Categorized | South Asian Politics


Posted on 20 August 2015 by admin


Dr. Hasan Askari

  Pakistan’s political leaders have learnt the art of creating political crisis which ultimately hurts them. On the Independence Day, August 14, Federal Minister Mushahidullah Khan blamed former ISI Chief Retired Lt-General Zaheerul Islam for planning to knock out the civilian government and the Army High Command during the sit-in by the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf in Islamabad, August 2014.

 This was the most critical statement by any close associate of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the so-called military conspiracy against his government while it faced the sit-in by Imran Khan. The statement also implied that Imran Khan was staging the sit-in with the blessings of a section of senior Army officers. Mushahidullah Khan maintained that his claim was based on a tape recording of the said general’s conversation on phone which was known to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif.

 This statement was completely rejected by the Prime Minister’s office as well as by the Army. Federal Information Minister, Pervez Rashid, also denied the statement of his colleague.

 These statements ended the controversy caused on Mushahidullah Khan’s claim. However, it is beyond comprehension that a federal minister would make such claim that threatens to upset the currently stable civil-military relations in Pakistan.

 Mushahidullah Khan is not the only federal minister who has issued anti-military statement. Two federal ministers, Khawaja Asif and Khawaja Saad Rafique, have made their reputation for publicly criticizing the top brass of the military for their role in politics. They have also blamed the military for quietly supporting Imran Khan’s sit-in, August-December 2014.

The major source of this charge against the ISI and the Army is Javed Hashmi, who defected from Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf in the early stages of the sit-in and pointed his finger towards the ISI and some unidentified generals for encouraging and supporting Imran Khan for his agitation against the Nawaz Sharif government.

 This issue was taken up by Khawaja Asif and Khawaja Saad Rafique not only for criticizing Imran Khan but also to embarrass the Army, especially the ISI. In this respect, the case of Khawaja Asif is very peculiar. He is Defense Minister but he is not viewed as a desirable person by military circles. He has never been individually invited to the Army headquarters; nor has there been any formal individual meeting between him and the Army Chief. He does not always attend the meetings between the Prime Minister and the Army Chief.

  It seems that the government of Nawaz Sharif is pursuing a two-track policy towards the military.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif maintains a close and cordial relationship with the military, especially with the Army Chief. They meet either in exclusive meetings or along with their senior advisers from time to time to discuss national security and terrorism related matters.

 The federal government has given a lot of space to the Army in managing internal and external security and counter-terrorism affairs. This has increased the Army’s role in internal and external policy making and management.

 On the other hand, some the federal ministers criticize the military in public, mainly with reference to Imran Khan’s sit-in. They target both Imran Khan and the military for conspiring against Nawaz Sharif’s elected government. Mushahidullah Khan went a step further by accusing a former ISI Chief of even planning to throw out the Army top command.

  Such a dual track policy can be interpreted in two ways.

 First, it is a conscious PMLN government policy of talking in a friendly manner with the top brass of the Army to keep them on its side but, from time to time, let the federal ministers or some party leaders to criticize the Army top command’s involvement in politics in the past as well as their alleged support to Imran Khan. This gives them two advantages: Imran Khan’s democratic credentials are questioned and the Army top brass are put to embarrassment so that they do not think of going against Nawaz Sharif.

 The other interpretation is that Nawaz Sharif has a number of hawkish ministers who enjoy freedom to target the top commanders of the military. Nawaz Sharif maintains a distance from their statements but does not stop them from public criticism of the military.

 The resignation of Mushahidullah Khan is a damage control effort on the part of the government. However, his statement has greatly damaged the relationship between the Prime Minister and the military, especially the Army. Both, the civil and military authorities may continue to work together for fighting terrorism, their mutual distrust will haunt them. The military top brass will exercise a lot of caution in their interactions with the civilian government and seek to know if their periodic outburst against the military is a carefully orchestrated policy?

 The Army backed efforts to check corruption in official circles and the on-going security operations in Karachi have created a conflict between the military and the political forces. The MQM parliamentarians have resigned because they think the Karachi security operation is only targeting them. This is a wrong perception of the MQM. However, the security operation in Karachi has broken the overall MQM control of the city and the state is asserting its primacy. The decline of their monopoly of power in Karachi has upset the MQM. It also wants to shift attention from Altaf Hussain’s latest controversial statements.

 Similarly, the fear of corruption related targeting led Asif Ali Zardari to publicly criticize the military. Later, he left the country to avoid any embarrassing situation with the military or the National Accountability Bureau. Now, the PMLN has gone on to point fingers at the MQM and the PPP for blaming the military of partisanship. The PMLN fears that they may not face similar pressure on corruption and the activities of religious hardline groups in the Punjab.

  If the Prime Minister does not control these negative trends, it may be difficult to sustain the currently smooth civil-military relations. Any adverse change in civil-military relations can cause instability and threaten the already weak democracy.

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