Islamabad, Widespread anger is simmering among civilians in Pakistan against the top military leadership ever since former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took on the Bajwa-Khan partnership.
In a significant multi-party virtual conference held in Islamabad last Sunday, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif speaking from London, hit out at the Pakistan Army, accusing it of installing Imran Khan’s incompetent government, wrecking Pakistan’s economy and foreign relations, censoring media and indulging in massive corruption.
He said it is very important that Pakistan’s armed forces stay away from the governmental system according to the country’s Constitution and the founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision, and not interfere with the people’s choice. “We have made this country a joke in our own eyes and internationally as well,” Sharif said. The former prime minister, who was deposed in 2017 and jailed in a corruption case in Pakistan, has been in the UK for medical treatment since November last year.
The conference was attended by Pakistan’s main opposition parties including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. A religious hardliner, Rehman held the opposition parties responsible for allowing the Khan government to survive and urged them to “take concrete decisions”.
Sharif agreed with Maulana Fazlur Rehman, describing the Army as being a “state above the state”, a “parallel government”, an “illness”, and “the root-cause of our problems”. His speech immediately stirred a nation-wide debate on the Army, which remains as powerful in the supposedly democratic Pakistan, as it was when it ruled the country.
“The common man in Pakistan is today aware that Prime Minister Imran Khan is nothing but a civilian representative of the Pakistan Army, which actually runs the country. It is called hybrid martial law over here,” Shahid, an Islamabad resident, told on phone.
Nawaz Sharif’s supporters in Punjab province point out that he has been the most significant prime minister who democratised the country. During his second term as Prime Minister (1997-99), he attempted to undo the semi-presidential system in favour of a more parliamentary system through constitutional amendments. However, weeks later, parliament was suspended by a military coup and the semi-presidential system in the country imposed again under a legal order.
In 2006, setting aside their differences, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto signed a ‘Charter of Democracy’, bringing the two main political parties of Pakistan – Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) – together on a common agenda. But, the campaign for democracy was scuttled with Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, for which the military ruler at the time, Pervez Musharraf has been held responsible.
No Prime Minister has completed his or her term in Pakistan. It is almost a norm for Pakistan that ousted Prime Ministers or ministers will be charged or tried or penalised or sent into exile.
In his third term as the Prime Minister (2013-17), Sharif and the military remained at loggerheads with the latter outraged over his peace overtures to India. The Army was so furious that they ran a campaign to paint him as an Indian agent, working against the interests of Pakistan.
Sources said that the current Army chief Major General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the ISI chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, were so troubled by Sharif’s latest comeback into Pakistan’s politics while in exile, that they leaked it to media that the key opposition party leaders had secretly met Bajwa and Faiz, before the all parties’ conference. The objective was to imply that except for Nawaz Sharif, all the opposition parties in Pakistan are allies of the military.
Even as the Army denied its role in democratic politics of the country, but people in Pakistan can’t help notice that “the Bajwa-Khan government” is failing, many Pakistani columnists have noted.
Critics of the government believe that Imran Khan was chosen by the Army to head the government to avoid international pressure against the military rule and avoid domestic pressure over military’s failures on social, economic and foreign policy including cross-border terror.
“Pakistan is almost bankrupt, our diaspora has refused to help in a big way and by allying with China, we have lost our strategic partnership with the US. And by allying with Turkey and Iran, our relations with Saudi Arabia has been ruined too,” Aziz, an activist in Islamabad said.
Pakistan’s defence expert Ayesha Siddiqa recently wrote that Bajwa-Hameed duo “seem to have pushed the Army in the direction of an increasingly uncomfortable relationship with the society.”
The Pakistan military, she wrote, “is gradually moving in a direction from where its oppression has become more visible. From gagging of the media and manipulation of the judiciary to disappearance of people – increasing fear in the name of fighting a 5th generation warfare is likely to increase the military’s vulnerability.”