It Ain’t Over …

It Ain’t Over …
A big majority in the Miltablishment High Command comprising three star generals has reportedly agreed to abide by four major decisions. (1) COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa will not seek an extension in tenure, nor accept one if offered by the government, and will duly retire on 29th November as scheduled. (2) The three senior most generals in the Pakistan Army on that date – General Asim Munir (ex DG ISI), General Sahir Shamshad (Corps Commander Pindi) and General Azhar Abbas (Chief of General Staff) -- will be shortlisted for selection by the federal government to the two slots of Chairman Joints Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of Army Staff later this month. (3) The Miltablishment High Command should remain apolitical or neutral between the political protagonists and may facilitate, but not pressure, the PDM and PTI leaderships to negotiate conflict resolution that leads to a free and fair general election on a level playing field in a mutually acceptable time frame. (4) Even in the event of continuing conflict between the PTI and PDM that spills over into political deadlock, the Miltablishment should not step in to impose Martial Law.

​But the devil is in the detail. It appears that General Bajwa and Imran Khan would like to see General Shamshad and General Abbas in the two top slots while Mian Nawaz Sharif is keen on General Munir as COAS. So who will it be?

​Imran Khan is determined to throw a spanner in the works. He has already said that if Nawaz Sharif is going to pick the next army chief, he (IK) won’t accept it. In other words, he wants General Bajwa and not the Prime Minister to select the two top slots going forward. His grudge against General Munir is well known. Imran Khan removed General Munir as DG-ISI in 2019 barely nine months into the post when the latter presented him with documents proving the corruption of a clique in Punjab close to Khan’s wife, aided and abetted by the then Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, who’d been handpicked by Khan. He has already launched an unprovoked and unsubstantiated tirade of allegations against Maj-Gen Faisal Naseer, currently DG-Counter-Terrorism in the ISI, who is known to be close to General Munir, having served under him in Military Intelligence.

​Khan’s Long March is aimed at pressurizing the PDM government not to appoint General Munir as the next COAS while conceding a general election by March 2023. One way to ensure that he succeeds in his twin objectives is to trigger the fall of the PDM government this month, so that caretakers are sworn in to hold elections three months hence (in February-March) and an extension is contrived for General Bajwa by the Caretakers until an elected prime minister is in office to appoint a new army chief. Khan has said on several occasions that he would accept a six month extension in service for General Bajwa under such terms. Since he expects to win the next election, he wants to appoint the next COAS.

​The PDM government can be ousted this month if the Long March leads to bloodshed and political gridlock that shipwrecks the economy and gives an excuse to General Bajwa to “step in”. The general can do so by putting a gun to the head of PM Shehbaz Sharif to dissolve parliament or, failing that, putting it to the head of some PDM partners and allies to ditch the PMLN, enabling President Alvi to ask Shehbaz Sharif to prove he has the required majority in the House. And if nothing works, he can impose Martial Law with the approval of the Supreme Court (that is packed with anti-Sharif judges) pending general elections next year.

​Imran Khan has calibrated his Long March to Long Walk precisely in order to give time and space to the anti-PDM lobby in the Miltablishment to pressure the government to concede his two demands or to gear up to oust it later this month if it refuses. It is ominously significant that the Long March is scheduled to arrive in Rawalpindi/Islamabad on or about the 20th of November when the Prime Minister will be in receipt of the three names for consideration to the post of CJCOS and COAS.

​Two other reported facts are important in assessing the situation. The first is located in London and can be catalogued as the “London Plan”. Shehbaz Sharif and Khwaja Asif rushed to London two days ago to discuss these issues with Nawaz Sharif. Since we know that these two gentlemen were instrumental in persuading Nawaz Sharif, against his instincts, in 2019 to agree to support a three year extension in service for General Bajwa, we can reasonably surmise what advice they may have given Nawaz Sharif in the current situation. We are also informed that PMLN MPA Malik Ahmad Khan, who is known to be close to the Sharifs and to General Bajwa and is suspected of being a go-between, was present in the huddle in London.

​The second is located in Lahore and can be catalogued as the “Pindi Plan”. As we write these lines, it is reported that General Bajwa, President Arif Alvi and Imran Khan are all quite coincidentally ensconced in Lahore. Since Mr Alvi has admitted to playing a role in bridging the gap between General Bajwa and Imran Khan, including facilitating at least two secret meetings between them, is it inconceivable that a third “final” meeting is on the cards?

​Say no more. The next two weeks are critical. It ain’t over till it’s over.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.