Big crisis, even bigger consequences

Did the May 9 outburst drive wedge between the PTI and the establishment?


The PTI’s chance of milking the arrest of its Chairman, Imran Khan, for sympathy, was lost because of the reaction to it, as the party scrambled into damage control mode, and tried to minimize the harm caused by the choice of targets of enraged activists.

- Advertisement -

To put it baldly, the target was the military. Perhaps the best symbol of this was the torching of the corps commander’s residence in Lahore. Another potent symbol attacked was the F86 Sabre flown by fighter ace M.M. Alam when he downed six Indian jets in a minute in the 1965 War, which had been retired to the T-junction between Lawrence Road and Racecourse Road. It was torched.

There was an assumption that the PTI was the ‘military’s party’. Until his ouster, Imran Khan had been proud of the fact that he and the military leadership were ‘on the same page.’ The first wedge seems to arisen over the posting of the DG ISI, whom COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa wished to rotate out, but whom Imran wished to retain. Thus started a chain of events going back to October 2021, coming up to May 9, but still ongoing.

One effect of that confrontation has been the development of a rather subtle argument: that the PTI is not really anti-the establishment, but is angry at its role in dismissing the Imran government. That means that one of the most consistent supporters of the PTI, the officer corps of all three services, is alienated from it. But there too a dilemma develops. Either the rage against the establishment visible on May 9 is the result of the PTI be4ing in cahoots with some really dangerous and virulent enemies of Pakistan, or it merely expresses a sentiment that is out there on the street.

Either way, the results are not good for the establishment. If the establishment carefully cultivated a party which could play a part in the ‘hybrid arrangement’ of the civilian face of the establishment, and that part could be taken over by enemy agents, then maybe the establishment is in the wrong business. Maybe its much-vaunted intelligence set-ups do not deserve their reputations.

The other alternative is that there is now a spirit out among the masses (‘on the street’) which resents the establishment. If that is so, then there are few possible chances of the military intervening in politics. One of the strongest arguments in favour of military takeovers was their acceptability. If that acceptability is not there, then what will happen?

The damage to military installations also indicates that there is a section of the population that no longer fears the military. The military knows best that it is not the force of the military that matters so much as fear created by the impression of force. That is one reason why, when called in to restore order, the military engages in a ‘flag march’, where not only the flag, but weapons also, are displayed, s troops march through the troubled areas. That flag marches had to be conducted in Lahore, Rawalpindi and other cities.

- Advertisement -

If that fear has disappeared, and an unfavourable impression of the military developed, it is perhaps natural for the PTI, a political party after all, trying to get on the bandwagon. If it proves a popular enough bandwagon, other parties will follow suit.

It might be noted that the other parties which were once linked to the military have come full circle, in that they developed an opposition to the military long before, from their stints in power. The PPP’s founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, became Foreign Minister under Ayub Khan, but became opposed to a military role in politics. The PPP has still not forgotten that it was trued out of power in 1977, and it blames the military for its other ousters, and ultimately the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

It must not be forgotten that the USA has got Pakistan to do its bidding when there is a military regime. However, if the military loses the ability to take over, then who can the USA turn to? The once-reliable Pakistani establishment shows every sign of being in too much disarray to be able to deliver anything.

Similarly, the PML(N)’s leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif, has come a very long way from 1981, when he began his political career as Finance Minister in Punjab Governor Ghulam Jilani’s martial law Cabinet. He too has experienced both dismissal and martial law, with the addition of disqualification in 2016. Imran is just the latest in the series, though he was perhaps the most obseqious of the three towards the establishment.

The military has been posed a peculiar challenge, one that neither Bhutto nor Mian Nawaz posed, that of making a choice of allegiance. The military man’s primary loyalty is towards his institution. He then conflates it with patriotism. The loyalty to the institution, and patriotism, then reinforce one another. For the first time, loyalty to Imran has been introduced. This was all right, so long as Imran was patriotic and pro-Army, but now, he is asking for loyalty to him to prevail over loyalty to the institution. So closely is the institution identified with the country, that he is asking for loyalty to him to prevail over loyalty to the country itself.

Soldiers are trained to obey. But this might be going a bit too far. It could also be argued that the undoubted support Imran had in the military was the manifestation of something, not just something imposed by a small coterie of generals. One of the reasons for supporting him was the belief that he was not corrupt, unlike the average politician. That he was arrested in a corruption case would have resonated in the military. Also damaging is Imran blaming the COAS for his ‘kidnapping’. That is another point at which the military man will find its loyalty to his institution tested. This is an accusation that threatens the entire chain of command.

The entire episode has weakened the establishment. The divide between the military and judicial wings of the establishment has been established, and all the rumours of trying Imran and other PTI leaders under the Army Act in military courts is because the courts cannot be trusted to give ‘positive results.’ The military has not just relied since 1958 for the courts to validate its coups, but also to get such decisions as Mian Nawaz’s disqualification.

It seems the military has already taken the only logical decision, that it must not meddle in politics. In a way, it is not important whether or not Imran’s government was a success or not. Even if the most extravagant PTI claims are accepted, the fact remains that he divided the loyalty of the military. That is enough for the military to turn against him.

However, that is a sort of taking part in politics. However, the military should realize that the judiciary, so long the junior partner of the military, has apparently now struck out on its own, not because of any other judiciary’s example, or even the military’s, but because of a vacuum.

The PTI probably hopes that this vacuum would be filled by military rule. That mat well not happen, not so much because the establishment is unwilling, as because the country is. One of the key factors is whether the USA wants Pakistan delivered outside the Chinese orbit badly enough. In turn, that will be determined by whether the USA thinks it can get India to play the role in the region it had used Pakistan for.

It must not be forgotten that the USA has got Pakistan to do its bidding when there is a military regime. However, if the military loses the ability to take over, then who can the USA turn to? The once-reliable Pakistani establishment shows every sign of being in too much disarray to be able to deliver anything.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Must Read

Donald Trump now begins to fight for his existence amid legal...

Former US President Donald Trump's commercial enterprise is shaken from its core after Judge Arthur Engoron's ruling that found the 77-year-old billionaire liable for fraud and...