Pakistan's War Within

ByHindustan Times
Nov 01, 2022 10:16 AM IST

The article has been authored by Tara Kartha, distinguished fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

It’s the shocker of the year in Pakistan. For the first time in the history of the state, a serving head of the dreaded Inter-Services Intelligence ( ISI) went public, forced by a barrage criticism and unprecedented name calling of the army chief by former prime minister (PM) Imran Khan, and his supporters. The press interaction was intended to puncture Khan’s much of his claims of foreign intervention in removing his government and army connivance. Khan was unfazed. Instead, as anyone could have predicted, he used the presser to strengthen his case of army interference in politics, and at the time of writing, is hinting at a reach out from the ‘establishment’, as he gets ready to storm the capital Islamabad. Khan is resolute, and so is the army. It’s the classic Newtons law, where one object exerts a force on another object, it exerts an equal and opposite force on the first. The problem in this case, is that one of them has long been in the habit of pushing back much harder.

A file photo of activist Karima Baloch, who was found dead in Toronto.(ANI)
A file photo of activist Karima Baloch, who was found dead in Toronto.(ANI)

The backdrop to the newsbreaker

The chain of events is quite staggering, even for Pakistan. Imran Khan as is now known, lost his seat to a humiliating ‘no confidence motion’, which was allegedly put up by opposition leaders on the instigation of a United States (US) official from the State Department, at least so Khan says. His ‘evidence’, which is a diplomatic cable which registered a conversation between then Pakistani ambassador Majeed Khan and assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu, has never been shown to the public, but is the central thread of his public campaign. That makes for a powerful protest platform which is that this is a second haqeeqi azadi after national independence, against foreign intervention, and dominance by a group of wealthy families who had looted the country. Its hard to argue with that. It was after all the army itself which publicised dossier after dossier against the entire Sharif family and filed cases against Asif Zardari. The architect of this smear campaign was the then ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, who Imran Khan tried to retain, without success due to the firm opposition of chief of army staff General Bajwa. A very public falling out happened thereafter, and there are few insults that Imran and his party have not hurled against him, including ridiculing the chief’s insistence on ‘neutrality’ as being like an animal, and alleging that he had connived at his removal. The cherry on the cake when he alleged that the government was delaying elections, so that it could appoint a pliable army chief who would not question their ‘looted wealth’. Worse, all of this was accompanied by severe insults in protests and a social media campaign against the chief. The army declared itself 'aghast' but there was worse to come.

This week was the murder of a renowned investigative journalist Arshad Sharif, under extremely mysterious circumstances in Kenya, where his car was hit by indiscriminate fire in a case of ‘mistaken identity’, or was deliberately shot at from within. That the whole was linked to the ‘establishment’ was because first, the journalist was known to have taken on the establishment, and second, Islamabad has an unsavoury reputation for bumping off those it dislikes. That includes Baloch rights activists like Karima Baloch killed in Canada, or exiled journalist Sajid Hussain who went missing in Sweden. There are dozens of such courageous individual hiding across the US and Europe, and each fears for his or her life. This is the reality. And which is why Pakistan is sending an investigative team to Kenya, minus an ISI representative. Such is the rage apparent when his body was brought home.

It is against this backdrop that the completely unprecedented presser with the ISI Chief Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum together with the DG Inter Services Public relations, ticked off box after box, refuting each of Khan’s allegations. First, take that infamous ‘cable’. According to the ISI chief, it was dismissed by Khan himself earlier, as ‘nothing’. That’s hearsay and impossible to prove. But then comes a clincher. He says that the National Security Committee was informed by himself and others that there was no proof of any US conspiracy. That’s surely on record and would demolish Khan’s theories. Second, that the slain journalist was primed by Khan; that true enough and his stories filed are public. Third, that a ‘threat’ letter, was issued by Imran’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government (on record) which led to Arshad apparently leaving for Dubai, and then Kenya. Tweets by Arshad seems to indicate he was aware of the threat. But the implication is that Khan led him to his death. The why’s of that are unclear, but a special investigation team – without an ISI representative – is to leave for Kenya. That murder most foul is mysterious at any level. Fourth, and biggest clincher of all was that Khan not only tried his level best to get on the right side of the army – affirmed by no less than President Alvi but also that Khan offered an extension to Gen. Bajwa at the height of the ‘ no confidence’ saga, and that the General refused. No proof of that except that Bajwa has since made it clear that he will not remain.

In most countries, such a clear denunciation would send a leader reeling into the ropes. Not so in Pakistan; what is evident is a complete loss of faith in the ‘establishment’ that has quite literally ‘ruled’ the country for decades. This is evident as massive crowds gather to hear Khan; that his party won through in Punjab by elections, the heartland of traditional politicians; and that no one has yet been able to fix any serious charge of corruption against him. There’s also the edgy possibility that sections of the army favour him; retired senior retired officers are doing it publicly. That’s unusual. Certainly, officers loyal to former DG ISI Lt Gen.Faiz Hameed – widely seen as having ‘delivered’ Kabul to Pakistan -, will be another clique. The question is not really what the facts are. The problem is that whom Pakistanis will choose to believe. Given the past record of an army that has a country attached to it, there seems to be little doubt who that will be.

The article has been authored by Tara Kartha, distinguished fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

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