the Parliament and, in its 25 pages, it is clearly stated that can not be challenged into Pakistani Courts. Meaning, nobody, starting from the Parliament democratically elected, can challenge the law. To chair the authority will be appointed, as stated by the ordinance, a bureaucrat, a businessman or “a retired officer of the armed forces not below the rank of a lieutenant general” and the authority will be exempted for ten years from paying income taxes.

According to the Pakistan press, the move of the government has been discussed only with the Army and with a couple of businessmen close to it. The ordinance has been emanated, it is clear to everybody, expressly to change the status of the islands located on the coasts of Sindh: in particular to take under the Central government’s control the twin islands of Bhundar (or Bundal) and Dingi. The Army baked Imran Khan’s government is in fact, in a big hurry and without informing the Parliament, trying to ‘develop’ the islands. Pity is that, according to the Pakistani Constitution, the Federal government has no authority to establish projects or mega projects or to build cities on the Sindh’s islands without the approval of the Sindhi government.

Besides this, the government move goes against a number of international conventions, like the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that clearly state the rights to economic, cultural and social sovereignty of indigenous people and their right to be informed and to ask their consent before starting on their land any kind of project. Not only the government of Sindh has not been consulted or made aware of the move, but the projects, according to locals, are covered under a thick blanket of secrecy.

According to sources and to the voices of Sindhi, there’s China behind the move of the government, and China wants to develop the twin islands on the model of Hong Kong. The deal is apparently been finalised during the last meeting between Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chines President Xi Jinping, along with another deal regarding the Diamer Basha Dam which is now fully part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project even though the people of Sindh have already expressly denied their consent to the project.

Beijing, maintain locals and activists that fear the islands have already been sold to China, not satisfied with the invasion of Balochistan and the exploitation of its resources and of the rights of the citizens, wants now to explore new opportunities for human rights violations and destruction of the environment in Sindh. The coastal area of the region is in fact one of the largest mangrove areas and the seventh-largest delta of the world. ‘Developing’ the area, it has already happened in Balochistan, means destroy the ecosystem and deprive almost a million fishermen of their livelihood. Destroying mangroves barriers will make the coast vulnerable to tsunamis and cyclones.

Sindhis fear also the demographic change: has been calculated in fact that in Balochistan, already ‘developed’ by the Chinese with the help of the Army against the will of its citizens, will be in a couple of years a minority in their own country. Because of this, and because of the now usual treatment of citizens by the central government, a treatment based on torture, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, and so on, not so long ago has been jointly launched by Sindhi and Baloch abroad a proposal to form governments in exile. Sindudesh and Mohajir leaders decided in fact to join hands and Altaf Hussain for the first time demanded complete freedom for Sindh.

The Pakistani generals, the rulers of the country, should think twice before going on with their dictatorship (not so much) in disguise. Baloch and Sindh leaders are calling for unity of the struggle against Islamabad, asking also Pashtun to join them. The usual strategy, labeling protesters as ‘foreign agents’ and ‘traitors’ will not work anymore. If a majority of the citizens in a country are made of traitors and foreign agents, the government, besides the funny declaration made by Imran Khan who states ‘I am democracy’, has a big problem.

(The views expressed are strictly those of the author) (ANI)

Indo-Pak Spat Will Sadly Be Milked For Political Gains

In the recent past, particularly the couple of days when tension was at its height between India and Pakistan, if you read only the media publications of those two countries you could have been a victim of schizophrenia, or of extreme bipolar disorder.

The claims and counter-claims about the airborne dogfights, the targets that were allegedly bombed, and the counter-attacks that followed, were so diametrically opposite each other that, if you were an unbiased observer, they would have left you perplexed.

India claimed that its air force had killed hundreds of terrorists believed to be behind mid-February’s suicide bombing in Kashmir in which scores of Indian security personnel died. Pakistan countered by saying its fighter planes had chased away the Indian aircraft and the only damage done was to woods and trees in a deserted area where there were no terrorist camps.

Then when Pakistan shot down an Indian aircraft and captured the pilot and tension began to escalate, the posturing of both sides changed. Pakistan took the high moral ground with its Prime Minister, Mr Imran Khan, offering to have a dialogue with India and releasing the pilot unconditionally. India, on its part, saw this as a huge victory and a cowering down by Pakistan. Meanwhile, a sort of proxy war seemed to be on in both, the social media as well as mainstream media publications, between the two countries. Nationalistic fervour was (and, perhaps, still is) at a peak, and shrill, hawkish screams abounded.

A war between two nuclear-weapon nations is least desirable, and the de-escalation of tensions after the release of the Indian pilot is welcome. Also, it is unlikely that India has, as it claims, decimated a huge terrorist camp in Pakistan. Yet, the problem remains: Kashmir continues, as it has been since Independence in 1947, to be a matter of serious dispute between the two neighbours; and Pakistan clearly is a haven for terror groups, including the dreaded Jaish-e-Mohammed, which repeatedly and regularly attacks and fans violence in the Kashmir Valley where Indian security forces have long maintained a near-military rule. If the recent face-off leads to a saner discussion between the two countries, particularly on the Kashmir issue, it could be a good beginning.

