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Pakistan Army and Political Red Lines

Why and when the Pakistan Army and the Inter Services Intelligence intervene decisively in matters of polity? Here is an examination of the red lines keeping in view some of the interventions in the past two decades.

That the Pakistan Army controls the strings of polity in the country is well established. It is believed that while the Army brought the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) and Mr. Imran Khan to power in 2018, it was once again the military that shooed him out once he proved to be incapable of governing the country and started questioning military appointments.

Even after Mr. Shahbaz Sharif was elected as the Prime Minister by opposition parties, the hold of the Army continues. The junior Sharif in any case has had good relations with the military as opposed to his elder brother and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML N) supremo Nawaz Sharif. However, the appointment of Tariq Fatemi as the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister by Shahbaz had to be retracted within a day as the Army raised objections. Fatemi was involved in the famous “Dawn Leaks,” an exposure in Pakistan’s premier news daily the Dawn published on October 11, 2016, which contained details of a civil military meet on banned outfits operating in Pakistan. While Fatemi was virtually removed then information minister, Pervaiz Rasheed, resigned. Now an attempt to reinstate him in a senior position in the foreign office is said to have irked the Army.

Dawn Leaks was also one of the causes for development of mistrust between then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Army and one of the factors for the harsh and possibly illegal way he was shunted out not only from power but politics in the country.

It is also well established now that while wary of staging a military coup, the Army has not allowed a civilian prime minister to continue in power for the last decade and a half or so with Mr. Imran Khan being the third to resign or be removed. His predecessors include Mr. Syed Yousaf Raza Geelani of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Mr. Nawaz Sharif.

What then moves the Pakistan Army to political action? Based on a study of how the political travesties unfolded in the past and present three redlines of the military in Pakistan can be identified.

Here is an overview-

The Red Lines

First red line apparently is to never tinker with the military chain of promotions and appointments. Mr. Imran Khan fell out with the Army for persisting with continuance of the former ISI Chief Lt Gen Faez Hamid who is now the Corps Commander of 11 Corps in Peshawar.

Hamid burnt his boats with the Army Chief by appearing at Serena Hotel days after the Taliban took over Kabul, embarrassing the Establishment by playing up its role in bringing the Taliban to power in Afghanistan. His close relations with Mr. Imran Khan who possibly sought to elevate Faez Hameed as the Chief when General Bajwa retires in November this year was also anathema.

Second red line is to challenge the Army Chief, former Chief and later President Pervez Musharraf dislodged Mr. Nawaz Sharif in 1999 as he planned to replace him ostensibly for his role in Kargil intrusion the same year on his return from a trip to Sri Lanka. The Army hierarchy backed the Chief and a coup happened with Nawaz out of power.

On matters military and national interest, the Army seeks that the political leadership maintains a confidentiality of discussions. The military has always insisted that discussions on strategic issues be held in the GHQ in Rawalpindi or in the ISI HQs in the same place. While Imran Khan as the PM obliged Nawaz Sharif did not. Let us see what the reaction of Mr. Shahbaz Sharif is if faced with such a situation. The Dawn Leaks case assumes relevance in this scenario as the Army believes that security of information on strategi issues is important and is best discussed on its premises where dissemination can be controlled.

Questioning the Army on military and intelligence matters and national strategy is also taboo. While in India the head of the external intelligence agencies reports to the Prime Minister, Head of Government, an attempt by the PPP government in the past place the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to do so invited immediate reaction and had to be withdrawn.

Possibly this was the tipping point for the Army to dislodge Syed Yousaf Raza Geelani from the post of prime minister. May be the Army had no role in his ouster as he was removed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan for not proceeding with the corruption cases against his party leadership including then President Asif Ali Zardari. But you never know.

The Army and the ISI have finetuned control of the political establishment with subtle and not so subtle nudges to the top leadership, managing votes of confidence and no confidence in the national assembly and the senate and the proverbial role of the 111 Independent Infantry Brigade located strategically (sic) in Rawalpindi for the purpose of coercion.

Conspiracies as "Memogate", "Dawn Leaks" and so on are deftly used to place governments under pressure and now Mr. Khan has claimed a “letter gate,” in which the Army and the ISI seem to be having no role and appears to be the PTI’s imagination going wild to justify their ouster to the supporters.

Political Parties – Providing Space to Army

Notwithstanding the above, the fact remains that Pakistan’s political parties when in governance have failed to perform and that may be the ultimate tipping point for the Army. Witness the economic crises and frequent request for bail outs by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

More over inter party politics despite some coordination in the past such as Charter of Democracy and the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) have been fractures providing the Army scope for intervention.

But this does not give a licence for the Army or the ISI to interven in the country's politics and depose governments.

Perhaps allowing the parties to work on arrangements as the PDM, No Confidence Motion which led to the ouster of Imran Khan may be the way ahead.


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