Imran vs Bajwa: Will the Pakistan Army Finally Be Defeated by a Govt?

·11 min read

The Vatican is still emitting black smoke and the country’s fate hangs. The inexplicable debacle of the public tussle between Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Prime Minister Imran Khan over the transfer of current Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence (DGISI), Faiz Hameed, to the Peshawer corp, and the appointment of the current corp commander of Karachi, Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum, to the post of DGISI, is incomprehensible for many.

In a country where it is well-known that the Army Chief is all-powerful and almost always far more powerful than the Prime Minister, it is hard for Pakistan-watchers to understand what made Imran Khan not only defy General Bajwa but to defy him so publicly and humiliate him by not signing the notification of the incoming DGISI. Doubly mystifying for many is why things have come to this when Imran Khan was Gen Bajwa’s 10-year project, and why Imran Khan is trying to hang on to Gen Faiz Hameed for life, when Hameed was but one cog in the wheel of Bajwa’s project.

Hameed did not catapult Khan into power alone, he had the entire machinery of the army behind him in this project. If Hameed was the executor, Bajwa was the mastermind of the project.

So, how can hanging on to one man expect to provide longevity to Imran Khan’s rule, which he and his party are always at pains to claim was the result of the votes of millions of voters, who, according to their statements are increasing by the billions? On the surface, nothing is adding up, and the silence from both sides and the lack of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel’s roof have many on the knife’s edge.

Waiting For the Signed Notification

Well, much water has flowed under the bridge in the last three years. The “same page” of the military and Imran Khan, though torn and scotch-taped together several times in the past two years, now seems to have gone through the shredder. Whether Imran Khan keeps digging his heels in, or whether he backs down, irreversible damage is done. On Monday, a reporter with good sources claimed that on Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office will be issuing the signed notification for Gen Anjum’s appointment to the office of DGISI. But the same promise had been made with regard to Monday, but Imran Khan left for Nathia Gali instead, and his wife went to Rawal Dam to “kato chilla”. On Monday night, Imran Khan and Gen Bajwa met again, but the meeting did not produce the signed notification on Tuesday either.

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In the last Corp Commanders’ meeting, the commanders insisted that the transfer of Gen Hameed must go ahead and that that it should no longer be delayed at the Prime Minister’s behest. Gen Bajwa had agreed. Reportedly, the Army had backed down three times from this transfer in the past — twice last year and once in the spring of this year. This was conveyed to Imran Khan, but he had argued back hard over the previous several days. The contents of the back and forth between the two sides make for fascinating arguments on the one side, and clownish arguments on Imran Khan’s side.

Why Hameed is Important to Imran

Imran Khan initially asked for Gen Hameed not to be transferred till March next, then till December at least, and then asked for Hameed to be given the Peshawer Corp as an additional charge! But he was told that Gen Hameed had become too controversial to continue in the post. Then he asked for General Asif Ghafoor to be made DGISI instead of General Nadeem Anjum, but was told that the Army does not want to replace one controversial figure with another in this sensitive post. Clearly, the Army brass now wants to distance itself from its own project, which has caused it heavy damage in public opinion.

But Imran Khan is more worried about his own continuation in power and seems to think he cannot remain in the seat for long without Gen Hameed’s ‘help’ that he has been extending, whether by managing the polls, or the judges, or the media, or the election commission, or the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), or opposition politicians, or the Senate elections, etc.

There are a few distinct structural changes Imran Khan needs to be able to continue, and, more importantly, to steal the next general election. One is his plan to ramrod legislation to introduce Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), which all political parties, and, very importantly, the election commission and bar associations distrust, claiming that rigging done via EVMs will be easier on a larger scale, and impossible to catch. Another important measure is to have his NAB ordinance turned into law, which enables the unconstitutional extension of the current chairman of NAB in office, and ring-fences his government, governmental bodies, and Cabinet from the NAB net.

Much Unfinished Business

Other measures he hopes General Hameed will facilitate are persecution and hounding from office the current non-compliant Chief Election Commissioner, the quashing of Justice Shaukat Siddiqui’s appeal (against his politically motivated removal by the Supreme Judicial Council), which is a charge-sheet against General Hameed.

In a nutshell, Justice Siddiqui’s appeal tells the story of how Nawaz Sharif’s conviction was engineered by General Hameed to clear the path for Imran Khan ahead of the 2018 general election.

It states that General Faiz visited Justice Siddiqui twice in the summer of 2017 and tried to arm-twist him into pre-committing to turning down former PM Nawaz Sharif’s expected appeal (against a decision which hadn’t even been made, implying General Faiz already knew the outcome of a yet undecided NAB court case). Cutting it short, General Faiz asked the Justice to commit to turning down the expected appeal otherwise “our two years of hard work will go to waste”. A damning indictment.

Also Read: Why the Pakistan Army Enjoys So Much Power in a Democracy

Another matter Imran Khan would like General Hameed to settle is the ouster somehow of Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faiz Esa, who is in line to become Chief Justice in 2023, the year of the next scheduled general election, and who is not expected to support the stealing of elections like Justice Saqib Nisar did in 2018. The previous attempt to oust him via a Presidential reference of corruption was a serious onslaught, but it ultimately failed. The superior judiciary was divided over him, but all bar associations and a few judges stood up to the onslaught and Esa escaped narrowly. So, there is much unfinished business that Imran Khan needs General Hameed for. But permission has been denied.

