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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 25 & 26 , June 17 & June 24, 2023

Making Sense of the Crisis - Pakistan Army and the Collapse of the Imran Khan Government | M A Sofi

Saturday 17 June 2023


by M A Sofi *

The irony of an army with a ‘country attached to it’

An oft-repeated cliché in the Indian media involving the larger-than-life role of the Pakistan army in politics and dictating the country’s internal and external affairs that would raise eyebrows across the border would read “Pakistan is an army that has a country attached to it”. Recent developments over there seem to add a degree of validity to that cliché. Without intending to play the Devil’s Advocate, it’s important to make sense of why the Pak army is seen to bristle at the slightest hint of being advised to stay away from politics and to concentrate solely on its bounden duty which is to secure its borders and provide security to the country from external aggression!

It takes no rocket science to pin down the genesis of the ongoing kerfuffle in Pakistan to the long string of civilian governments having ruled that country but have miserably failed to deliver by providing neat, efficient, and corruption-free governance to the people. Their insatiable lust for unbridled power and the desire to use that power to fatten their coffers while depriving the people of the basic needs of life including two square meals, health, education, and most importantly justice, has naturally created space for the powerful army to use that as a reason, a ruse if you like, to step in and double up as rulers and security providers. And having tasted political power and the pelf that goes with it while staying smug in the belief that the politicians across the board are incompetent, imbecile, and corrupt and can be easily manipulated or used to perpetuate their grip on power, it’s understandable why the army remains completely unwilling to yield space for the politicians to step in and run the country on their own. That puts into perspective the reasons why the army has a huge stake in the gang of politicians being thoroughly incompetent and corrupt, so as to remain condemned to be at the mercy of the army providing the crutches to run the government. To this end, it’s worth noting how the army has successfully arm-twisted the institutions of the country including the police, security agencies, bureaucracy, election commission, print-electronic and social media, and more importantly, the country’s judiciary to subordinate them to its will and fancy, as has been in witness every time the army has managed to grab power by getting the judiciary to accord its stamp of approval to the unconstitutional takeover.

In such an environment when everything looked ‘hunky dory’ from the army’s perspective, here comes along the greatest broth spoiler that the army had never thought of having to reckon with and that it had hitherto been completely unaccustomed to! A new man on the block emerges on the political scene of Pakistan who had already achieved the status as an icon on the strength of his contributions as a world-class cricketer and as a philanthropist. Being looked upon as an antithesis of his predecessors in every possible sense - upright, honest, and educated, he enjoyed, and continues to enjoy, massive support among the people of Pakistan to provide leadership and good governance. Incidentally, that has not been an overnight miracle, a cakewalk if you like, before he became the prime minister of his country entirely on his own strength and the strong political base that was shaped as a result of his long and arduous journey extending over twenty-seven years of hard political struggle in Pakistan. As was to be expected, his fiercely independent disposition without wishing to seek the army’s indulgence to dispense governance as the PM would not go down well with the army top brass that had in the past been used to supple, submissive and incompetent politicians being pitchforked to cobble together a government that was actually and practically being run by the army behind the veneer of a civilian government. The fact that the army would make it a point to install weak governments at the helm was to ensure that the political power remained largely under the control of the army while the burden of responsibility for dispensing governance and the accompanying failures would be left at the doorstep of the civilian government.

Fearing to lose its big, omnipresent hand and a larger-than-life role in politics in case the Imran Khan led government was allowed to function on its own to complete its five-year term, the army staged a coup of sorts through the disgruntled politicians which had led Imran Khan to lose power and thus pave the way for the PDM, the 13-party conglomeration of the opposition parties to grab power. The rest that followed since that fateful day of April 9, 2022 is history. It’s remarkable how in their prurient thirst for political power, the army top brass have in effect pitted themselves against the vast majority of hapless people of Pakistan who are being hounded, picked up, incarcerated, brutalised and in many cases mysteriously disappeared or even killed, only because they are seen as being sympathetic towards Imran Khan and so are loath to buying army’s narrative on the drama that has been unfolding since April 2022. Further, in order to ensure that Imran Khan remained constantly embroiled in controversies and stopped in his tracks from reclaiming his space in the political arena of Pakistan, he has been framed in a slew of frivolous criminal cases amounting to no fewer than one hundred and fifty of them at the last count, necessitating his risk prone almost daily appearance in the courts of law in Pakistan to stand trial. As part of their plot to even eliminate him from the scene, a couple of assassination attempts on Imran Khan have already been undertaken, however, he miraculously escaped while surviving multiple bullet injuries. On the other hand, in its bid to gag the media, there is incontrovertible evidence suggesting that the intelligence agencies under the direct command and control of the army had carried out the brutal killing of the bold, irrepressible journalist Arshad Sharief while he was in forced exile in Kenya. The forced disappearance of many including the fearless anchor-journalist Imran Reyaz Khan about a month ago who remains untraced since his abduction by unknown gunmen from the Sialkot airport is part of the same devious strategy to intimidate the media. Added to this is the extremely dire, shambolic state of the Pak economy that has naturally taken a nosedive since the April 2022 betrayal when the new government comprising the thirteen-party cabal of infamous, opportunist, self-seeking politicians was sworn into power. Not surprisingly, the country is already staring at the prospect of going into default any time from now.

Right now, there are ominous forebodings that the unprecedented turmoil that has gripped that country since the Imran Khan government was dislodged would not die down any time soon, or at least till the army or the ‘one-man army’ in the shape of Imran Khan chooses to sidestep or ends up eating the dust. As things stand, it’s not clear who of the two would finally prevail in the ongoing faceoff which is essentially between the naked muscle power of one pitted against the high moral ground that the other has worked hard to earn and to stand upon. However, in the event of the mighty Pak army refusing to budge and using its heft to nail down Imran Khan in all possible ways, the result would be no better than a pyrrhic victory for the army. This is so because what may appear to be a victory would actually not be so as there is no such thing as victory scored over one’s own people who constitute 80-90% of the entire population of Pakistan standing firmly and steadfastly behind the Khan and his vision for Naya Pakistan. In such a scenario, the loss to the country would be colossal from which it would be impossible to recover decades down the line and for the Pak army to regain the trust and the confidence of the people that it would enjoy from the people prior to the skulduggery that the former had indulged in over the past thirteen months. In the obverse case of good sense and wisdom dawning upon the army top brass to reconsider its strategy and to create conditions for free, fair, and transparent elections being held in the country sooner than later, the victory would surely be of the people of Pakistan, of democracy and of course of the army itself which would thus be able to regain the respect and glory that it has lost along the way. It remains to be seen whether wisdom or wilfulness would prevail in the end.

* (Author: Prof M A Sofi, Srinagar | email: aminsofi[at]

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