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The institutional crisis that Pakistan faces

The institutional crisis that Pakistan faces

Representation image [Photo:SNS]

Pakistan is currently facing an internal crisis like none other in its history. Imran Khan, deposed by a political coup in a no-trust vote, has managed to obtain backing of the masses, based on his purported clean image, and hopes for a come-back. He plays the victim card garnering sympathy and support. Imran is the first political leader to stage a fightback against the powerful army leadership. He has demanded early elections, ignoring other factors including a depleting economy.

Imran has kept all those plotting against him at bay by splitting institutions of the country, thereby ensuring they cannot act in unison. His accusations made daily, in his addresses to the public, are aimed at damaging the reputation of his opponents. All this while projecting that problems facing the country are not his fault as also that he alone can resolve them.

Within the government, Imran Khan’s major backer is Dr Arif Alvi, the country’s president. A member of his political party, PTI, Arif was appointed President on 18 September 2018. His term will conclude in September 2023. Arif was directed to continue in his appointment despite Imran’s ouster to ensure that the Shehbaz government faces impediments at every stage.

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Arif refused to swear in Shehbaz and his cabinet, initially claiming to be unwell and subsequently proceeding on leave. When the election commission rejected Imran’s demand of holding early elections, the president unilaterally announced the date of 9 April resulting in a showdown between him and two anti-Imran institutions, the government and the election commission.

He has acted as a stumbling block to the current government, refusing to ratify its directions if they are against Imran’s views. President Alvi returned the elections reform bill, which reversed Imran’s decision of introducing electronic voting machines as also the National Accountability Bureau bill, amongst others. He accused the current government of employing disproportionate force against workers of Imran’s PTI, leading to a strong counter-response by the present PM. Alvi’s favouritism is out in the open.

While Imran and the senior hierarchy of the army, including the current and past army chiefs, have their differences, the former cricketer has gained support from the middle and lower ranks of the armed forces. He also has the backing of veterans thereby ensuring that choices available to the army chief to remove him are limited. Senior veterans refused to head panels investigating Imran’s foreign conspiracy charges. There are reports that in case Imran is assassinated, there could be an internal revolt within the army.

The current army chief, Asim Munir, was head of the ISI when Imran was PM but was removed because he unearthed corruption evidence against Imran. To prevent him from exacting revenge, he is targeted on social media by Imran’s media team, putting him on the defensive. General Bajwa, the ex-army chief, has been forced to respond to Imran’s regular tirades, providing the latter with ammunition every time he speaks.

To avoid being entangled directly in a battle with Imran, the army leadership is firing its guns from the shoulders of the government, which also appears equally lost. By targeting the army leadership, Imran is sending the message that the famed and powerful army, which controlled the state for over half its existence cannot subdue him. It adds to public confidence that there is a leader willing to stand up against the country’s most powerful but largely disliked institution. There is no doubt that the army and the current dispensation in Islamabad do not want Imran to return but have yet to figure out the right solution.

The election commission, which had always manipulated results to ensure that the army’s choice was elected PM, now finds itself in the dock. It is facing favouritism accusations from Imran, criticism from the President and being challenged in courts, not only by political elements but the chief justice himself. The election commission appears helpless in the face of the onslaught. Imran has further implicated its leanings by insisting that the head of the election commission was thrust down his throat by the then army chief, General Bajwa. The message being conveyed by Imran is that the current election commission is incapable of conducting free and fair polls.

Court cases are being filed against Imran by various government entities but none have progressed because the courts appear to be favouring Imran. The Supreme Court (SC), thus far exploited by the army to dethrone PMs, is hesitating to toe the line. The judiciary steps in at the highest level to protect Imran’s media teams as also ensures that bans imposed on Imran’s speeches are lifted.

The Chief Justice is on a collision course with the government and his own colleagues by taking Suo Moto decisions on election issues, directly favouring Imran. Decisions of the Supreme Court are being questioned by the ruling dispensation, eroding the reputation of the final pillar of democracy. The Chief Justice openly displayed his bias when hinting at the current leaders, and mentioned in court, “Today, when you go to parliament, you find people addressing the parliament who were till yesterday in captivity, imprisoned, declared traitors.”

No case, amongst the hundred plus filed against Imran, has proceeded to the stage where he is indicted. Where relief is unlikely, a senior court steps in and provides bail. In a case lodged in an Islamabad court, relief was provided by a Lahore court. The question remains whether the courts will ultimately manage to debar Imran by concluding one of the multiple cases against him.

The government is attempting to curtail the power of the Supreme Court, which has tilted towards Imran. This move will face stumbling blocks from the President as also the court itself. Under such turmoil the army could have considered taking over power. However, with a powerful Imran challenging them, it fears an internal backlash.

Pakistan is divided as never before and its institutions compromised. In any country, partisan institutions signal weakening of the democratic system, which would damage the nation’s standing, making it into a global joke, as is the case with Pakistan. Protecting independence of institutions is a major lesson flowing from Pakistan for India.

(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.)

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