Power plays in Pakistan The Statesman 16 May 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar



Power plays in Pakistan The Statesman 16 May 2023

          Battlelines have been drawn in Pakistan. The two warring factions have firmed their strategies and launched their first strikes. Imran Khan backed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) and the President, Dr Arif Alvi, is on one side while the government supported by the army chief, General Asim Munir, on the other. Neither is willing to back down. Every case pertaining to Imran is personally heard by the CJP and immediate relief granted. The president briefs Imran on the goings within the government while refusing to sign orders which could damage Imran’s position.

          The CJP displays happiness on meeting Imran in court, stating, ‘Good to see you,’ while the president writes to the government criticizing his arrest, mentioning, ‘The clumsy hubris in which his (Imran’s) arrest was carried out, tarnished the image of Pakistan in the international community.’ A confident Imran instructs his lawyers to approach the SC directly, aware his cases will be heard on priority and relief assured. The bail judgement by the Islamabad court was a fall-out of the SC order.

The CJP’s orders for conduct of Punjab elections on 14th May was not implemented by the government on which he could do nothing. On the contrary, the bill passed by the national assembly curtailing the powers of the CJP on Suo-moto cases was declared null and void even before it became law, for which the government had no answer. Directions of the president are ignored while he refuses to cooperate with the government.

          The army chief is anti-Imran and Imran rightly believes him to be his personal enemy. His selection was made solely on this criterion and with the intent of keeping Imran away from the PM’s chair. He is aware that it could impact his own appointment. Pak generals, despite all social media rumours, have their first loyalty to their kin, rather than any politician. They have never been subservient to any civilian leader and would never be so. Imran is seeking to nominate a chief who would follow his diktat. Munir is busy creating his own team of confidants to push through his anti-Imran agenda.

The leaders of the PDM, the coalition currently ruling Pakistan, were targeted by Imran when he was in power, but never received favourable treatment from the courts. Hence, they term the courts as biased and granting ‘extraordinary relief to Imran.’ They are aware that Imran has a cult following which will ensure his return to power, pushing them into jail and oblivion in case elections are held. They are working to debar Imran from politics employing the legal route.

Everything has a cut off date and so has the fight in Pakistan. The target is forthcoming elections. As per Pakistan’s constitution, elections are to be held within 60 days of dissolution of the national assemblies, the last date for which is 13th Aug, implying elections must be held by 13th Oct, under a caretaker government. With Shehbaz and Imran at loggerheads, the caretaker PM would be appointed by the President in consultation with the election commission.

Both President Alvi and the CJP retire in mid Sept this year. While Shehbaz will seek to delay announcing elections beyond the retirement of the two, they will work in unison to ensure it does not happen. Hence, there is discussion of declaring an emergency. An emergency can only be declared under severe internal crisis or a war. Will Pak risk a war with India only to keep Imran at bay?

The next president is unlikely to be Imran’s choice as also the next CJP will be the anti-Imran, Faez Isa. It was during Imran’s PM tenure that the government attempted to sideline Faez by accusing him of amassing wealth beyond known sources of income. However, they failed. If Imran is unable to push through elections by then, he will be at the receiving end. The importance of President Alvi and CJP not resigning before their due date cannot be understated. Any attempt to delay dissolution of assemblies or holding of elections would come under scrutiny of law for which both the CJP and President hold the key.

Strategies of both sides have been firmed in. Imran will continue to attack the army, directly in his addresses and through social media, taking names, maligning them and increasing the distance between the public and powerful generals, while creating fissures within, thereby reducing the ability of General Munir and the ISI to target him. By pushing his supporters to attack army camps Imran has warned that any arrest would lead to the battle being fought in cantonments. The President and the CJP will simultaneously keep the government under check.

On the other side, Shehbaz and Munir will attempt to bring Imran to heel by pushing at least one of the multiple cases currently being investigated by their designated agencies thereby debarring him from elections and placing him behind bars. They will seek to arrest Imran by bypassing stay orders and bail granted by the courts while discrediting his primary supporters by selective audio leaks. By ordering an investigation into the recent violence the government will attempt to term Imran’s PTI as a terrorist organization, preventing it from participating. Crackdown on the PTI has begun alongside protests and counter-protests across the country.

Imran targets the army, forcing it to respond, while it, in return, releases audio tapes displaying that it was his party members which led rioters to target army institutions. For the army, Imran is not the first politician who attempted to subdue them. Zulfikar tried, was executed, Benazir became too popular, was assassinated and Nawaz exiled. Will Imran be the first to bring the army to heel remains to be seen. Imran has a cult following in this age of social media, which none others had.

Each side has its strengths and limitations. What remains to be seen is whether Imran along with his allies, the CJP and President, be able to force the government to concede or will the government, supported by the army chief, push Imran to pasture. The coming days will determine which side wins the war. Till then battles between both sides will continue.