For the past many decades, to any dispassionate observer of regional geopolitics, Pakistan’s consistency in pursuing a myopic self-destructive orientated path cannot be denied. Equally, all these years, Pakistan has displayed an uncanny knack of surviving many of its seemingly near- fatal vicissitudes. Pakistan’s flirtations with democratic governments followed by their ouster by its all-powerful Army on many occasions is now a part of the infamous Pakistani folklore.
The tumultuous political and economically grave situation in Pakistan over the past year or so, once again, displays the same trend of enduring instability coupled with the omnipotent Pakistan Army once again meddling in its national politics and ousting its duly elected leadership. It is indeed a pity for the suffering people of Pakistan that its formidable Deep State -- the unholy trinity of its Army, the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the many terror “tanzeems” sponsored by the Pakistan Army -- keeps only its personal interests in mind while ignoring what is good for the nation’s well-being.
The current wave of intensifying political instability can be traced back to April 2022 when the then Pakistan Prime Minister, the charismatic cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, lost a vote of confidence in the Pakistan Parliament.
That Imran Khan blames the then Army Chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, now retired, of hatching a conspiracy with Shehbaz Sharif and Gen. Asim Munir (the current Army Chief), a Bajwa acolyte who Imran prevented from becoming the coveted ISI chief, is well known. Importantly, Imran also blamed the US administration for his ouster as the United States felt Imran Khan was getting closer to Russia. The US had disapproved of Imran’s visit to Moscow on the day President Vladimir Putin mounted his invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, a hastily-assembled coalition government comprising one-time political rivals Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, supported also by Afghan Taliban sympathiser Maulana Fazal-ul Rehman, formed the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government. That they were on an overdrive to harass Imran and have him legally disqualified for the coming Parliament elections in October 2023 has been starkly evident. Their success did lead to Imran’s growing number of supporters going berserk inside Pakistan and major acts of vandalism taking place including in Army cantonments -- for the first time ever in Pakistan’s troubled history.
A recent Gallup poll places Imran Khan’s popularity zooming to nearly 61 per cent among Pakistan’s populace. Thus, neither the Pakistan Army under Gen. Asim Munir nor the Sharif-Bhutto political dispensation can ever digest Imran’s popularity and will go out of their way to marginalise him. No wonder that Imran has countless cases filed against him over crimes ranging from corruption to lapses in national security matters. As of today, despite some respite from the Islamabad high court on corruption charges, Imran was put behind bars for a case against him on security lapses while he was the Prime Minister.
On August 29, the Islamabad high court suspended the sessions court judgment. Imran Khan had also survived an assassination attempt on himself on November 3, 2022 in Wazirabad, Punjab, while leading a “grand march”. His third wife, Begum Bushaira, has publicly voiced her fears that Imran might be murdered in prison -- which many people believe is well within the realm of possibility.
With Imran Khan out of the way, the US has unquestionably come to Pakistan’s aid by influencing the IMF to approve a tranche of foreign aid for a financially beleaguered nation. Both Pakistan’s “all-weather” friend China and, to an extent, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also offered to lift Pakistan out of its financial mess.
In the past 30-35 years or so, Pakistan’s ISI had been carefully nurturing the Taliban in its struggles against US and other international troops deployed there since late 2001 after the 9/11 attacks on America. However, since the departure of US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021, the Afghan Taliban have shaken off Pakistan’s influence and are following independent internal policies and even in foreign relations. This cold-shouldering by the Taliban has been a setback to the wily Pakistanis, and especially Gen. Munir, who was hyperactive earlier behind the scenes (running ISI operations). Meanwhile, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which also operates from its bases in Afghanistan with nudging support from the Afghan Taliban, has been very active in striking at Pakistani establishment targets frequently.
Pakistan is now reaping what it sowed in fostering terror in the region. Surprisingly, the new centre of power in Pakistan, Gen Asim Munir, has described India as a threat to regional peace -- perhaps to please his Chinese mentors. India has correctly refrained from commenting on the internal turmoil of the past year or so within Pakistan. India has, since August 2019, when it abrogated Article 370 that accorded a special status to Jammu and Kashmir, maintained a calculated indifference towards Pakistan. While the overall security situation in J&K has vastly improved in the last few years, yet Pakistan’s traditional machinations have to be watched carefully. Also, Pakistan is more than aware of punitive retaliation in case it indulges in any mischief against India.
Overall, Pakistan’s political scenario portends that the increasingly assertive Gen. Asim Munir will be the reigning figure even after the general election is held, whether in October or later. Amazingly, even the US has kept generally mum on the chaotic political situation in Pakistan owing to the latter supplying some arms and ammunition to the beleaguered US-supported Ukraine in its war with Russia. As often in the past, the Pakistan Army is gearing up to play a much bigger role in their nation’s polity, and so no breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations appears probable in the near future.
(Kamaleshwar Davar was the first chief of India’s Defense Intelligence Agency).
(This article was first published in The Asian Age).