PTI Versus The Army

PTI Versus The Army
Learning from history is imperative. But citing historical references out of context serves no purpose. So let's make one thing clear. Despite PTI's claims, the current situation in Pakistan has no parallel with what happened in 1971. The East Pakistanis were systematically discriminated against by the West Pakistanis. When they stood up for their linguistic and economic rights, the Army was sent in to crush the movement in Bengal. It didn't work. They were geographically distinct, and with India's help, managed to become an independent Bangladesh.

PTI, on the other hand, represents some of the most privileged elites of Pakistan. Their sudden anti-establishment stance notwithstanding, PTI is still the party of Ijaz ul Haq (Zia's son) and Omar Ayub (Ayub Khan's grandson), not to mention establishment diehards like Pervez Elahi. This is not a rights-based movement, like the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, for instance. Nor do they have any ideology besides that "Imran Khan is their red line."

Although they are recently alluding to democracy, human rights and the Constitution, these are mere after-thoughts from a party that never cared for them while in office. PTI vloggers who have escaped the country wonder why western governments didn't condemn Imran Khan's arrest as undemocratic.

Perhaps because they aren't as unaware as you would like to believe. They know how Imran Khan came to power. His 22-year struggle narrative may have impressed some in Pakistan, but back in 2018, when he became Prime Minister, a Washington Post headline read "Pakistan's military has its fingerprints all over the elections."

Fast forward to 2022, and when he was voted out of power, he resorted to allegations that the US had conspired to topple his government. For the first time in Pakistan's history, the US State Department had to issue a statement saying that the former prime minister was lying.

When the cipher story didn't yield results, he changed his tune and turned on General Bajwa, the same general whom he formerly praised for his democratic values.  When he turns on someone though, Imran Khan doesn't hold back, hence references to "Mir Jaffer and Mir Sadiq" were routinely made. Then he dubbed General Faisal Naseer as "Dirty Harry." After his arrest and hasty release, he accused the Chief, General Asim Munir, for his "abduction" and did not hesitate to say this to foreign journalists.

Had any other ex-prime minister of Pakistan said all this, they would have been put away in Adiala Jail long ago, but Mr. Khan enjoys the support of key members of the judiciary, who have abandoned even the veneer of impartiality, in granting him blanket relief in the corruption charges against him.

According to the "World of Statistics," Pakistan is only second to Italy in sending ex-prime ministers to jail. All previous politicians who were sent to jail when the military no longer wanted them around protested against the army, but none went so far as to incite mutiny within the army or inflame emotions to a point where ambulances and schools are torched and military installations are burned and vandalized, including a memorial for martyrs and Jinnah House.

Pakistan today stands perilously polarized. Not only are families politically divided, but so is every state institution.

When you play with fire, you can't expect the other side to be nice and docile, particularly when the other side is the Pakistan Army, accustomed to sorting out civilians. But this should also be a lesson for the army. The politician they supported the most, made the most allowances for, has come back to haunt them the worst. The Army too must learn from history. Every time they have meddled in the political process by creating or dividing existing political parties, it hasn't ended well for them or for the country.

Pakistan today stands perilously polarized. Not only are families politically divided, but so is every state institution. As it takes on those who played havoc with law and order, the army must also sort out its own house. If the Army Act is to be invoked, it must first be applied to complicit army men. The mayhem at the Corps Commander's residence raises scores of questions. How did the perpetrators gain access to sensitive and ordinarily jealously guarded areas and installations?

This is not to suggest that those actually involved in the violence should be spared. Absolutely not. Both the foot soldiers and the PTI leadership that encouraged and instigated them must be dealt with firmly. But this is, after all, the logical outcome of the fifth generation war launched by General Asif Ghafoor when he was DG ISPR. The social media accounts created, with taxpayer money, to "Love IK and Love Pak Army" have changed their display profiles to "Love IK, Hate Pak Army." All the chickens have come home to roost.

The army needs to rethink who its friends are. PTM workers were shot at, jailed and abducted, but never burnt a leaf. Neither did Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman in Baluchistan, who only demands basic rights for his people, but had to languish silently and patiently in jail for four months.

If the Army wants to earn respect, it must extend an olive branch to these groups and address their legitimate grievances. In any case, warring on more than one front is never a good idea.

The writer is a lawyer in London and tweets @ayeshaijazkhan