Pakistan’s Deteriorating Civil-Military Relations – OpEd


With Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa alleging that “hostile forces” are trying to “create wedge between [Pakistan] army and population,” it’s time for the Rawalpindi and Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR], to pull up their socks and introspect seriously. While exactly who these “hostile forces” are hasn’t yet been disclosed, but there are no prizes for guessing that in the ISI’s files, India’s spy agency Research and Analysis Wing [RAW] tops this list with Israel’s Mossad in tow! After all, what could be a more compelling rallying factor in Pakistan than pitching a combined Hindu-Zionist existential threat-even if unreal and engineered as an all-weather and failproof tool for diverting public attention from real issues.

Infact, both Islamabad and Rawalpindi have been blaming India for anything and everything that goes wrong in Pakistan for so long that now something seems amiss when an Indian ‘connection’ is missing in any allegation emanating from Pakistan. While alleging that he had been ousted through a “foreign conspiracy,” former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed only the US, and though his claim did find traction with the masses, it didn’t evoke the aggressive response that Khan may have expected. Perhaps it was to compensate for the absence of the ‘India-Israel factor’ from his allegation that while addressing a public rally in Peshawar, he said, “I feel proud that India celebrated my ouster as Pakistan Prime Minister to the maximum, Israel too was very happy when I was removed as PM.”

Returning to Gen Bajwa’s observation that civil- military relations in Pakistan are heading south, given the way things are currently panning out in Pakistan, his apprehension isn’t misplaced at all. Yet, for him to place the entire blame for the sorry state of affairs in Pakistan on “hostile forces” is undoubtedly a bit farfetched. In democracies, the armed forces have a very well-defined role- that of defending the nation against external or internal threats, and assisting the government in rescue and relief operations during natural calamities and man-made disasters. Since armed forces face tremendous risks while executing both these onerous tasks, the public remains ever-grateful to the soldier, and hence undermining civil-military bonhomie is no easy task.

So, why is Rawalpindi [by its own admission], facing such an unprecedented loss of image crisis? The answer isn’t too hard to find and a clear hint has already been given above. Pakistan army has always been enjoying extra constitutional powers and as such its self-scripted charter of duties go far beyond the traditional roles of armed forces in democracies. Rawalpindi suffers from a rather presumptuous and entirely misplaced perception of self-importance, which Pakistan’s ex-President and former army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf aptly illustrated by maintaining that, “Military rule has always brought the country back on track, whereas civilian governments have always derailed it.” 

Some may argue that Gen Musharraf’s statement ibid, which proudly mentions Pakistan army’s brazen interference in domestic politics was made in 2017, and hence is no longer relevant today. However, with DG ISPR Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar revealing during a press conference last week that “It is unfortunate that our political leadership was not ready to talk [on the political crisis triggered by the no-confidence motion],” and adding that “So, the army chief and DG ISI went to the PM Office and three scenarios were discussed,” its abundantly clear that Gen Musharraf’s half-a-decade old observation is bang-on even today.  In trying to portray this highly objectionable military intervention in the country’s political affairs as a call of national duty, DGISPR has only ended up raising more stink!

Soon after Maj Gen Iftikhar’s disclosure, former Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari took to twitter, categorically disputing the DGISPR’s version by saying, “Let me be clear — I am stating on record [that the] PM did not call [the army] for help on ‘breaking [the political] deadlock’. The [military] sought the [meeting through] Def Minister Khattak and they put forward the [three] proposals of either PM resigning or taking part in VNC or fresh elections!” Her narrative is far more convincing than that of DGISPR since she has logically argued that when Prime Minister Imran Khan had categorically ruled out the resignation and no-confidence vote options from the word go, why would he discuss the same with the military?

