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EDITORIALS: Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan, while addressing an Insaaf Lawyers Forum (ILF) in Islamabad, argued that the opposition's real issue with the military is their inability to control the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) after the agency discovered their corruption, unlike their ability to render other institutions subservient to themselves. The reference was to the revelation by Nawaz Sharif during his address from London to the Multi-Party Conference of the opposition, in which he claimed former ISI chief Zaheer-ul-Islam had asked for his resignation. In previous statements, speeches and interviews, the PM had shown indignation at the revelation, saying no one dared do the same to him, and if an ISI chief were to do something like that, Imran Khan would have sacked him on the spot. Now the PM has added his 'explanation' why the ISI chief acted as Nawaz said, and why the latter dared not act appropriately at the affront. Imran Khan added in his address that Nawaz's repeated confrontations with the military during his three stints in power revolved around his desire to reduce the ISI to little more than the status of the Punjab police (implying Nawaz's total control over the latter force). All other institutions too, the PM alleged, were made subservient to Nawaz Sharif's will. The reason, Imran Khan continued, why he himself had no problems with the military or ISI was because they knew he was 'clean' and a true democrat. "I am democracy," the PM declared. Little does, however, the holder of the highest office in the country know that democracy cannot by any stretch of the imagination be reduced to one person. He tried to substantiate his claim by arguing he had been elected after securing the highest number of votes and personally winning on five seats. Had the 2018 elections been rigged, Imran Khan argued, there would have been no need for a coalition government. Logically, perhaps, but critics of the present dispensation counter-argue that the establishment preferred a weak government and PM beholden to the support of parties and individuals considered close if not loyal, to the establishment and its will to avoid the emergence of another 'Nawaz Sharif' (since the latter was groomed and brought to power by the establishment, as also reiterated by PM Khan, which did not factor in the dynamics of power once Nawaz became PM). Imran Khan also reiterated his mantra of 'No NRO' and then proceeded to claim the opposition's drive being focused on their vested interests and throwing in the 'India card' for good measure, issued a not-so-veiled threat to the opposition that they would be allowed to hold peaceful rallies but would suffer the full force of the law if they broke it.

Pakistan People's Party's Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in a riposte during a press conference said Imran Khan should not drag the military into politics repeatedly by using it as a political prop. The military, he said, like all institutions, is Pakistan's institution and does not 'belong' to any political party. Checking corruption, he continued, was not the army's job but that of other, civilian institutions mandated accordingly. He too took advantage of the opportunity to predict the impending fall of the "floundering" Imran Khan government under the people's pressure, while denying any 'signal' to this effect had been received or even asked for from the powers-that-be. In the context of the upcoming Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) elections, Bilawal railed against the military's role in the 2018 elections and fervently argued against any such repetition in these elections. Bilawal's point about refraining from dragging the military into politics is well taken in principle, but the problem is that given the military's direct and indirect interventions in politics in our history, it becomes almost inevitable that fingers will be pointed at an institution that should, in its own, democracy's, and the country's interests, turn over a new leaf and refrain from such controversial actions.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020