The fierce ping pong of statements by the government and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) continues without any signs of abating in favour of a civilised, democratic exchange. Of late, these diatribes have centred on the role of former COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
No sooner had General Bajwa laid down his uniform on November 29, 2022 that Imran Khan launched into a series of interviews and messages bemoaning his having trusted General Bajwa, whom he accused of playing a ‘double game’ (i.e. playing both sides against the middle).
Predictably, Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif and Federal Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique whaled into Imran Khan in response, the PM accusing him of undermining the foundations of the country just to regain power, while Saad Rafique took up Imran’s statement admitting his giving General Bajwaan extension his biggest mistake. If so, asked Saad Rafique, why did Imran Khan repeat the offer later, when things had gone down the tube?
While these responses from the government fall within the ambit of the predictable, Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Pervaiz Elahi followed up on his son Moonis Elahi’s revelation the other day that General Bajwa nudged them towards the PTI in April 2022 during the build-up to the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan’s government. The father not only upheld the son’s statement, he virtually thanked God (and General Bajwa) for showing them the light and the better way forward: towards the PTI.
Pervaiz Elahi went on to boast that he has smooth, cordial relations with the army (and judiciary) since 1983. He then dilated on the Sharifs’ untrustworthiness, claiming they had ditched him at least five times, without however explaining when and how. Sceptics may be inclined to view the statement about ‘smooth, cordial relations’ with the army as an admission of being part of the collaborationist political culture that has overtaken the country since the last three to four decades. And they would be justified in asking the CM about his and his family’s ditching the Sharifs after the 1999 military coup.
What Moonis and his father’s remarks point to is the distance between their perceptions and Imran Khan’s continuing bluster against his erstwhile supporter General Bajwa and, by extension, the institution of the military. Elder Chaudhry Shujaat refused to go along with Pervaiz Elahi’s joining PTI because of Imran Khan’s insulting behaviour towards the army and its top commanders.
But Pervaiz says, despite and in refutation of Imran Khan’s claims, that General Bajwa did not play any double game. To soften the blow perhaps, Pervaiz Elahi in the next breath said neither did Imran Khan. CM Pervaiz Elahi expressed his preference for the Punjab Assembly to remain intact till at least March 2023, while hastening to add the ritual rider that he would not hesitate even a minute should Imran Khan command the dissolution. Pervaiz chided his political ‘boss’ for name calling the military top brass Mir Sadiq and Mir Jaffer. He also delivered the wisdom that Imran Khan’s team was ‘amateur’ and therefore could not deliver.
The father-son duo’s defence of General Bajwa and differing narrative from Imran Khan suggests distance, if not a gulf, between the two allies. Given CM Pervaiz Elahi’s boast about his relationship with the army since 1983, these differences revolve around keeping the military on board by not lambasting the previous top brass, a gambit seen as annoying to the institution as a whole. Admittedly, the unprecedented exposure of the military’s role in bringing Imran Khan to power through questionable if not dubious means, the saga of growing differences between the backers and the PTI government, and the eventual denouement points in the sorry direction of one more example of the military’s intervention in politics and, as it turns out, a disastrous one at that.
General Bajwa will no doubt have the time and leisure now to reflect on what has befallen him as a result of all these controversies. Some would see his departure as an unenviable end to his six years in power.
General Bajwa must be rueing the fallout for his personal prestige and repute as well as for the institution he commanded. Perhaps the afterthought may strike him that he would have been better off and left behind a more honourable legacy had he not accepted the extension and gone home at the appointed time.
He is of course not the only COAS who has enjoyed an extension, but each time the decision has proved controversial. For one, it disrupts the normal transition and promotion structure of the top command, engendering unnecessary bitterness amongst those who end up missingtheir best chances. Two, it militates in favour of the military’s intervention in politics, something General Bajwa says the institution has now decided to stay away from. If so, we should consider ways and means to stop this practice permanently in the interests of the country as well as the military.
The unremitting and shrill political confrontation between the two sides of the political divide shows no signs of abating or leading to a reasonable, democratic solution. However, since being ousted through a no-confidence motion in April 2022, Imran Khan has tried all the tricks up his sleeve to pave the path to his return to power. These include street power (rallies, long march) and the threat to disrupt the system by dissolving the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assemblies and precipitating provincial elections in over half the country (by population).
However, this last threat now increasingly reveals itself as merely a pressure tactic to achieve the demand for early general elections. The government appears in no mood to buckle under to this demand. Therefore, the likely scenario for the remainder of this year and the next seems to be more of the same: confrontation, statement ping pong and an unresolvable impasse. How long this pressure cooker can hold is beyond our powers to predict at this time.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022