But does India want such a dialogue right now? As Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its allies, head towards national elections, keeping the tension simmering between the two neighbours could actually help them. On 28 February while addressing a gathering of scientists in Delhi, Mr Modi remarked that that a “pilot project”, which was a “practice” just got over, and that the “real project” was yet to happen. It is easy to label Mr Modi’s comments as opportunistic in the context of the coming elections. History across the world shows that incumbent governments often benefit electorally when they demonstrate decisiveness or strength when tensions with an “enemy” state surface.

Yet, it would serve Indians well to remember the genesis of the current face-off: it began when terrorists from across the border launched a suicide attack that killed at least 40 Indian security personnel. That is the crux of the problem. The war against terrorists, who are ostensibly camped in, and perhaps encouraged by, Pakistan has to be a continuous effort that India cannot afford to relent on. But the electoral advantages that Mr Modi and his party might be able to reap from the current skirmish are real. We can expect his election campaign to keep referring to these: the threat of terrorism from Pakistani territory; the pilot (Wing Commander Abhinandan) who is now a hero in India; and a resolve to launch the not-so-cryptic “real project” that Mr Modi mentioned.

There is another disturbing aspect in the current scenario. India’s as well as Pakistan’s media, particularly the mainstream newspapers and TV news channels, have commonly fallen prey to jingoism whenever a conflict with Pakistan arises. You may want to call it healthy nationalism, perhaps. But in today’s scenario where social media plays a huge role in shaping people’s perceptions in both, India and Pakistan, this could have serious consequences. Fake news, doctored videos, and inflammatory comments, are being traded in a free-for-all manner. Many believe that these could heighten the tensions between the two nuclear weapon nations despite the de-escalation that followed the Indian pilot’s release.

The cynical viewpoint is that the ruling regime’s spin doctors could be leveraging all of this to help them in the coming elections. Signs of that, viz. Mr Modi’s and his colleagues’ recent statements, are already visible. Mr Modi came to power with an overwhelming electoral victory in 2014 but on the back of promises that now seem tall. He promised development, progress, and better days for Indians who placed their faith in him, but five years later, at the end of his term, much of those promises remain unfulfilled and the initial euphoria after he came to power turned out to be ephemeral. And, despite their bluster, the BJP and its allies have little to tom-tom about their achievements. In that context, the skirmish with Pakistan could be like a shot in the arm, providing campaigning fodder that could touch the hearts of many Indians.

On the other side too, Prime Minister Khan has been quick to grasp an opportunity to position himself as a mature statesman. His publicly stated willingness for a dialogue with India and the prompt release of the Indian pilot is likely to boost his popularity among his fellow countrymen. Last summer, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) came to power when it won the largest number of seats in the national assembly but it didn’t manage to get a majority on its own. There were also widespread allegations about rigging by the PTI. Besides, in Pakistan, a hawkish military exerts overwhelming pressure and influence over political regimes and is commonly believed to encourage separatists and terror groups that operate in Kashmir. Yet, Mr Khan too has to resolve to fight the terrorism that breeds in his nation’s territory. A statesman-like image, which he has tried to create for himself recently, wouldn’t hurt.

Hyper-ventilating TV news anchors, and internet and social media trolls in both nations notwithstanding, the crucial need of the hour is not to fan tensions between Pakistan and India but to try and fix ways in which the long-standing dispute over Kashmir and the violent terrorism it has bred can be resolved. For that to happen the leaders of the two nations have to set aside their immediate political interests and agree to move towards non-violent and non-aggressive solutions. Will that happen? Or is it merely wishful thinking?



– Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif a (Xinhua/UN Photo/Cia Pak/IANS)[/caption] The Supreme Court of Pakistan disbarred the ex-PM on money laundering charges through aqama and fake documents and directed the National Accountability Bureau to file corruption charges against the Sharif family. The court reversed the Lahore High Court (LHC) verdict on the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case and asked the NAB to reopen it. Subsequently this case however was dismissed by the Supreme Court and is being seen as the result of the mass campaign by the ex-Prime Minister. Few take the decision in favour of Mian Shahbaz Sharif, CM Punjab, as minus-one formula because he never used derogatory remarks either for the judiciary or Army. In Pakistan, top positions of the offices are filled by the political government, meaning they usually appoint their own sympathisers who, in return, render favours when required and now they want to do the same with the Supreme Court as the PM Abbasi stated in the National Assembly against the Judges. Principally, a democratic government has the right to run affairs smoothly through their own men, but predilections become disputed when such offices run the affairs as desired by corrupt politicians who resist a fair trial or going through proper channels. Appointments in the Supreme Court and NAB are also made on a political basis and politicians expect favourtism in corruption cases. Under the prevailing political environment, defiant judges will not get lucrative postings after their retirement. While judges who support the government can look forward to receiving attractive appointments after their retirement. Even their children can also be accommodated in better jobs, businesses or projects. Consequently, mostly judges facilitate the government in cases in which the ruling elites are keen to see passed. So the honest judges will have to pay in the future as Nehal Hashmi had threatened openly. Previously, in an interview, Justice Nasim Hasan Shah pointed out that the military sought favourable outcomes in which the Supreme Court had to compromise. Recordings and other evidence verify the pressure of the politicians on the judges for favourable rulings in many cases. Many important cases like Asghar Khan Case are still pending in the court because of the political pressures. The ex-Prime Minister with his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif started the campaign against the Supreme Court and the Pakistan Army in July 2017. Many people advised them to accept the Court’s decision but the ex-PM preferred going public because psychological pressure remained the only wayout to embarrass his rival forces. Either way, both acceptance and rejection of the Supreme Court’s decision are risk and can be dangerous for Mian Nawaz. However rejection could still be in his favour, unless, of course, a favourable allegedly secret compromise is agreed with the anti-Nawaz forces. In fact, acceptance of the decision could lead to further prosecution and ramifications. The corruption cases would result in the imprisonment of the Nawaz Sharif family and the confiscation of property under question. In reality, the acceptance of the Supreme Court’s decision is to commit suicide. But claiming innocence and protesting against the Supreme Court and tacitly the army is the only redeeming strategy which could force both institutions to participate in a secret compromise. According to sources, the League (N) leaders are hopeful about the secret compromise because they are ready to accept a minus-one formula. News hacks say that by this secret understanding, Mian Shahbaz Sharif will lead the Muslim League (N) and for this purpose, the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case has been turned down by the Supreme Court. Some may dismiss this as conspiracy theory, but it is seriously being discussed on news media. The Panama cases will most likely meet the same fate as the Asghar Khan Case. An impotent decision can come ultimately repeating the initial ruling while the pending and delaying tactics in the final investigation and decision will erase their worth from people’s minds. Media focus on some other issues will lay dust on the Panama cases, and TV channels will be braying for justice on some newly created issues. The head of the Army and the Supreme Court hierarchy will have changed so that the present will be buried in the past while the past will rule the future. This is the reality of Pakistani politics but many opine that this time no secret compromise will facilitate the corrupt hands. A major evidence supporting the suspicious backroom deals and alleged game plan is that the Supreme Court itself is challenging the credibility of the Joint Investigation Team’s evidence. Original documents are being demanded from the evidence which is next to impossible. In the beginning, government circles were certain of NAB’s and the Supreme Court’s full support but some of the government’s men embarrassed the Judiciary, which returned to the course of fair trial while NAB pledged to go loyally. Government circles are still hopeful that the NAB will support the Sharif family and as a result a secret compromise or expediency will kill justice through NAB which will secure the stamp of ‘fairness’ of the Supreme Court. If so, it will be another murder of justice and as Martin Luther King, jr. said, justice delayed is in fact justice denied. The forthcoming elections will be held in due time but results may confer a hung mandate empowering the establishment to crown any political party. Imran Khan, head of PTI, despite having meagre potential to win a majority, can be enthroned while PPP in Sindh and PML (N) in Punjab will maintain their political base. The regional political and religio-political parties will traditionally play a decisive role in the ministry making drive. The civil and military establishments are convinced that to continue the democratic process with fair and clean character is the way to go ahead. If they succeed, this will bring a major shift in the family hegemony in politics. At last then the middle class can start putting their roots down in politics. Despite the hopeful news of a fair trial emerging, the prevailing situation seems very confused and the mass campaign by the ex-PM and focus of the Supreme Court on the prosecution expose the complex future. Let us see till how long this psychological war continues and who wins the war, traditional bargaining or justice recovered.]]>

Pakistani copter crash-lands in Afghanistan's, crew unhurt

Kabul/Islamabad,  (IANS) A Pakistani helicopter made a crash landing in a remote district of eastern Afghanistan’s Logar province on Thursday, crew unhurt but reportedly taken hostage by Taliban, a provincial government spokesman said. “The initial findings by our provincial security sources showed that a Pakistani chopper made an emergency landing at around midday in Azra district of Logar province. But the crew remained unhurt following the crash,” spokesman Salem Salah told media. While the Pakistani army has denied its helicopter was involved in the incident in the mountainous Afghan province bordering Pakistan, some reports suggested that the helicopter was belonging to the government of Pakistan. The Pakistani Embassy in Kabul has reportedly announced that the chopper was en route to Russia for maintenance. Unofficial sources said the six-member crew was captured by Taliban militants after the chopper went down in the province 60 km south of Kabul. // ]]>