Pakistan at crossroads
Pakistan Supreme Court’s judgment on extended-term for army chief occurs as a face-saving opportunity for the Imran-led government to save institutions rather than individuals
Pakistan is grappling with several mounting problems. This isn't new or surprising but the scale of these complex problems has assumed rather serious proportions.
The recent Supreme Court judgment curtailing Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa's three-year extended term may have provided a reprieve to the General and his Prime Minister Imran Khan. But Chief Justice Khosa of the Supreme Court of Pakistan made it clear in his landmark verdict that the judiciary is still in control and any executive order extending the Army Chief's term requires a legislative endorsement or a formal nod from the parliament to do so.
This is a signal to the deep state and the political establishment that there is a judiciary in Pakistan which is alive and kicking. It is also heartening to see the army being kept in its place by the judiciary. Such displays help to bolster the faith of a common Pakistani in the prevailing judicial system.
The message from the highest court in its November 28 pronouncement is loud and clear in cautioning the army about its conduct and that now 'enough is enough'.
It must also be stated to the credit of the apex court bench that they took on the powerful military head-on while ignoring the past traces of history when the omnipotent Khaki prevailed over all the institutions by usurping power through guns staging coups and that Pakistan is full of such instances ever since Field Marshal Ayub Khan assumed absolute powers way back in 1958.
The Chief Justice, during the course of his landmark judgement, was also candid in castigating the military and the polity for being quick to label any attempts by the judiciary to scrutinise the legal process as attempts by foreign intelligence operatives, particularly those of the CIA.
In the same vein, the judge pointed out negligence on part of the Attorney General of Pakistan, Anwar Masoor Khan, for allowing General Bajwa to go out for holding legal consultations. According to the Chief Justice, the army chief must always be in a state of preparedness to guard the borders and not spend time holding consultations on legal matters.
Furthermore, when the Attorney General told the court that the ongoing conflict between the judiciary and the military was benefiting India, the Chief Justice silenced him by asking him if the court didn't even have the right to question these crucial issues. Such straight questions were indeed indicative of the Court's assertion amid a fluid political situation prevailing in Pakistan making it more beleaguered than before.
The prominent newspaper daily 'Dawn', in its latest editorial has described the judgement as a face-saving opportunity for the Imran-led government to decide on a course to save the institutions and not a single individual. That aside, this judicial decision is a major embarrassment to Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government as it is Imran Khan who took the initiative in granting a three-year extension to General Bajwa on the pretext of addressing issues emanating from the Kashmir related developments.
As is widely perceived, General Bajwa and his henchmen have been instrumental in bringing Imran Khan to power and there was a kind of nexus developing between the army and Imran in dealing with the domestic problems, be it the handling of the long march started by Maulana Fazlur Rahman or the self-created tensions on the India Pakistan borders or for that matter imprisonment of the political adversaries. This development is, therefore, a major setback to those at the helm.
As soon as the judicial pronouncement was awarded, yet another scene emerged on the Pakistani horizon. This time it was a protest march held by the students on November 29. The presence of a considerable number of students cannot be ignored. It is likely that they have found this particular time to be most opportune for making their presence felt and drawing adequate attention.
The students, during their march, carried placards and projected demands for greater rights and an academic environment conducive to critical thinking and political engagement.
The demands, inter alia, included lifting of a ban on the students' unions, holding of students' elections, students' participation in policymaking, access to the budgets and audit reports of the universities, among other related demands.
The students also broadly demanded freedom of speech on the campus and representation of students in the various committees looking into several cases of sexual harassment. Furthermore, students also demanded a halt to the privatisation of educational institutes and a rollback from the recent hike in tuition fees.
The protesting students framed their demands around the implementation of Article 25A of the Constitution for free education to all, allocation of 5 per cent of the country's GDP towards primary and secondary education and 1 per cent for higher education. Other than these urgent demands, the students also underscored the need for ending discrimination on the basis of language, ethnicity, gender and religion.
A quick look at the demands highlighted by the students expressing solidarity would be sufficient to label them as both comprehensive and progressive in nature. Their demands, if presented with persistence will likely put additional pressure on the Imran government which is still trying to recover from the after-effects of the Supreme Court judgement.
These developments will likely go a long way in unsettling the government and the deep state may try to repeat history by embarking on some misadventure, as witnessed in the annals of the history of Pakistan dotted with palace intrigues, bloody conspiracies, betrayals, hangings and banishments.
However, under the hawkish eyes of some western powers, the US in particular, the military needs to think twice before it makes a move. Today, people and youth of Pakistan, tired of successive military interventions may hopefully prove to be formidable roadblocks to defeat any ambitious designs of intervention. It's very pertinent to pursue the dissent that may be brewing within the Rawalpindi Cantonment amongst the anti-Bajwa lobbies and also within those generals whose promotional prospects are marred by Bajwa's extension. There must be an uneasy calm in the armed forces compelling Imran to be more vigilant than before.
Meanwhile, the recent stabbings at the London Bridge by an assailant of Pakistani origin has brought the state of youth in Pakistan to the forefront. Usman Khan, the perpetrator who took two innocent lives, had spent his youth in Pakistan before migrating to the UK. It is reliably known that Usman was radicalised through Islamic zealots prior to his migration and had prior indictments for violence,
It was further gathered that Usman Khan was part of the Al-Qaeda group and had facilitated training camps through Al-Muhajiroun, an extremist inclined group. Even the judge presiding over his previous trial in 2018 had concluded the judgment by describing Usman as a dangerous Jihadi. It could, however, be merely coincidental that the London Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner, Neil Basu, who oversaw the London Bridge anti-terror operations is of Indian origin.
Academics and Civil Societies in Pakistan as well as the huge Pakistani population in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other places in the UK must act as watchdogs eyeing such elements, originally from Pakistan, who have strayed in the pit of religious extremism and are threatening peace.
Shantanu Mukharji is a retired IPS officer and a security analyst. He was formerly the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are strictly personal
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