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SPYGATE: Pak Army’s desperate bid to shore up image

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Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa met the Chief of People's Liberation Army Chaina Han Weiguo in Beijing (File)

With the lawyers and Pashtuns up in arms against the state, and the army, coupled with a looming economic crisis, there is little hope of calm winds for the Generals. The decision to go public with the punishment story of own Generals is a calculated move to stem the fire of discontent brewing against them and their protégé in Islamabad….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa met the Chief of People’s Liberation Army Chaina Han Weiguo in Beijing (File)

The Pakistan Army’s decision to make public the extreme punishment given to a retired Lt. General and Brigadier, along with a civilian, on espionage charges has raised several questions about Pakistan’s internal situation, especially the perpetual fratricidal conflict between the political class and the Generals.

On the face of it, barring the severity and timing of the punishment, there seems nothing exceptional about the turn of events. In the last two years, there has been a move within the army to come clean on corrupt officers, howsoever embarrassing the disclosures might prove to be. More than 400 officers of different ranks have been punished for a variety of offenses during this period.

Although the army, by and large, has kept up its tradition of not punishing its officers for various acts of omission and commission, there has been a calculated move on the part of the top military leadership to disprove the growing clamour for accountability within the forces.

The army, for instance, is yet to punish those who were accused by the former Pakistan Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Asghar Khan, of manipulating the elections by bribing various politicians including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Likewise, General Musharraf and his successor, General Ashfaq Kayani, have been left untouched although there is substantial evidence against them for corruption and other acts of omission.

It was in 2016 that the army was forced to change this attitude when it faced a pitched confrontation with Nawaz Sharif. It was the year in which the Panama Papers were leaked, linking Sharif and his family with stashing away ill-gotten wealth in tax havens. With the courts and the army ranged against him, Sharif was disqualified from any public life and, a year later, sentenced to 10 years of jail. Sharif fought back accusing the army of facilitating the Mumbai terrorist attack.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. (File Photo: IANS) by .
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. (File Photo: IANS)

The Generals responded with a crackdown on the media and social media outlets as a general perception began to gain ground that the army had double standards on corruption. Quick to stem the snowballing image disaster, the then Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif declared that “across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan”. He followed it up with the dismissal of six army officers, including two Generals, for corruption.

It is fair to assume that the army’s recent decision is not without some serious reasons. Four reasons could be discerned from the turn of events in Pakistan.

One is that the army’s protégé, Prime Minister Imran Khan, is getting sucked into a deep crisis. The economy of the country is in a mess and he has not come up with any credible solution except to borrow from international lenders.

What is making Imran Khan’s life as a Prime Minister even more difficult is that Nawaz Sharif, despite being ill and in prison, has not yet given up the chase. The coming together of Sharif’s party, PMLN and its arch rival, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is proving to be a serious headache for the ruling party and its patrons in Rawalpindi. The opposition parties have threatened to take to streets after Eid.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS) by .
Nawaz Sharif (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS)

No less problematic for Khan is the confrontation with the bar and the bench on the issue of a presidential reference against a sitting Supreme Court judge. Once again, the issue is of corruption. The government has accused Justice Qazi Faez Isa of corruption. Justice Isa has challenged the notification and called upon Khan to prove his `clean` credentials. The Supreme Court bar association has threatened to disrupt courts until the reference was withdrawn. The lawyers have accused the government of malafide intentions.

Justice Isa had at least on two occasions severely reprimanded the government and the army. The judge had been unsparing in his criticism of the state in his report on the suicide bombing at Quetta in August 2016 which killed over 70 people, mostly lawyers. In April 2018, Justice Isa confronted the military directly during the hearing of the case involving Faizabad sit-in organised by a radical extremist group, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan. The group is believed to enjoy the patronage of Pakistan Army and the protest was engineered to facilitate Imran Khan’s election as the Prime Minister.

The third worry for the army is the fallout of the recent incident in Waziristan in which three protesting Pashtuns were gunned down by the troops. The Pashtuns have been on a warpath for over a year now and their ire is targeted at the army. The Pashtuns accuse the army of destroying their home and cities and illegally detaining, and in many cases, killing Pashtun men, mostly young, for protesting against the military atrocities. The grassroots uprising, if not checked, could unravel the army’s key front in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan where its proxy agent, the Taliban, is set to capture at least part of the power structure. The Pashtuns have kept their protest peaceful so far but the army’s action in Waziristan early this month could change it. A violent Pashtun movement could prove to be more than a headache for the army as well as the Imran Khan government.

No less damage to their reputation has been the Indian surgical strike at Balakot early this year. The Generals had no logical explanation for the Indian Air Force’s attack on the terrorist camp. It was the first time India had attacked so deep inside Pakistan. Though the Generals snuffed out any criticism on that front, there has been an unmistakable dent on their image.

With the lawyers and Pashtuns up in arms against the state, and the army, coupled with a looming economic crisis, there is little hope of calm winds for the Generals. The decision to go public with the punishment story of own Generals is a calculated move to stem the fire of discontent brewing against them and their protégé in Islamabad.

 

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