A Bleak Future

Many stories circulate about the corruption of leading politicians of Pakistan, the Bhuttos, the Sharifs and the Zardaris etc., but the Army, which was the knight in shining armour, has outdone all politicians by institutionalising corruption. Reports indicate that the Pakistan Army has interests in a number of business ventures. Moreover, senior army officers, both serving and retired, head hosts of institutions in Pakistan, and unashamedly feather their nests

A Bleak Future

Representation image (Photo:SNS)

Less than a week ago, the Supreme Courts of two countries ~ India and Pakistan ~ in three separate judgements, listed out certain unwritten limitations of the power of the Executive vis-à-vis legislatures and individuals. The Supreme Court of India reiterated the principle of superiority of the elected over the unelected, which is the basis of the parliamentary form of government, in the Delhi Government and Maharashtra Assembly cases, while in the Imran Khan case, the Pakistan Supreme Court held that the Executive cannot take away the freedom of an individual without following due process of law.

Discarding narrow legalistic interpretations, the Supreme Court of India held that the Executive cannot hobble the power of a legislature, which is absolute in the fields under its purview.

Thus, calling for a floor test in Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, without adequate material, when no member had asked for it, was held to be an improper exercise of power by the Governor. In the Delhi Assembly case, observing that ministers of the Delhi government were accountable to the Delhi Legislative Assembly, which in turn was accountable to the citizens of Delhi, the Supreme Court held that governance could not be carried out properly if officers of the civil service did not report to ministers of the Delhi Government.


Setting Imran Khan free, the Supreme Court of Pakistan drew a curtain on a shameful episode in which a former Prime Minister was arrested on the premises of Islamabad High Court in a commando operation.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan rightly held that a person can be deprived of his liberty only by due process of law. It being apparent to the Court that Khan, a hugely popular politician, was being targeted to disqualify him, probably the underlying thought was that the Court should not be a party to the machinations of a government that was afraid to face the electorate.

Expectedly, this judgement did not go down well with the Pakistan Government; top ministers publicly castigated both the Supreme Court and Imran Khan. Sadly, Pakistan had no great leader, like Gandhi, who could give intellectual and moral direction to State policy.

The liberal vision of Pakistan perished in 1948, along with its founder, M A Jinnah. (Gandhi also died in 1948, but unlike Jinnah, Gandhi’s vision was carried forward by Nehru, and his successors). Also, for most of the time, the Army has ruled Pakistan, either directly or through civilian puppets.

At the first sign of disobedience, Prime Ministers were made to step down by the Army, and generals like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Pervez Musharraf took over the country. The authority of the Army was such that after the drubbing in the Kargil War, PM Nawaz Sharif was deposed and imprisoned, and General Musharraf, who was responsible for the defeat, took over as the Chief Executive of Pakistan.

By successfully portraying successive civilian governments as weak, inefficient and corrupt, the Pakistan Army slowly acquired the permanent right to overrule Government decisions, and lay down State policy. However, after the disastrous Musharraf years, the Army learnt a lesson and elected to rule from behind the curtain. No Prime Minister could ever rule in Pakistan without the Army’s approval. Benazir Bhutto, who did not strike a bargain with the Army, and looked to be winning the election, was murdered in public. Imran Khan, too, became the Prime Minister with the Army’s blessings.

When he started asserting his power and tried to meddle in Army appointments, the Election Commission of Pakistan disqualified him from holding political office, in November 2022. Thereafter, Imran Khan has embarked on an agenda of protests, calling for immediate elections, which has received widespread public support.

The pretenders to office could not counter Khan’s popularity, so they tried to corner him with multiple corruption cases. But whenever the police came to arrest Khan, people formed a shield between him and the police. There was also an attempt on Khan’s life, which according to him was masterminded by ISI’s head of counter-intelligence.

Voicing this allegation publicly enraged the Army, but consolidated Khan’s popularity. The immediate trigger for Khan’s arrest was reiteration of the same allegations in a statement made on 18 March 2023. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) issued a lengthy statement calling Imran’s allegation “fabricated and malicious.” Within days, Imran Khan was in jail, arrested by Punjab Rangers. Imran’s arrest provoked a violent agitation by his supporters across Pakistan.

Large, angry crowds came out on the streets; public and army properties, including the Corps Commander’s residence at Lahore and the GHQ at Rawalpindi were vandalised. The Army and police kept a low profile, making little effort to stop the marauders, indicating support for Khan in these organisations.

The day after Khan’s arrest, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice, ordered his release, declaring his arrest from Court premises as illegal.

Two days later, the Islamabad High Court granted Khan bail in the NAB case, following it up with a blanket bail in all pending cases. Presently, almost the entire senior leadership of Khan’s party has been arrested and violent protests have abated.

PM Shehbaz Sharif and his ministers have come out openly against the judiciary, accusing it of siding with Khan. Sadly, politicians are playing their power games at a time when Pakistan is suffering its worst economic crisis, with millions on the brink of starvation.

Should the ruling establishment, which includes the Army, introspect, they will notice a groundswell of opinion against them for their corrupt and feudalistic ways.

Many stories circulate about the corruption of leading politicians of Pakistan, the Bhuttos, the Sharifs and the Zardaris etc., but the Army, which was the knight in shining armour, has outdone all politicians by institutionalising corruption; reports indicate that Pakistan Army has interests in a number of business ventures.

Moreover, senior army officers, both serving and retired, head hosts of institutions in Pakistan, and unashamedly feather their nests. The extent of corruption in the Pakistan Army could be gauged from the leaked income-tax returns of General Bajwa, who headed the Pakistan Army between 2016 and 2022; these documents show an increase of nearly Rs.1300 crore in Bajwa family assets during the general’s tenure as army chief. Interestingly, Bajwa’s assets include an international business, multiple foreign properties, as well as properties, farmhouses, and residential real estate in all major cities of Pakistan. In this background, it is not difficult to guess the real reason for the public’s disenchantment with the Army and Pakistan Government, who enjoy a luxurious lifestyle while the public starves.

Seeing the powerful jostle for dominance, even in a doomsday scenario, must be difficult to digest for ordinary Pakistanis. Imran Khan, though not exactly a paragon of virtue, has gained unprecedented popularity by successfully taking on the Army and Government.

Afraid of Khan’s popularity, the present Army chief, General Asim Munir, has chosen not to come back from a foreign trip. The international community is worriedly watching Pakistan implode. The prospect of a meltdown in a nuclear-armed country, with the possibility of some loony fringe getting control of nuclear weapons, is truly unnerving for the world community. Faced with the prospect of billions of yuan vanishing in thin air, Pakistan’s ‘iron brother’ China, is deeply concerned.

Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who visited Pakistan, just before the present crisis, hoped for consensus between the warring politicians in Pakistan. Many in India are watching the unravelling of Pakistan with glee, but we as a country, have the greatest interest in Pakistan’s stability. An unstable, nuclear-armed, North Korea like country, at our borders would pose a permanent danger for us.

Imran Khan is not a person who wishes well for India or has the sagacity to ensure a peaceful environment in the sub-continent, but Imran is definitely better than military dictators like Ayub, Yahya and Pervez, who forced wars between India and Pakistan.

With one foot outside Pakistan, the elite are the most to blame for Pakistan’s present predicament; caring only for their own comforts and survival, they have failed to provide honest leadership to the public. Religion has been shamelessly used as an opiate for the masses; instances abound of the many injustices perpetrated in the name of religion.

A fond hope: A recalibration of the civilian-military relationship in Pakistan, which would throw up better army and civil leadership, and ensure peace and progress in Pakistan, and peace with India.

(The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner)