Imran Khan Riding A Wave To Get Into Direct Confrontation With Top Brass’

Umer Farooq
There is a myth that exists in the realm of public relations and media. The myth surrounds the Pakistan Army and that it is a highly disciplined force and politically a monolith.

According to this belief, the Chief of the Army staff is all in all within the organisation and everybody acts and functions and works under and according to his command. And the ranks and files of the Army, have no independent political role in the body politic of the country.

This myth has served as a basic stabilising factor in our political system and all the political forces, which believed in the strong centralised state power, have acted according to this myth, while conducting day to day politics – even if they didn’t clearly believe in it.

The events of the past eight years have seen gradual demystification of this myth, though in a very subtle fashion. But our society still lives under the spell of this myth due to the massive propaganda machinery that sustains it.

On the other hand, the Army and its organisation have a very different face to show to the masses on the periphery, particularly in the remote areas of Baluchistan and erstwhile tribal areas. In these areas, power nakedly flows from the barrel of the gun.

The subtle political questions of who is in charge and who is overruling whom doesn’t really arise in those areas, where penetration of media and civil society is minimal. Media and especially social media don’t really give a blow-by-blow account of who is hobnobbing with whom.

The political events since August 2014 played a crucial role in doing away with this myth. Two former Prime Ministers, Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif’s political conduct especially need to be analysed minutely for the impact they made on the veracity of this military myth.

Both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif when ousted from power were highly critical of the present COAS, General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s role in their dismissal from office. In the cases of both these leaders it was believed that they were egged on by elements from within the army hierarchy.

Nawaz Sharif’s aggressive campaign to target General Bajwa came on the heels of his extension of three years which was granted to him by the Imran Khan government.

Imran Khan’s campaign, on the other hand, coincided with the time when Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government initiated the process to search for General Bajwa’s replacement.

In both cases the office of COAS became the central pivot around which Pakistani politics revolved. Major political parties are supposed to contest among themselves for the capture of the office of Prime Minister. This was a clear indication how the power balance has shifted towards non-representative institutions in the post-Musharraf period that both former Prime Ministers were aiming to get their favourite in the office of COAS.

There are people in Islamabad and Rawalpindi who believe that Nawaz Sharif’s aggressive campaigning against General Bajwa was aimed at creating unrest among Pakistani Punjabi middle classes, from which most of the officer corps of Pakistani Army are drawn.

This unrest would have built pressure on the top brass whose junior and senior ranks are from middle classes in central Punjab. Nawaz Sharif miserably failed and General Bajwa got off the hook. But Sharif had shown the way.

When Imran Khan was ousted, he embarked on a similar path to destabilize Central Punjab and its middle classes—the same middle classes from which the majority of the officer corps of Pakistan Army are drawn. Reports in the media suggest that Imran Khan’s political message got more receptive ears inside the army organisational structure.

According to observers the boldness and aggressiveness of Imran Khan’s political campaign suggest that he is either being egged on from within the organisation or he knows that ranks and files are being generally affected by general unrest in the middle classes of Central Punjab.

Imran Khan is now riding a wave of middle classes’ sympathy. “Imran Khan’s behaviour clearly shows that he is not only riding a wave of middle classes sympathy, he is utilising the politicisation of ranks and files in the army to get into direct confrontation with the military top brass, which seems to be out of touch with the feelings of Pakistani middle classes, which are the main support base of Pakistan Army” said a senior rank retired army officer on the condition of anonymity.

The Army was never a monolith, politically. This myth was painstakingly created by crafty media managers and army loyalists among media men, intellectuals, literary figures, poets, writers and political leaders.

There are many examples from our history when Army generals from the top kept contacts with the political leaders, apparently independent of the office of COAS.

I will give a more recent example. Military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf’s autobiography, “In the Line of Fire” clearly tell us how several Lt Generals were present in Prime Minister House on the night of October 12 1999 coup and they were apparently taken into custody by the military units that took control of the prime minister house on the night of the coup.

In the media and political circles there are dozens of stories doing the rounds about what is going inside the military’s hierarchy and how the junior ranks are getting affected by the political situation. But these remain in the realm of rumours and don’t deserve to be reported.

November 10.2022


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