Despite attempts by successive administrations, the Pakistani military establishment remains the true governing power in the nation, in one form or another
History for the last 73 years has witnessed Pakistan falling under military rule at regular intervals. A civilian rule, in letter and in spirit, had never gotten the chance to succeed. Even if it was in place for some time, it was merely notional and it's the military which called the shots and wielded authority with the civilian regimes remaining a silent spectator to the successive military regimes.
To quickly recapitulate, Ayub Khan, the first self-declared Field Marshal in the world, usurped power in 1958 and remained in power till 1969. He unseated Iskandar Mirza — owing lineage to the Sirajuddaula of the Plassey fame, who also grabbed power from the back door. Later, Ayub Khan was replaced by General Yahya Khan (1969-1971) overseeing the liberation of Bangladesh or dismemberment of Pakistan. Earlier, his senior Ayub Khan launched Operation Gibraltar, sending infiltrators into Kashmir. All misadventures under him failed including a defeat in the 1965 war. General Zia ul Haq was another military dictator usurping power, dislodging and hanging Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and ruling Pakistan for 11 long years till 1988 till he exited following a fatal air crash.
Pervez Musharraf is yet another military villain who unseated Nawaz Sharif in a coup in 1999 and held on to power till 2008. The ultimate sufferers in the military reigns have always been the civilians who remained stifled with their freedom of speech abrogated. Under the military rules, terrorism flourished with the state support as also promotion of religious fundamentalist activities seeing mushrooming of radicalised religious extremist groups taking the state head-on. Tolerance reaching its nadir with sectarian clashes and violence targeting the minorities be it the Hindus, the Ahmadiyas or the Shias.
With the seamless military rules for a number decades, the intelligence agencies, especially the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), always gained an upper hand carving a distinct niche for itself for activities not always in the larger interest. Very recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan who is struggling with nearly 26 months in office, averred good things about the ISI. Such an open clean chit was perhaps avoidable but this notorious intelligence arm being an appendage of the military has to be kept in good humour by Imran the PM, perhaps to remain in office.
However, his forthright remarks in support of the ISI that it acts as a check to political stakeholders and politicians, has evoked sharp criticism from many. Talat Masood, a very knowledgeable commentator on Pakistan, while reacting to Imran Khan's utterances said that though ISI has its own role of ensuring the security of the country, it is endorsed on the quality of governance or on politicians (as articulated by the PM) and doesn't serve the country's interests. Such statements are contrary to the country's constitution and democratic principles. We, therefore, see a voice of dissent rising against Imran Khan and his party.
Imran detractors also allege that the Prime Minister has to make the political climate in the country more conducive. Alas, it's not there. The PM and the ruling PTI have to shun the ongoing confrontation politics with the opposition. Daily, there are angry exchanges between the ruling dispensation under Imran and the political opponents. Nawaz Sharif, the ex-PM has declared an open war against the Imran regime and Imran has become vehemently vocal to criticise Nawaz and others. This is dragging on, further vitiating the political scene, diluting the democratic values and possibly weakening the Parliament too. Critics of Imran also estimate that his single point agenda of uprooting corruption and targeting political opposition has forced Imran Khan to become more reliant on the military establishment and the ISI, in particular. This looks a dangerous trend as it tends to strengthen these non-civilian powerful institutions thus aborting all chances of democratic approaches to address the problems.
Imran would also do well to reinforce civilian presence in the various lucrative bodies which are currently occupied by heavyweights from the military. The PIA, the sick mills like SUPARCO, WAPDA, PCSIR, etc., have retired and are serving military officials. What's needed is professional competence to beef up the economy and keep the military Intervention in check.
As a confused Pakistan is struggling to deal with the opposition diatribes and military pressure on Imran Khan, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) Chief Fazal-ur-Rahman has fired a fresh salvo, threatening to dislodge the Imran Government from power by December this year. This is quite a challenge to Imran and the Cantonment. Labelling Imran as the agent of international establishment, Fazal-ur-Rahman has announced to hold anti-Imran rallies in Gujranwala on October 16. Similar congregations are planned in Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta. Using a platform called Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), Fazal-ur-Rahman is optimistic on his mission to unseat Imran.
Meanwhile, on October 15, 14 members of the Pakistan security forces including seven private guards were killed by deadly terror attacks in two separate locations. Crucially, the scene of devastation is in Ormara in North Waziristan and close to Gwadar. As expected, Prime Minister Imran Khan and other Government leaders have condemned the incident, insinuating the masterminds of
the terror assaults to their "hostile neighbour". It's common knowledge that Baluchis have been vehemently opposing the China Pakistan Economic Corridor ( CPEC). The lethal incident once again proves that the coastal
highway passing through Ormara and the stretch between Karachi and Gwadar remain vulnerable. No amount of vigil or intelligence gathering is paying off making possibilities of more such attacks in the future.
The dragnet in Imran is steadily closing in. The religious clerics, political adversaries, the homegrown terror groups, and the all-powerful military, whose roles have been discussed time and again, are mounting pressure on the amateur PM who is finding the statecraft too difficult to comprehend under the present circumstances.
Noted poet Sahir Ludhianvi, at the time of the creation of Pakistan, had told his friend Hameed Akhtar "Yehan mullah, maulavi aur jagirdar ki hukumat ho jayegi" (Religious zealots and the affluent will rule over the nation in days to come). It now seems Sahir was not off the mark.
The writer is a retired IPS officer, security analyst, and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are personal