In Pakistan’s current troubled times where Pakistan is in an existential crisis, both politically and economically, and the Pakistan Army is the sole guarantor of Pakistan’s security and existence, it would be a facile argument that the Pakistan Army has become toothless in tamely submitting to political imposition of the next Army Chief.
In an unprecedented intense politicisation of selection of successor to incumbent Army Chief General Bajwa, Pakistan’s constitutionally displaced former PM Imran Khan has been on a reckless rampage to criticise Pakistan Army (his erstwhile benefactor) and incumbent PM Shahbaz Sharif over selection of the new Pakistan Army Chief. Imran Khan as self-declared presumptive Prime Minister has been demanding that he should have a say in selection of new Pak Army Chief.
Former PM Imran Khan, smarting on being constitutionally displaced, and Pakistan Army whose ‘selected PM’ he was, not saving his chair, in petulant retaliation went on his rampage of politicisation of new Army Chief’s selection.
Perceptionaly, Imran Khan seems to have been emboldened by the ‘Turkish Model’ where President Erdogan (whom Imran Khan idolises) on strength of ‘Turkish Street Power’ was successful in taming the hold of Turkish Armed Forces in political governance. In Pakistan, the context is vastly different. Pakistan Army is not toothless in opposing imposition of the ‘Turkish Model’ on Pakistan Army.
Perceptionaly, Pakistan Army is giving a long rope to Imran Khan’s political antics to hang himself. In my assessment, Pakistan Army is content with incumbent PM Shahbaz Sharif and his attempts to bring Pakistan’s economy on rails. But if Imran Khan pushes the envelope too far to jeopardise Pakistan Army’s standing, the Generals will react against Imran Khan and stop Imran Khan in his tracks.
The above is a harsh reality that Imran Khan has to face even if in the future he is returned to power as Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Imran Khan, conscious of the above looming reality has made U-turns lately on his anti-US tirades, foreign conspiracies and criticism of Pakistan Army.
Imran Khan’s proposal that he should have a say in selection of new Army Chief has been rejected by the incumbent Government and also in tandem Imran Khan’s demands for fresh elections to National Assembly due only in late 2023.
Nor is there any Pakistan Army support visible for Imran Khan’s demands from within Pakistan Army Generals despite his misinformation campaign that Pakistan Army Collegium of Generals is ‘divided’ on the issue.
Pakistan’s Army Chief General Bajwa is scheduled to retire in end November 2022 but Pakistan’s Constitutionally-displaced PM Imran Khan started “politicising” the selection of new Pak Army Chief from the very day that he chickened out to face the No Confidence Motion ii Pakistan National Assembly in early 2022.
Former PM Imran Khan for last few months has recklessly politicised the process of selection of new Pak Army Chief as he was thwarted by loss of PM office to select the new Army Chief—his favourite—Lt Gen Faiz Hameed in whom Imran Khan had reposed trust to further his political blueprint as DCISI.
Former PM Imran Khan’s political downfall was brought about by his confrontation with incumbent Pak Army Chief General Bajwa removing Lt Gen Faiz Hameed as DG ISI and shunting him as Corps Commander in Peshawar. As incumbent PM, Imran Khan sat for nearly a month on signing the papers of appointment of new DG ISI Lt Gen Anjum selected by General Bajwa.
The events that followed are well known with Former PM Imran Khan forfeiting the support of Pakistan Army which facilitated his election as PM in mid-2018 as “Selected PM” of Pak Army.
Having been trumped by Pak Army Chief and the “Judicial Coup” by Pakistan Supreme Court, Former PM Imran Khan in political desperation embarked in a “War” against all of Pakistan’s Institutions from Pak Army to Pak Supreme Court.
Imran Khan over-reached himself emboldened by the popular support (?) of Pakistani ‘street power’. Imran Khan’s political strategy thereafter was to whip up political hysteria for premature early General Elections (Due in end 2 023) before November 2022 so that the he as PM would sit over selection of new Army Chief to succeed General Bajwa.
The realty that has emerged is that with Pakistan Army’s silent and unobtrusive backing, incumbent PM Shahbaz Khan, daily demonised in Imran Khan’s tirades, has deflected Imran Khan’s political strategy of blackmailing both the Government and the Pakistan Army into conceding immediate General Elections to National Assembly, which could have facilitated Imran Khan as PM to install his favourite General as Pakistan Army Chief.
As on today, the indicators are that in view of the rampant public politicisation of the selection of new Pakistan Army Chief and the serious existential crisis that Pakistan is facing, incumbent Army Chief General Bajwa may be ‘retained’ as Pakistan Army Chief for another two years.
Pakistan Army Act is being amended by a constitutional amendment to facilitate the ‘retention’ of General Bajwa for another two years. In a PR exercise, General Bajwa has been declaring that he would not seek any retention and is also paying farewell visits to Pakistan Amy garrisons.
But then, with new legislation coming in, and which is in consonance with Pakistan Supreme Court directions, General Bajwa’s retention is covered on all flanks. He will be politically persuaded to continue in office on grounds of national interest.
Concluding, from the above examination of issues, it should be abundantly clear that Pakistan Army is not “toothless” in managing politically disruptive political leaders like Imran Khan banking on “Street Power” to blackmail the Pakistani Establishment.
It also needs repetition again in conclusion, that contextually, Imran Khan’s dreams of taming the Pakistan Army by adopting the ‘Turkish Model’ of ‘Street Power’ adopted by Imran Khan’s mentor—Turkish President Erdogan— will not be successful in Pakistan.