By mentioning to lawmakers that “Prime Minister Imran Khan is my boss, not my friend,” Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa may have tried to sell the narrative of the country’s legislature being supreme. However, recent developments in Pakistan have once again proved that while the legislature merely ‘proposes’, it’s the army that actually ‘disposes.’ So, there’s nothing unusual in Rawalpindi pulling the carpet from under Khan’s chair-after all, isn’t it true that no Prime Minister of Pakistan has ever completed his [or her] full tenure?
However, Khan can’t complain that he wasn’t forewarned. Gen Bajwa had taken pains to announce that as far as the impending no-confidence motion against him was concerned, the army was neutral. This in itself was a very powerful message as it is tantamount to an indirect yet explicit admission from the army’s very top General that the Pakistan’s military does meddle in internal politics of the country. Yet, the cricketer turned politician seems to have taken Gen Bajwa’s passing remark about him being the army chief’s boss and not his friend, a bit too seriously and despite being asked not to do so by the army chief, continued hurling abusive slurs and issuing threats to his political opponents.
In all probability, Khan’s puerile retort to Gen Bajwa’s statement on the army’s neutrality proved to be the proverbial straw that broke Rawalpindi’s back and has hastened his exit. So, Khan has no one but himself to blame because everyone in Pakistan knows that since the military has always enjoyed extra-constitutional powers, prime ministers have without exception played second fiddle to the army chief. Just a few examples to substantiate this observation:
- In April 2017, a two-star General heading ISPR summarily had the cheek to dismiss the notification issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on the ‘Dawn Leak Report by tweeting, “Notification on Dawn Leak is incomplete and not in line with recommendations by the Inquiry Board. Notification is rejected.” [Emphasis added].
- In October 2019, Gen Bajwa hosted a dinner for business honchos his official residence and heard their pleas seeking his intervention on remedy the government’s apathy. He also had an interaction with them at Army auditorium. In both instances, there were no government or bureaucratic representatives present.
- In September 2020, Gen Bajwa and his intelligence chief held a secret meeting with opposition leaders without any member of the ruling party or bureaucrat being in attendance.
So worrisome has been the cavalier fashion in which Pakistan army functions that even the judiciary has been forced to take note of and make serious observations on misconduct by the armed forces. Some examples:
- Lahore High Court Chief Justice Mohammad Qasim Khan reminded Rawalpindi that “The uniform of the Army is for service and not to rule as a king.”
- Supreme Court Judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa observed that despite absence of any legal provisions, “senior members of the armed forces get plots and agricultural lands and continue to be given additional plots and agricultural lands as they rise up the ranks.”
- In its verdict on Rawal Lake Navy Sailing Club and Pakistan Navy Farms, Islamabad High Court [IHC] observed:
- “Some classes [armed forces] are probably genuinely convinced that they are above the law. No one is above the law and whoever undermines the rule of law ought to be held accountable and made an example, so as to bring an end to decades of impunity….”
- Its [the armed forces’] coercive power, strength and discipline can only be used for the restricted functions prescribed under the Constitution rather than using these characteristics to enforce its will on the people that created it.”
- “Both the ventures [Rawal Sailing Club and PN Farms] in the case in hand undertaken by one of the branches of the armed forces were illegal from its inception but, because of the institution’s status [of the armed forces], no authority was willing to take action.” [Emphasis added.
- In a clear reference to Pakistan army’s brazen human rights violations in border areas, Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah reminded Rawalpindi that “These aren’t the tribal areas but the country’s capital.”
While Khan has recently said “I salute India. India’s foreign Policy is better than Pakistan’s, they work for their people, the Indian army is not corrupt and they never interfere in civilian govt,” his admiration for Indian army’s non-interference in functioning of the government will not compel Gen Bajwa to introspect. Au contraire, this will only hasten the unseating process, which will be a subtle affair. Like always, it will be orchestrated through constitutional provisions and be executed strictly in accordance with the law. Khan has to go because the message that in Pakistan, it doesn’t pay to antagonise Rawalpindi has to go out, loud and clear.
Not many in Pakistan would mourn Khan’s removal. However, by speaking up against Pakistan army’s unwarranted interference in the country’s internal affairs, [even though belatedly], Khan can at least hope to be remembered as a man who had the courage to tell the truth, and just like his predecessor Nawaz Sharif, try and portray himself as a ‘martyr’, by blaming Rawalpindi and not his personal failings for his ouster.