Thanks to DGISPR’s clumsy attempt to showcase Pakistan army as the epitome of patriotism and virtue and portray the former Prime Minister as a political street fighter, understandably prompted the cricketer turned politician who had hitherto fore remained ambivalent about what had transpired during his meeting with the army chief and his spymaster DGISI, to hit back with vengeance. He admitted to journalists that “The establishment [Pakistan army] gave me three options, so I agreed with the election proposal.” Thereafter, he reaffirmed Mazari’s version of the events by saying, “How could I accept the resignation and no-confidence suggestion?” It thus transpires that the meeting between the former prime minister with the army chief and his spy master was a courtesy call for discussing the political options available but for ‘arm-twisting’ Khan! 

The intelligentsia in Pakistan is equally distressed by the army’s dubious handling of the “foreign conspiracy” accusation levelled by the former Prime Minister as it strikes down Gen Bajwa’s claim of the army’s “neutrality.” As Khan was repeatedly accusing opposition parties of being part of the “foreign funded” conspiracy to remove him, PDM leaders had requested the army to clear the air. This was a reasonable request, as being a matter of national security, the army would surely have been privy to the contents of the so called “threat letter,” which Khan was merrily waving during his televised address to the nation. Yet, for reasons unknown, Rawalpindi chose to maintain a stoic silence on the opposition’s request to clear the air on the “foreign conspiracy” issue.

So, the absence of any clarity from Rawalpindi enabled Khan to sell his “foreign conspiracy” claim and he even mentioned this in his televised address to the nation on April 8. With DG ISPR now revealing that even before the NSC met on April 1 to discuss the alleged “threat letter,” the ISI had already investigated and submitted its findings on the same. So, Pakistan army needs to explain its inexplicable eagerness to resolve the no confidence motion logjam, which was purely an internal political issue, but displaying abject reluctance to set the record straight on the “threat letter” issue? Knowing that allowing Khan to peddle lies would not only strain US-Pak relations, but also exacerbate anti-US sentiments in Pakistan, which was not in Islamabad’s interests, why did Rawalpindi choose to remain a mute spectator? Doesn’t Rawalpindi’s silence, Khan’s “last ball” challenge and the army chief dropping in to see the former prime minister appear fishy?

By mentioning that the word “conspiracy” had not been mentioned in the statement released after the NSC meeting in an attempt to defend Rawalpindi’s unpardonable lapse of failing to prevent Khan from peddling the “threat letter” lies, DG ISPR has only exacerbated Gen Bajwa’s duplicity. So, while DG ISPR may keep saying that   Pakistan army has “nothing to do with politics” and even rejig the recently stated army role from that of “neutrality” in politics to being “apolitical,” but for the people of Pakistan, the dubious role played by the army in the ‘cablegate’ episode is a good enough reason for looking at Rawalpindi’s dealings with deep suspicion! 

Lastly, doesn’t unwarranted dabbling in politics and its highhandedness make Rawalpindi one of the most menacing “hostile forces” that’s driving a wedge between the army and people of Pakistan? While an honest reply would certainly embarrass Rawalpindi, it could well provide an answer to Gen Bajwa’s worries regarding plummeting civil-military relations in Pakistan!  

Tailpiece: Soon after Khan lost the no-confidence motion, DG ISPR told the media that “[Pakistan] Army has nothing to do with the political process.”  However, just 10 days, by announcing during a press conference that “We have now fulfilled the longstanding demand of the political parties that the army should not involve in politics,” he spilled the beans regarding the army’s rampant involvement in the internal politics of Pakistan. Mark Twain had once remarked, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything,” and so, DG ISPR Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar should either start telling the truth, or seriously do something to sharpen his memory.

Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

One thought on “Pakistan’s Deteriorating Civil-Military Relations – OpEd

  • April 21, 2022 at 7:16 am

    Gen Bajwa’s observation that “Civil- Military relations in Pakistan are heading South!” His apprehension may not be misplaced but earlier it was the media, judiciary and the politicians who made such statements. Strange Gen Bajwa may be the first in uniform making such an open opinion statement! Is Gen Bajwa mending fences with the new PM Shehbaz Sharif’s Govt looking for yet another extension or something more…


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