Dragging Army in Politics
Prevailing political impasse in the country has deepened, as protesting groups of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) by Dr. Tahirul Qadri continue AZADI (Freedom) and INQILAB (Revolution) marches, observing sit-ins at capital city of Islamabad, blocking sensitive Red Zone area and threatening vital government buildings. They have negatively impacted the entire nation causing fretful anxiety for all segments of society. The demonstrations have been prolonged and extended unnecessarily, as the government of PML (N) led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could not grab the initiative to settle the issue through peaceful dialogue due to its slow strategy.
On the one side, emotional speeches of Tahir-ul-Qadri coupled with digging graves, showing coffin-cloth and Imran Khan’s hard stance to get resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, pointed at continuity of deadlock and impending perils of violence. One the other side, government wasted vital time to address the rigging grievances of PTI, coldness and insensitivity to register FIR against the concerned people, responsible for killing in Model Town, Lahore, while recent failure of dialogue, rulers’ decision to use force against the protesters, which resulted into killings in Islamabad by the Police including assaults on the reporters and vehicles of the private TV channels have further spoiled the situation. It was due to the use of force that demonstrators who remained peaceful for several days, removed barriers and reached very close to the buildings of Prime Minister House, Parliament and Pak Secretariat, while entering the main building of the Pakistan Television’s headquarters which was vacated by the personnel of Rangers and Pak Army without any violence.
Unfortunately, since the political crisis intensified, some politicians and most of the media anchors have continuously been misguiding the general masses by pointing out that the ongoing system of democracy can be derailed, and martial law can be imposed in the country. Some of them are playing a very negative role in projecting the entire gamut of political standoff between the government and the protesting parties. By manipulating the political turmoil, created by the politicians, they have blamed that Army and intelligence agency, ISI are behind Tahir-ul-Qadari and Imran Khan’s long marches, and sit-ins in Islamabad.
However, the civil-military relations in wake of the prevailing crisis need special analysis, as some entities are dragging the Army in politics.
In this regard, when PTI and PAT decided to demonstrate before the PM House, PTI president Javed Hashmi who was also issued notice by Imran Khan regarding expulsion from the party raised false allegations on September 1, this year. Javad Hashmi blamed that Imran and Qadri have backing of Army. He parted ways with PTI and asserted that Imran Khan was prompted by Sheikh Rashid to march towards PM House along with PAT. The estranged leader Hashmi also said that Chief Justice of the Supreme Courte, Nasirul Mulk had association with the PTI chief Imran Khan in this respect. But falsehood of Javed Hashmi was exposed when by rubbishing reports of any association with Imran Khan, the Chief Justice clarified that he had only once met with the PTI chief, as the acting Chief Election Commissioner about introduction of bio-metric system in elections.
Even Imran Khan who strongly denounced Hashmi’s accusations, remarked that he never sought Army and ISI help to resolve political issues, adding that he never supported martial law, and always struggled for democracy. Tahirul Qadri also rejected Hasmhi’s false accusations.
In this context, on September 1, by taking note of the ongoing crisis and false allegations, a statement of the Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) categorically rejected assertions that the Army and ISI were backing PTI and PAT in any way in the current political standoff. It elaborated, “Army is an apolitical institution and has expressed its unequivocal support for democracy at numerous occasions. It is unfortunate that army is dragged into such controversies… integrity and unity of the army is its strength which it upholds with pride.” The statement also said, “The news being run on private channels after meeting of the Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that the army chief asked the prime minister to step down or proceed on leave, is totally baseless.”
Javed Hashmi’s sensitivity towards establishment is one thing, but veiled pointing towards Army for having conveyed a message through Sheikh Rashid is a cynical thought and a jaundiced view point. It is an ugly attempt to spoil civil-military relations in the country.
Army maintains a totally neutral and entirely apolitical stance. It is, however, deeply concerned on prevailing political turmoil. On August 20, DG of ISPP, Maj-Gen. Asim Bajwa impartially stated, “The buildings in the Red Zone (Islamabad) are symbols of state and must be respected, explaining, “All issues should be resolved through result-oriented dialogue in the interest of the country and its people.”
Meanwhile, the ISPR press release regarding the corps commanders meeting held on August 31, reaffirmed support to democracy—the conference reviewed with serious concern, the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken. The statement, once again reiterated that the situation should be resolved politically through dialogue, without recourse to violent means.
In fact, the government itself pulled the Army in politics when on August 28, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asked Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif to intervene and play his role in resolving the ongoing political crisis. On August 29, Gen. Raheel Sharif met Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, but he did not meet Prime Minister Sharif when the latter backed out of his statement, saying in the National Assembly, on August 29 that neither the government nor the Army has asked to play any role of a mediator to bring the current political crisis to an end. As criticism mounts over the government’s seemingly desperate move to involve the military in the present political crisis, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the parliament that it was Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan who requested a meeting with General Raheel Sharif.
