A midnight knock led to the arrest of Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law, ex army Captain Safdar, from his hotel room in Karachi, Pakistan, for sloganeering. Faced with an unusual challenge from an 11 party alliance with massive public support for their rallies – that wants Imran Khan out, and the army also out of politics – the Pakistan army has the dual challenge of the police standing up to them.
The police revolted in the province of Sindh following the arrest and abduction of their police chief at gunpoint by two military colonels to get him to issue orders for the arrest of Nawaz’s son-in-law. The public humiliation of the Sindh police IG, has put the public and police on one side, and has raised concerns that Pakistan may now slide into another major civil-military standoff.
In the past, the Pakistan army got away by intervening to stabilise a ‘national security situation’ (a term that is used in Pak, whenever no further explanation is to be given by the military men for any activity). But that may not be so now. Moreover, they could make Imran Khan their scapegoat, and find another pliable replacement, if Imran becomes a liability.
After General Zia’s death, the then Pak army chief, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg took a decision that it was in the best interests of the Pakistan army to have a puppet prime minister, who would keep up the sham of a democracy – which allows apologists of Pakistan in the West and in the Gulf to keep up their funding – while the army went on with its business(es). This has been explained by Husain Haqqani in his book ‘Pakistan: between the Mosque and the Military’.
Therefore, a coup appears unlikely. Coups in Pakistan, in the past, have taken place when either its people’s patience has been sufficiently exhausted by its politicians resorting to corruption and/or the marginalisation of Constitutional norms, or both. But Imran Khan isn’t corrupt, when compared to the wealth that has been amassed by the Sharifs and the Zardari-Bhutto clan. But he isn’t good enough to steer Pakistan out of the economic mess it is in.
Nor can any other politician, as the real bane for Pakistan’s economy, is the greed of its army. No wonder, this time, the people also want the military and its intelligence agencies back in their barracks.
A mess that needs cleaning
It is unlikely though, that the brass hats in Rawalpindi will accept such a demand easily. Over the decades, the Pak’s army has retained a tight hold on the country because that gives them the lion’s share of the annual national budget (over 70%, say insiders) both directly and indirectly. This allocation isn’t just to pay for the defence of Pakistan, but for keeping up the trappings of luxury in their ‘deep state’.
The armed forces are Pak’s largest land holders (43% of the country’s land is in their control) and they have multiple agencies that are paid from these funds for transport agencies to move troops and equipment, and for running businesses ranging from hospitals to industries. And none of this is audited, says Ayesha Siddiqa in her book on their stakes in Pakistan’s economy:‘Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’.
Coups in Pakistan, in the past, have taken place when either its people’s patience has been sufficiently exhausted by its politicians resorting to corruption and/or the marginalisation of Constitutional norms, or both.
However, if this latest public-politician anger leads to Imran Khan’s dismissal, would the next political dispensation do any better? Unlikely, as history has shown that their politicians have the notorious habit of squandering opportunities that have come their way. When in power, they spend most of their energy and time, not in addressing the key issues of Pakistan’s concern – governance, the economy, and the building of institutions, etcetera – but they do their very best to hound their rivals into insignificance.
Thus, eventually to clean up their mess, the army is invited to take charge of the country. Until things change, Pakistan will remain not just a police state, but their army’s estate.
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