The Blasphemy Sword

Strong rumours abound that Imran Khan’s stubborn refusal to let Gen Faiz go is not without support from some strong quarters. While others will not say it outright, let me put it out there that sources claim that General Faiz Hameed is behind this himself. But anchors and YouTubers known to be close to him are insisting that he has expressed his intent to follow orders and be transferred as decided by General Bajwa.

Some recent events provide strong hints of what Imran Khan and whoever his backer(s) are can have in mind to subdue the powerful Army chief.

General Bajwa has in the past faced “allegations” of being Ahmadi because of his family background, and the Ahmadia sect in Pakistan is declared as non-Muslim.

But more importantly, it is considered blasphemous. The allegations surfaced after he was chosen to be army chief by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. That sorry saga ended with the abrupt retirement of the then DGISI Rizwan Akhtar, who was allegedly found to have been the mastermind of that campaign, and Gen Bajwa overcame the hurdle in his path.

The current custodian of the blasphemy sword in Pakistan is the Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). And at the height of the Bajwa-Imran standoff, the TLP leader, late Khadim Husain Rizvi’s son and successor and current TLP chief, Hafiz Saad Rizvi, simply got released on the orders of the Lahore Deputy Commissioner after “the government withdrew its reference” against Rizvi, on a Sunday. This was followed by a huge celebratory power show by the outfit in Lahore.

A Two-Way Street

It is vital to contrast this with the mysterious death of Khadim Husain Rizvi within two days of his Friday sermon, in which he threatened to reveal his handler(s). And it’s equally important to contrast this with the brutal crackdown on Saad Rizvi and his followers when he threatened the Imran Khan government with protests if France’s Ambassador in Pakistan was not expelled over depictions of Prophet Mohammed. The TLP is the outfit that the ISI, under General Faiz Hameed, has used in favour or against sitting governments.

It is important not to forget that the infamous agreement between the TLP and Nawaz Sharif’s government that delivered a fatal blow to the Pakistan Muslim League (N) government in 2017 (to end the crippling Faizabad sit-in by the TLP), was witnessed and signed by none other than General Faiz Hameed.

Add to the TLP palaver Imran Khan’s Sunday announcement of instituting the Ashra Rehmatul Alameen Authority in his renewed bid to play the religion card, and have the blasphemy card ready to hand.

This move is an attempt to become the political custodian of Namoos-e-Risalat and Khatm-e-Nabooat. In the current standoff, this is enormously significant because the Ahmadia sect is considered blasphemous as it is accused of not accepting the finality of the Prophet Mohammed. Not content with brandishing the blasphemy sword at an intransigent Bajwa, Imran Khan delivered the ultimate humiliation of a barely veiled public threat on Sunday to dismiss and replace him. Out of context and out of nowhere, he suddenly made mention of Hazrat Umar having replaced his general Khalid bin Waleed mid-battle.

Also Read: Pakistan Under Pressure to Rein in Blasphemy Law

That the Empire has not struck back at Imran Khan for this insolence is then well explained by the weapon Imran is wielding. But the blows have not been a one-way street. Maryam Nawaz’s blistering assault on General Faiz Hameed last Wednesday was one in the opposite direction, and the fact that it ran on television channels live and without any “beeps” is not insignificant, to put it mildly. It left the public speechless. Another lethal and stunning strike in the same direction was witnessed when journalist and anchor Hamid Mir appeared to be denigrating General Faiz Hameed with salacious innuendo in late May this year.

This Time, the Gloves Have Come Off

So, the battle is not new and has been brewing for some time — but there was plausible deniability and papering over each time. However, with the current impasse, things appear to have come to a head with gloves coming off. In the end, one side will have to blink, for this is more a war of nerves than pistols. But if the notification doesn’t come from Imran Khan ultimately, General Bajwa’s authority will be completely undermined and it would then be fair to state that for the first time, Pakistan’s Army has been defeated at the hands of one of its own creations. One does not hope it comes to that, but one is sure General Bajwa has long been rueing the day he decided on Imran Khan to front his 10-year project with the help of Hameed.

Also Read: Pakistan’s ‘Dossier’: A Bid to Shift Focus from Imran’s Failures?

What next? Does General Bajwa’s chessboard have the pieces aligned for a decisive blow to Imran Khan? Clearly not, else he would have delivered it by now. It appears that on Monday night, by allowing a delay in the transfers, he is buying time to move the pieces in place. This is how it is at the moment: while General Bajwa has the Army behind him, Imran Khan has got hold of Allah. Therefore, General Bajwa needs a real and viable shield, as well as an alternative to the current set-up to get out of the soup he has landed himself in.

His shield or counter sword would also have to be that of religion, but it would have to be of the Deobandi variety, since the Barelvi one is in Imran’s camp.

That points to mending fences with Maulana Fazl ur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JuI). And his real political alternative is the popular PMLN headed by Mian Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz Sharif. Whether he’ll be able or willing to meet their conditions in time is anyone’s guess.

The only funny corollary in this dangerous situation is that erstwhile one-pagers and self-styled spokespersons of the Army establishment are all clueless as to who will win, and are therefore running for cover. For the first time in history, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed, instead of blustering as usual, passed the parcel to Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who is also uncharacteristically quiet. The nervousness of these weathervanes tells of the severity of the uncertainty prevailing.

(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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