On the same day, both heads of the PTI and PAT, Khan and Qadri remarked that the government’s claim that they had requested Army to mediate is nothing, but a blatant lie.
Besides, on August 29, ISPR statement verified that the army chief was playing the role of facilitator for resolution of the current crisis at the request of the government. Moreover, contradiction of Prime Minister Nawaz was further exposed when the Federal Minister Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan also justified military’s involvement as the only option out of the deadlock, saying that the government had asked the army chief to play his facilitative role. But in his speech, PPP’s Senator Aitzaz Ahsan though indicated that the parliament was standing with the prime minister and government—would not fall, but, he severely criticized the government about Model Town incident, corruption and so on.
In wake of the political uncertainly, join session of the parliament started on September 2. In their fierce speeches, while, indirectly criticizing army, leaders of PML (N) and some other parliamentarians said that they would oppose any move which could derail democracy in the country by rejecting the unconstitutional demands of PTI and PAT including the resignation of the Prime Minister Nawaz and the dissolution of the National Assembly.
Now, again, a team consisting of the leaders of PPP and Jamaat-e-Islami including some other political persons who have met Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri and government’s top officials are hopeful that they would conclude an agreement between these rival entities, as they have become guarantors in this respect, and would defuse the tension through dialogue.
Undoubtedly, democracy has displayed its success in the west, but, it has proved to be fruitless in Pakistan. Therefore, it is generally said that “any instrument can be misused.” Pakistan’s politicians and media have always claimed that they nourish democratic ideals, but, we could not establish this system on a strong footing due to irresponsible approach of our political entities and media.
It is noteworthy that in 2011, during the Memogate case, some political entities and media commentators were saying that martial law will be imposed in the country. The then Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani stated, “The Pakistan Army has and will continue to support democratic process in the country.” As Army was acting upon the principle of non-interference in political affairs, therefore, the previous government completed its tenure.
At this critical juncture, our Armed Forces are successfully obtaining their objectives in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) through military operation Zarb-e-Azb against the terrorists who had challenged the writ of the state, and had frightened the entire nation by their terror-acts. Besides helping the Internally Displaced Persons of the NWA, our security forces are engaged in coping with the militants’ subversive activities in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Karachi and other parts of the country including tribal areas. Externally, Pak Army and Rangers have boldly been responding to India’s unprovoked firing at the Line of Control in Kashmir including Working Boundary in Sialkot and other sectors, and have also been facing cross-border terrorism from Afghanistan side, encountering heavily-armed militants who from time to time, target check posts of the Army, and other civil and military installations. So, Army does not want to involve in political issues. In this context, the mediating role of Army and Javed Hashmi’s statement was acrimoniously politicized which brought embarrassment for Army high command and caused delay in resolution of the crisis. Army never sent any message to Imran Khan through Sheikh Rashid to join PAT for marching towards the PM House. In fact, Javed Hashmi was also feeling alienated in PTI, as competitors like Shah Mehmood Qureshi are getting encouraged by Imran Khan.
Some media analysts and political leaders tend to show their loyalties to top political leadership by mentioning about the possibility of military take over and they do not hesitate in insinuating against Army for its hidden role in present crisis. Such elements have an agenda to spoil civil-military relations.
It is mentionable that external elements like India are keenly studying the developments, taking place in Pakistan and are preparing wicked schemes to damage Pakistan’s interests. Having cancelled scheduled secretary-level talks with Pakistan, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted that Pakistan was too weak to fight a conventional war, ceasefire violations along LOC—and least mentioning about Indian desire to conduct business and trade with Pakistan. No doubt, it indicates enemy’s intentions. Hence, there is a dire need to end the political impasse and learn how to hold own Army in high esteem.
For the purpose, government must take the initiative, using comprehensive strategy and visionary approach to resolve the issue without using force and avoiding violence. The situation presents serious challenges to the political leadership who must find a political solution with open mind and selfless dexterity. There is a need for the government to take bold decisions and hold dialogue with PTI and PAT leaders. Some compensation has to be paid for earlier loss of precious time to address the grievances of the protesting groups.
Army as a prestigious institution fully supports the democratic system and averts all skepticism of derailing democracy. Such thoughts are ugly in nature and must not be attributed towards pro-democratic Army. Although Army is concerned about the prevailing political turmoil, yet it maintains a totally neutral and entirely apolitical stance. Therefore, sense must prevail upon those who tend to shift the blame on Army and ISI. As these hostile internal entities have failed in resolving the ongoing grave crisis, they have been dragging Army in politics.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations