After this latest unrest in Pakistan, the credibility of the Pak Army is at stake
Just like the storming of the Bastille fort in France in 1789 removed the commoners’ fear of French aristocracy, the storming of the Pakistan Army headquarters in Rawalpindi by the public on May 9 will have similar implications.
That day, the Rubicon was crossed in Pakistan. It demolished the carefully-cultivated fearsome image of the Army that was prevalent in the Pakistani mindset.
Nor did the Pak Army do any service to its credibility with its ham-handed response to the ongoing unrest by getting Imran Khan arrested by the Rangers during a regular court appearance.
Under the garb of democracy, albeit very fragile, it was always the Pakistani Army that had the final say in the running of the country, including deciding on the political dispensations of the day. And it stepped in whenever it felt the self-preserving need to do so. That is why, in the 75 years of Pakistan’s existence, the Army has ruled for about 33 years while none of the 21 PMs have ever been able to complete one single full term.
The other institutional appendage in Pakistan is the traditional elite comprising a few thousands of rich and powerful families of landlords loosely and collectively termed as the ‘biradari’.
These two institutions that fed off each other used different tools to control the Pakistani populace.
While the ‘biradari’ acted as the interface between the masses and the Army, it practiced ‘patronage democracy’ by exercising the power to either dispense or deny patronage. The ‘biradari’ influenced voting as well facilitating the spending of the development funds.
On the other hand, what the Pakistani Army used was the tool of fear, backed by brute power and its all-pervasive presence in all aspects of public life, including commercial activity of the country.
So when on May 9, the hordes of supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) fanned across the length and breadth of the country protesting the sudden unrest of their leader Imran Khan and faced off with the Army and all that it stood for, the fearsome reputation of the Pak Army took an unprecedented beating.
And that fearsome image had been shattered to pieces with the storming of the Rawalpindi GHQ. Soon enough, the hordes also raided the residence of the powerful IV Corps commander at Lahore.
Interestingly, a May 10 statement issued by the Pakistan military’s media wing—the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR)—said: "May 9 will be remembered as a dark chapter… Soon after (Imran Khan’s arrest), there were organised attacks on army properties and installations and anti-army slogans were raised."
The Pakistani Army—already being accused of being Punjabi-dominated much to the detestation of Pathans, Multanis, Baluchis, and Mohajirs—now faces the ignominy of accepting Imran Khan as the top political leader in Pakistan. But at the same time, it knows that if it gives in to Khan at this juncture, the thus-far dominant role of the Pakistan Army will be over for good.
The current unrest is preceded by a build-up of dissatisfaction and resentment against the establishment. The Army was seen to represent that establishment. With the economic condition of the country in total doldrums, anger against the establishment was rife and rampant.
With every successive day now, it is becoming clear that it is Khan who is the most powerful entity in Pakistan, no longer the Army—because Khan is the articulation of that public angst.
Nor is Khan or his PTI leading the movement. With the character of the movement being largely organic and spontaneous, it is rather the movement that is leading Khan and his party.
What could be of concern to New Delhi is that Khan’s ascendancy does not have good tidings for India. One bone of contention between Khan and the Pak Army was the former’s distancing from the US and increasing dalliances with China. Beijing will spare no effort to consolidate its sphere of influence in Pakistan given the fact that massive investments have already been made, including in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The Pakistani Army comprises professional soldiers and an increasing number of soldiers avowed to a fundamentalist-jihadi cause. Khan’s rise will strengthen the latter elements as opposed to the professional soldiers. And that is where the Indian concern could particularly stem from.
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