For the first time in Pakistan Army’s known history, two top generals virtually opened the gates of their offices and residences to marauding rioters, allowing them to ransack and set fire to one of them.
Whether the attacks were planned or spontaneous is immaterial. Equally, if the ‘erring’ generals are being shifted from their posts with likely punishments. The multiple events at the Pak Army’s General Headquarters, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the homes of Lahore and Rawalpindi Corps Commanders have sullied Pakistan Army’s standing at home and reputation among the security outfits abroad.
The available evidence, including audio leaks, ostensibly secured by intelligence agencies that take their final orders from the military, indicate that two of the generals had warned, General Asim Munir, in advance, that should the protesters attack, they would not fire on them.
Tussles at the top are not new, but being leaked into the public domain is. This had not happened even in 1971 when it lost the war and control of half the country.
Divided at the top, the army has taken an unprecedented beating, partly but crucially, as the judiciary has thwarted its plans to tame Imran Khan, a proxy-gone-rogue.
The institutions, particularly the military-civil ‘establishment’, have miscalculated the ability of Khan, to polarise them. They are struggling to contain the all-around chaos. The ineptness of the civilian government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has compounded the problem.
Thanks to Imran, the army itself went through turmoil. The change at the top last November has not ended it. In the same vein, the top judiciary, which has traditionally backed the army, has chosen to be on Khan’s side, complicating the matters.
The judiciary’s own turf war may or may not end when the incumbent Chief Justice retires on September 16, 2023. And none expects that elections, the principal bone of contention, if and when held, will resolve or even ease Pakistan’s myriad problems.
The army’s establishments being attacked or rather being allowed to be attacked – is unprecedented in a country, where even a police report cannot be lodged against a serving military person.
In tacit acknowledgment of the damage done, a besieged Army Chief has warned that “no further attacks” will be tolerated.
The attacks were put in a larger and historical context by Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent scholar. He wrote in Dawn (May 13, 2023): “….. piquing everyone’s curiosity, no tanks confronted the enraged mobs. No self-defence was visible on social media videos. The bemused Baloch ask, ‘What if an army facility had been attacked in Quetta or Gwadar?’ Would there be carpet bombing? Artillery barrages?”
The army stands further belittled when Imran Khan, encouraged by the “nice to see you” welcome from the country’s top judge refused to condemn the arson, violence and even deaths. He said he was ‘unaware’ of them since being in detention. Khan in the courtroom; failed to express any regret even when informed.
All institutions in Pakistan, especially the army and even more, General Munir, must worry over the persistent tweets by Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born American diplomat who, while not holding any official position in the Biden administration, is nevertheless still influential in American power structure when it comes to ‘Af-Pak’ the region he dealt with under George Bush Jr and Donald Trump regimes.
Khalilzad has in recent tweets (May 13, 2023) alleged that two generals are differing with their Chief and demanded General Munir’s resignation. He has been tweeting through the crisis, despite disapproval from an irate foreign office in Islamabad that said in March that Pakistan does not need ‘lectures’ from ‘outsiders’.
Khalilzad has been openly supporting Khan and asking for talks and expressing outrage at his arrest. Although the Biden administration has said that it was supporting “Pakistan and its institutions, not any individual”, there is a lurking suspicion that the US may be expressing its preferences through Khalilzad.
The US, as also others monitoring Pakistan’s crisis, are hoping that the army, still the country’s best-organised institution, may ride through the crisis with help from the Sharif Government.
However, if the crisis goes out of hand, sections of Pakistani media have speculated a “national emergency”, though not martial law, a caretaker government replacing Sharif’s, and no elections for two years – till Pakistan rides through the prevailing “economic emergency.”