Is the ghost of a General haunting the Prime Minister?

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Almost 17 years to the month, in a country called Pakistan there was a Prime Minister who, having been re-elected by a clear majority, attempted to establish total control over the government and the country. One of the first steps he took on coming to power was to remove the 8th Amendment to the Constitution which gave the President the power to dismiss the government and assemblies. Next he took on the Chief Justice (CJ) and through a combination of brute street power and bribery had him removed and got himself a pliant CJ. Then he set up an Ehtesab (Accountability) Bureau under a family friend for selective investigation of financial irregularities so as to remove all opposition to his government. But he was still not satisfied.

The overbearing Prime Minister felt that the Army Chief took him lightly and when, as always, the country was going through a precarious time, what with nuclear tests and attendant US sanctions, the Chief went on to suggest, in public, the formation of a National Security Council (NSC) to provide stability to the political system, that was too much for the Prime Minister. He took umbrage at his Military Chief’s suggestion and reiterated that, affairs of Government and politics is the affair of politicians and political parties. And the Army has no business to interfere with the affairs of Government – or words to that effect.

What followed was that the Military Chief, agreed to take early retirement, two months before he was due to retire and the Prime Minister got his chance to appoint an Army Chief who would be beholden to him. They say that greed is not a good thing and sometimes when all our wishes come true, that’s the time to be wary. But what happened between the Prime Minister and his appointed Army Chief is a story for another day.

Fast forward to today; it is the same Prime Minister, now with 2/3 majority in Parliament and with his party’s government in the major province of Punjab. He has a pliant, almost supine President; the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court come and go with increasing speed, as if through a revolving door at a busy suburban mall. But yet you can seldom see our Prime Minister smiling. More likely, the visage is of a perpetual frown, interspersed with a sad, lonely figure that the affairs of state have weighed down. What could possibly ail our Prime Minister? The Go Nawaz Go slogans are all but silent, thanks to the Judicial Commission’s Report.

The new fly in the ointment is the current Army Chief and he is proving to be an increasing irritant by the day. The National Security Council has finally been constituted under the name of National Action Plan, which the Prime Minister himself had to agree, with a somber face, was his own initiative.

The Army is not only intervening in the affairs of Government; it has become the de-facto lead Government agency for anything that matters. The jurisdiction of the Army Courts has been extended over civilians. Additional Special Courts are being formed. A military operation is underway, ostensibly against terrorists but its ambit has been increased to cover those involved in financial terrorism, a cover for serious corruption, and members of the Prime Minister’s friendly opposition and his erstwhile allies are being hauled off to prison cells. The public is baying for action against the members of the Prime Minister’s own party. No one must be spared is the cry on the street.

The Army Chief’s term ends in about a year and a quarter. By any estimate the filth in the Augean stables will need more time to be thoroughly cleaned. The clock is ticking. The nation is watching intently to see who blinks first. One thing is certain; from his past experience, this Prime Minister knows that when one deals recklessly with the Army in Pakistan, one usually pays the price.

 

Syed Mumtazuddin Ahmad is an overseas Pakistani for several decades but still passionate about Pakistan and the issues confronting it. An Ex-Banker now engaged in the Resource Sector based in Hong Kong.

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