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Both military and civilian state institutions have come out with hard-hitting statements against attempts to “drag the army” into the present political quagmire, pass “defamatory” remarks against the military and its leadership, and spread chaos through political statements, comments and social media trends.

The army, in the shape of ISPR, has taken “strong exception” to “intensified and deliberate attempts” to drag its name into the ongoing discourse by “some political leaders, journalists and analysts”.

These attempts, according to the ISPR press release on May 8, 2022, were “manifest through direct, insinuated or nuanced references made by some political leaders, a few journalists and analysts on public forums and various communication platforms, including social media”. This is characterised as “extremely damaging” by ISPR.

News reports point to the repeated references by deposed prime minister Imran Khan to former ISI chief and current Peshawar Corps Commander Lieutenant General Faiz Hamid in his public meeting speeches.

Imran Khan revealed last week that he did not want Lt. General Hamid to be removed as ISI chief because of the situation in Afghanistan and alleged opposition intrigue to topple his government (which came to pass eventually after a few hiccups through the perfectly legitimate instrument of a successful no-confidence motion).

But the news reports surprisingly also point to Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s criticism of Lt. General Hamid in a rally. Even gadfly Sheikh Rashid’s call at a public meeting for the army to hold elections has been quoted. Controversial Punjab Governor Omar Sarfraz Cheema recently sought the army’s intervention to lead the province out of the political crises it is (supposedly) mired in.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has chimed in against Pakistani expatriates to refrain from spreading “chaos” inside the country while they live abroad. The FIA claims to have launched a crackdown on those allegedly running these online campaigns and is making arrests, although no details are as yet available.

FIA threatened the perpetrators with placing their names on the Exit Control List and issuing red notices through Interpol. However, FIA’s reliance on the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 against such ‘offences’ may not hold water after the Islamabad High Court struck down the draconian clauses of the Act and the FIA was forced by the government to withdraw its appeal from the Supreme Court against the ruling.

Why have the ‘big guns’ of the military and civilian institutions been turned on the perpetrators of the above mentioned ‘offences’? With due respect to our armed forces, they are faced with the chickens of their past intervention/s coming home to roost.

The establishment is red-faced after the spectacular failure and eventual deposing of their Imran Khan ‘experiment’. Safeguards were in place in the form of leaving the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) dangling just short of a majority in the controversial (some say rigged) general elections of 2018.

This left the PTI critically dependent on its coalition allies. But in less than four years in power, the PTI government not only alienated these allies, they even caused a revolt in their own ranks. Bereft of its small majority, the boycotting PTI government was felled by the barest of margins through the delayed no-confidence vote.

The irony is that whereas the establishment was routinely accused by the opposition of bringing Imran Khan to power as a ‘selected’ prime minister, it is now faced with the ousted PTI’s campaign against it, the central complaint of which is rejection of the so-called ‘neutrality’.

Given the history of military interventions in our politics, overt and covert, the neutrality narrative is swimming against the tide. However, in the greater cause of political and democratic stability and consolidation, the establishment should be encouraged not to abandon this new-found neutrality but to embrace it as the heart of its role in national affairs.

Any modern, democratic state requires the contenders for power and office to agree the rules of the political game. This has largely been missing from our lives and ‘system’, permitting not only repeated crises in the transition from one government to the next, but also leaving room for overt and covert interventions by the ubiquitous establishment.

It is only the elected parliamentarians that can forge a consensus on such rules. But given the character of the PTI and its current aggressive narrative, all the reservations about the PTI’s contempt for parliament and democracy leave little room for hope in this regard.

Way back in the 1990s, after General Ziaul Haq’s demise, a faint hope had stirred that the country had seen the back of military dictatorship and turned towards a hopeful introduction of parliamentary democracy.

But the toppling, by fair means and foul (including foremost the 8th Amendment), of successive elected governments for one reason or another put paid to those hopes, a denouement crowned by General Musharraf’s 1999 coup.

The latter’s departure once again fondled hope in our breasts that ‘normal’ democracy would now finally prevail. And the first ever transition through the ballot box did arrive in 2013, only to be soon overtaken by the Panama Papers disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and by 2018, the ‘facilitated’ entry of Imran Khan into the corridors of power.

Imran Khan has no one but himself to blame for the fate that overtook him. He is neither the first, nor likely to be the last of such ‘experiments’, the claim of establishment ‘neutrality’ notwithstanding.

But casting a glance back over our history and the disasters accompanying all establishment interventions could yield a rich reservoir of experience to learn from. If the establishment were to burn some midnight oil on this task, the hopeful amongst us (and there are still a stubborn few) would still like to see the establishment remaining ‘neutral’ and in fact stepping back to allow the democratic political process to play out.

There is no short cut or better solution to the crises afflicting Pakistan (some have characterised it as a state in perpetual crisis).

Politics is often described as the art of the possible. In the current scenario, the hand of the establishment was forced to abandon an increasingly haywire Imran Khan and allow the previously castigated political opposition to return to power in an unwieldy coalition facing grave challenges. If the establishment learns the right lessons from the review of our history suggested above, perhaps the incorrigible optimists amongst us, threatened species or no, may still look forward to a better future. But don’t lay any bets on it just yet.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] ,


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Syed Arif Hussain Zahidi May 10, 2022 02:56pm
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