What Next – Pakistan Under Virtual Military Rule after Khan’s Arrest

By Jay Rover | Situationer
Imran Khan is being taken to a military vehicle by paramilitary Rangers after his violent arrest on May 9. (Photo via Twitter feed)
Pakistan is on fire, virtually under military rule. Its itching generals have launched a war on their own people, yet again. The country exploded into unprecedented protests against the generals soon after the arrest of former prime minister and the country’s undisputed leader Imran Khan without a court order in a shady case on May 9.

Initial reports said at least three people died in the ensuing protests and violence. There were reports of casualties from Gujranwala where army troops reportedly opened direct fire on protestors. The total casualties number could be higher because of the news blackout clamped by the government.

Hours before his arrest, and before embarking on his journey to Islamabad for the court appearance, Khan yet again accused Major General Faisal Naseer of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), also known as “Dirty Harry”, of being involved in assassination attempts on him. He had offered to present himself for arrest if warrants were presented during the court hearing. But the military and its allies in government had their own plans. They wanted to arrest him in violation of the law by publically humiliating him. And they did this using paramilitary Rangers, who are part of the Pakistan Army. It’s rare that governments use military force to arrest a political leader. It happened only during military coups in the past.

Street protests erupted across the country within minutes after the visuals went viral on social media wherein troops of Pakistan Rangers can be seen violently arresting the former prime minister and whisking him away in a waiting military vehicle.

Angry mobs stormed the military’s General Headquarters, Corps Commander’s official residences in Lahore, Peshawar, and military installations in several other cities. The situation in Lahore was particularly explosive where angry mobs burnt the Corps Commander’s official residence inside the posh cantonment area.

Khan’s arrest came just two days after the Chinese foreign minister visited Islamabad where he reportedly advised the military-backed government of Shahbaz Sharif to restore political stability in the country. It was not a coincidence that Pakistan’s top leaders including prime minister Shahbaz Sharif, army chief Asim Munir, Defense Minister Khwaja Asif and the National Accountability Bureau chairman were all outside the country on the day Khan was arrested. Sharif was expected to return home on May 10 from his London outing as the country burned.

Police fired teargas shells to disperse angry mobs across the country. Interior minister Rana Sanaullah claimed Khan was arrested under anti-corruption laws. But PTI says it is political victimization and the worst form of state terrorism.

Tuesday’s dramatic escalation brought the army into direct confrontation with Khan’s supporters and followers. Attacks on military installations during political protests are unprecedented and are bound to complicate the country’s already fragile security situation. Military involvement became more obvious after Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamer Farooq, a known tout of the military, held Khan’s arrest even before his court appearance and from the court premises “legal”. Justice Farooq’s verdict came hours after Khan’s what PTI called “abduction”.

Pakistan remained in the grip of rumors throughout the day on Tuesday. News such as ISI sleuths torturing Khan during custody, Khan being very sick, three corps commanders turning against army chief Asim Munir, and the death of several people in Swat’s Bathkhela, Gujranwala Cantt and other regions, etc. kept making the rounds. A statement attributed to Peshawar Corps Commander Lt. Gen Sardar Hassan Azhar Hayat also went viral in which the General reportedly said: “I told the asshole not to do it,” a reference to the military chief General Asim Munir, who is a former airman before taking a 10-month commission in Pakistan Army and miraculously making it to the rank of a General. Munir has emerged as the most hated military leader after General Bajwa who was forced into retirement last November because of the political crisis.

Reports say the military and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently absconding from Pakistani law under the British government’s protection in London, want Khan disqualified through courts to pave the way for Sharif’s return to Pakistan and run for a fourth run for prime minister’s office.

WHAT NEXT FOR PAKISTAN

Pakistan is facing the worst crisis of the last five decades in which the military is being directly accused of controlling and manipulating the system of governance using an iron fist. “Army is repeating the same mistakes it did in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) with the collaboration of Jamat e Islami. Now the gang of 13 is their collaborator,” said Iqbal Shaikh, an Austin-based leading businessman who also helped create Charlie Wilson Chair in Pakistan Studies at the University of Texas in Austin. If Khan is disqualified or harmed, the blame will fall on the military’s shoulders, even if it is not involved, he added.

The biggest loser in the whole crisis is the institution of the Pakistan Army which has traditionally been revered and is widely considered as Pakistan’s life insurance. But a few generals’ involvements in political manipulation has compromised its position and made it hugely unpopular. The deepened national divisions have reached levels rarely seen in recent memory. Politics and divisions are taking the dangerous turn of personal enmities. In the background of this explosive situation, the obvious question is what’s next for Pakistan?

If the reports of bloodshed in Tuesday’s protests are confirmed it will complicate the situation even more, especially in the northwest where the military is struggling to contain surging Taliban terrorists. It may find it hard to deal with a security situation where terrorists and angry and hostile populations are on the same page, even though for different reasons.

If the Generals in Rawalpindi, the absconding Sharif in London and his younger minion in Islamabad think their plans of removing Khan from the political arena will change their political fortunes, they are living in a fool’s paradise. The crisis will spiral out of control for everyone and will have no winners.

The ongoing political, constitutional and economic crises are becoming a perfect storm for Pakistan’s shrinking middle, lower-middle, and poor classes. The military-instigated crisis came on the eve of a grim warning from Moody’s rating agency that Pakistan would default even without a bailout from the IMF. Even if the generals and their stooges successfully manage the political crisis, the incoming economic meltdown will create a new wave of poverty and radicalization which will create new challenges that the military is neither prepared nor capable of handling. The end result could lead the country to the total collapse of the state and its institutions.

One ray of hope could be the courts, which have so far displayed little spine to implement the Constitution and resist the pressure from GHQ if they administer justice by offering Khan a fair trial and deciding his cases on merit. But the verdict from Islamabad High Court on Khan’s arrest offers little hope.

If the courts fail to play their constitutional role, Pakistani institutions risk the grim prospects of an implosion and civil war. Which certainly is not in the interest of the region and the world. Pakistan possessed at least 165 nuclear warheads as of September 2021 and a civil war or even more instability could spill disaster for the region.

Pakistani generals, the real power brokers, and their stooges in the government have a narrowing window to fix the wrong they did by releasing Khan, removing all politically motivated criminal cases against him and his followers, dissolving assemblies and holding fresh elections and giving people’s mandate to a newly elected government. If they use the current crisis to impose martial law or emergency, the writing on the wall is indelible — total chaos, institutional collapse, and civil war.

Related video

Whose Ego Has Been Satisfied Now?

Imtiaz Gul gives details of the reasons for Imran Khan’s arrest and analyses the event in a historical context.

Courtesy: Imtiaz Gul Youtube channel

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