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Pakistan on the boil

Incidents like the Sindh Police revolt and the continued greylisting by FATF continue to build pressure upon the Imran Khan administration and the army

Pakistan on the boil
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Pakistan, already saddled with umpteen problems and with no remedy in sight, was struck by lightning when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) announced its verdict on October 23 retaining Pakistan in the grey list for its failure to meet all the mandatory obligations to curb terror and terror funding. This is indeed a huge blow to a tattering Pakistan. FATF President Dr Marcus Pleyer disclosed this not altogether surprising finding, stating that Pakistan needed to do more to meet the FATF requirements, fulfilling only 21 out of the laid down 27. The deliberations were confidential and a close look at the track record of Pakistan led to this fair decision.

While Mongolia and Iceland were removed from the grey list, Pakistan will be reviewed again on February 20-21. It seems almost certain that Pakistan will have to labour hard on its struggle to handle unending domestic problems looming large on the country's horizon to get off the hook even at the next hearing. It's approach so far has been soft-pedalling on terror with Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed and their ilk still enjoying the state patronage.

Significantly, Pakistan under Prime Minister Imran Khan, came under scathing attack when the army and the Sindh Police had a frontal confrontation on October 18 following PML N leader, Captain Safdar (husband of Maryam Nawaz) hitting the headlines in Karachi when he attempted to pay obeisance to Jinnah at his mausoleum. Panicked by the mounting pressure unleashed by the Progressive Democratic Movement ( PDM), the federal government and more specifically, the army, ordered the arrest of Safdar on charges of desecration of Jinnah's monument. This was surely an avoidable act and purely from the administrative point of view, it merited at best to be ignored. But in a panic situation, the reason is seldom the first or best option. That's what happened. The Sindh Police refused to comply with orders forcing the army and the frontier corps based in Karachi, to arrest the IG Sindh, Mushtaq Ahar, raiding his house, intimidating for action against Safdar. Yet another panic reaction on part of the army. This also gave immense political mileage to the opposition.

The entire Sindh police force was up in arms. As a token of protest, the Sindh Police proceeded on leave en masse and the situation was like a full-fledged police revolt with Karachi as the epicentre of mutiny. A revolt by a uniformed force seen as the custodians of law and order is, of course, a dangerous thing especially when the country is already full of complex maladies.

Sindh CM, Murad Ali Shah quickly met the IG and senior officials expressing solidarity and full-fledged support for their cause. He was also emphatic in his assurance that he wouldn't allow the Sindh police to be demoralised. This explains the sensitivity of the situation that transgressed all the limits. This was quite a blow to the army dispensation. COAS, General Qamar Ahmad Bajwa, ordered an enquiry into the IG's arrest and the highhandedness by the army. This was very embarrassing for the army, the ISI and more importantly for Imran Khan as a revolt by the Sindh Police at this juncture could have serious repercussions including a potential civil war when the country was under so much pressure. Bajwa's action of a more than visible climb down could save the problem for the time being but the general Pakistani populace is undoubtedly sympathetic towards the Sindh police and that's worrying for the establishment.

At present, Maulana Fazlur Rahman and the entire political opposition is united under the PDM. Emboldened by the no nonsensical remarks by Nawaz Sharif castigating the army, other political leaders including Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the PPP, are using their best rhetoric attacking the army leadership more than targeting Imran Khan the Prime Minister. Crucially, it's the Pakistan army which is bearing most of the brunt of the political upheaval further jeopardising the prospects of any thaw. The battle lines are clearly drawn. The deep state, which is now under assault, is being charged by the opposition to be acting above the state. This minimises chances of any army dream of dislodging the civilian government. And, if the civilian crowd is on the streets, which looks likely, then the army will find it difficult to deal with the arising situation as the uniformed personnel from the cantonment lot are having a mediocre leadership with a huge trust deficit with the people.

Meanwhile, public opinion against the army is on the rise, rather prominently. Well-known political Pakistani commentators feel that PDM street shows are impressive and indicative that a stubborn Imran Khan is unable to deal with the pressure and is too short-sighted to appraise the emerging situation. Imran Khan remains frustrated by the repeated failures and his political party, the PTI is fast losing its popularity as was seen two years ago. Maulana Fazlur Rahman is capitalising on his asset base in Baluchistan and Nawaz Sharif is learnt to be harnessing on the Hazara belt in the KP province. With the opposition training its guns on the army, and the police siding with the people especially after the Sindh revolt, Imran Khan is bound to have a series of sleepless nights in the days to come.

The writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are personal

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