Earlier this month, while briefing Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee on National Security regarding the prevailing situation in the region, Director General [DG] Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] Lt Gen Faiz Hameed also had a piece of advice for the law makers. They were asked to desist from engaging in divisive politics on issues of national interest, which may scandalize the uninitiated but not those who are aware of Pakistan army’s unique status within the country.
What the ISI chief said undoubtedly makes perfect sense, but his discourse on political correctness to senators raises two extremely pertinent questions. One, are members of legislative assemblies in Pakistan really such an irresponsible lot that they need to be counselled by the military? Two, isn’t a soldier telling democratically elected representatives how to conduct political activities downright military interference in politics?
Though Rawalpindi may be calling the shots in Pakistan, it does so solely because of the extra-constitutional powers that it has illegally appropriated due to which it exercises considerable influence over all organs of the state including the judiciary. Readers would recall that in 2018, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, a senior sitting judge of Islamabad High Court, admitted that “Judiciary [in Pakistan] is not independent…” Didn’t the also reveal of how “In different cases, the ISI forms benches of its choice to get desired results”?
That Justice Siddiqui was removed from office within three months of having spilled the beans on Rawalpindi’s insistence that the courts to should against him comes as no big surprise, nor was his expeditious dismissal through the more expedient Supreme Judicial Council route for “displaying a conduct unbecoming of a judge” was a bolt from the blue. However, Pakistan army’s congenital proclivity to meddle in politics is amazing and even though the era of military coups seems to be over, Rawalpindi continues to brazenly delve in politics.
Some of startling instances of unabashed military interference in Pakistan’s internal politics during the last five years:
- In October 2016, Dawn broke the story “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military”, that revealed Rawalpindi being by government officials that its continued patronage to terrorist groups could turn Pakistan into a pariah state. The army was livid and demanded an inquiry, but after its completion, when the federal government’s notification was issued, DG of Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] holding just a Major General’s rank had the cheek to tweet- “Notification on Dawn Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board. Notification is rejected.”
- In 2017, Pakistan army’s shady role in the Faizabad sit-in by Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan [TLP] came to fore. While DG Punjab Rangers Maj-Gen Azhar Navid Hayat went about distributing cash envelopes to protesters and Expressing solidarity with them by saying “Aren’t we with you too?” the current DG ISI [who was then a Major General] signed as ‘guarantor’ on the agreement between the authorities and protesters calling off the sit-in.
- The 2019 Supreme Court judgment on this incident authored by Justice Qazi Faez Isa reveals the extent of Pakistan army’s illegal involvement. A few examples-
- “They [military intelligence agencies] cannot curtail the freedom of speech and expression and do not have the authority to interfere with broadcasts and publications, in the management of broadcasters/publishers and in the distribution of newspapers.”
- “The Constitution emphatically prohibits members of the Armed Forces from engaging in any kind of political activity, which includes supporting a political party, faction or individual. The Government of Pakistan through the Ministry of Defence and the respective Chiefs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are directed to initiate action against the personnel under their command who are found to have violated their oath.”
- “Pursuant to the judgment in Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s case, the involvement of ISI and of the members of the armed forces in politics, media and other ‘unlawful activities’ should have stopped. Instead, when TLP’s dharna participants received cash handouts from men in uniform the perception of their involvement gained traction.”
- In 2020, ISI officials assisted by Pakistan Rangers [who are under direct operational control of Pakistan army] went as far as abducting Mushtaq Ahmed Mahar, Inspector General of Police Sindh and forced him to sign an arrest warrant of Captain (Retired) Mohammad Safdar, a political leader and son-in-law of PML-N chief and former PM Nawaz Sharif. Could the army of any democratic nation stoop any lower?
Having realised that it no longer enjoys the exalted status of a ‘Holy Cow’ due to its rampant and humungous indiscretions, Rawalpindi has used its ‘selected’ Prime Minister Imran Khan to get the controversial Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2020 that criminalises ridiculing and defaming the armed forces of Pakistan passed- even though it violates freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 of Pakistan’s Constitution.
An army whose top man alongwith his intelligence chief holds secret talks with leaders of opposition political parties has no moral right to preach parliamentarians on political propriety? However, with its ‘own man’ sitting on the Prime Minister’s chair, Pakistan army nedn’t worry about its wrongdoings. So, while Islamabad is leaving no stone unturned to get former PM Sharif back home to face charges of financial irregularities, no such action is being taken with in the case of former army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf, despite him being charged with ‘high treason’. However, this has always been the ‘normal’ in Pakistan.
Tailpiece: In a 2016 TV interview, Gen Musharraf said, “Well he [Gen Raheel Sharif, the then Pakistan army chief] did help me [to leave Pakistan] and I am absolutely clear and grateful. I have been his boss and I have been the army chief before him… he helped out, because the cases are politicised, they put me on the ECL, they turned it into a political issue.” He went on to say, “These courts work under pressure behind the scenes and then give decisions. The Army chief had a role to play in releasing the pressure behind the scenes.”
Even if one was to accept Musharraf’s view that this case had been politicised, his admission that the it was the Pakistan army chief’s intervention that ultimately resulted in “releasing the pressure behind the scenes” on the judiciary demonstrates the absolute power that Rawalpindi wields. Perhaps that’s why the not-so-flattering sobriquet about Prussia not being a country with an army but an army with a country coined two century ago, applies perfectly to present day Pakistan.