Since George W. Bush broadened the US “War on Terror” in 2003 by invading Iraq, much of the officer cadre of the Pakistan army had (according to Middle East-based analysts) accepted the Wahhabi view that the campaign against Saddam Hussein was, at the core, a war against the global Muslim community. Resentment against the US military had been building up within the officer ranks of the army since the 2001 temporary takedown of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pashtun officers, in particular, had chafed at what they saw as compromises being made by then military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf to US commands that were not even thinly cloaked as “requests”. Despite the reality that Musharraf only superficially obeyed Washington’s commands and, in fact, was able to rescue much of the Taliban-Al Qaeda coalition from the US military, did not assuage such sentiments, as the reality of “verbal compliance and substantive non-compliance” was known only to a few trusted members of the higher ranks of the Pakistan military, while the lower and middle ranks took their cue from the barrage of reports in Urdu, Punjabi and Pashto media about Musharraf’s “betrayal” of the cause of the Afghan jihad. These vituperative anti-US outpourings were tolerated, and indeed encouraged by Musharraf on the grounds that “freedom of the press” needed to be respected by the “democratic dictator” that his admirers within the White House and the Pentagon styled him as. Of course, such reports would also go to show that the Pakistan military establishment was cooperating with US diktats, when in fact the reverse was the case.
During 2006-2009, linkages between GHQ Rawalpindi and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) multiplied on a scale unprecedented in past years. The 2008 financial collapse across both sides of the Atlantic discredited the NATO member-state establishments, while China remained relatively unaffected and quickly regained its growth momentum. According to the analysts spoken to, by the close of 2013, many times more officers in the Pakistan army saw China as the Ally of Choice for Pakistan than they did the US, and from that time onwards, this gap in perception has only grown. Since then, the Chinese have serially blocked India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and to get the United Nations to declare Masood Azhar and others as global terrorists. This has convinced the Pakistan army officer corps that Beijing has shed any earlier notions of neutrality between India and Pakistan, and has emerged as being fully aligned with Pakistan in practice, even though the diplomatese used to describe its actions may be different.
Since 2015, within the officer corps of the Pakistan army, sentiment has hardened against the US and warmed towards China, so much so that they are working for a time to come when Islamabad will do to Washington what Egypt under Anwar Sadat did to the Soviet Union in 1972, when the Egyptian strongman sent packing more than 18,000 Russian military personnel from his country, signalling a newfound comprehensive alliance with the US that has lasted to this day. However, both the PML(Nawaz) as well as the PPP leadership are opposed to such a wholesale replacement of the US strategic alliance for that with Beijing, which is why both needed to be weakened and ultimately rendered irrelevant in the politics and therefore the governance of Pakistan. The plan to mount a judicial coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has its origins in the bid by the military leadership to in fact, if not formally, jettison the earlier policy of “non-alignment” between the world’s two superpowers in favour of an exclusive alliance with China, “exactly as the US has an alliance with Japan”. The GHQ view is that the Zardari-led PPP is already “terminally challenged in the leadership department”, with Asif Zardari already discredited and son and heir Bilawal Bhutto “clueless about both politics and Pakistan”.
GHQ Rawalpindi has yet to move away from its core objective of ensuring that the Union of India splinter into multiple states, which at best would be bound together in a loose coalition that lacks an effective central authority. Large sums of money have been spent in an effort to widen fissiparous tendencies within India, including through funding groups that are let loose to commit acts of violence against members of the minority community. According to the philosophy underpinning state power in Pakistan, Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations that lack the capacity to live at peace and cooperate with each other. It is this creed that has led to the systematic reduction of the Hindu population in Pakistan. GHQ Rawalpindi is seeking to expand the number of those in India who believe in the “Two Nation” theory, so that in every state, and indeed each city and even panchayat, communal trouble will erupt. Fortunately, both Hindus as well as Muslims in India are overwhelmingly moderate, and refuse to obey the handful who preach a doctrine of exclusion and separation from each other. US administrations have long made it clear to the Pakistan army that they back the unity of India and remain opposed to any step that would create a divide between communities. This refusal to back GHQ Rawalpindi in its core goal of melting down India has led to a stance within the Pakistan military that the historical alliance of Pakistan with the US is no longer desirable, and should be replaced with an understanding with a partner more tolerant of the foundational ethos and objectives of the Pakistan army.
The PPP and PML(N) leaderships being essentially businesspersons, they do not buy into the GHQ theory that India is “ripe for collapse”, and have often acted as a brake on GHQ schemes against the Union of India that have come to civilian attention. According to the analysts consulted, this has led to the conclusion by the army leadership that both the PML(N) as well as the PPP should be rendered irrelevant in the politics of Pakistan and replaced with formations that have (sometimes secretly) signed on to the GHQ platform of a disintegrating India. The worry is that otherwise, the world’s most populous democracy will, within less than a generation, emerge as the globe’s third superpower, together with the US and now the PRC.
Thus, the Sharif family (as also the Bhutto-Zardaris) is likely to be given little respite from a planned spate of corruption allegations against them, designed to ensure that public esteem falls to a level such that by 2018, when the time for general elections rolls by, neither will have a significant presence in the National Assembly. Evidence is being collected against them that is intended to get released in a steady flow, soon to be combined with legal processes of the sort that was used to remove Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from power. Even if the Sharif family signs on to the replacement of the “non-alignment” policy of the past between China and the US, with the stance of alignment with China that is favoured by GHQ Rawalpindi, such a change of heart is unlikely to convince the generals to walk away from their efforts at ensuring that the next government in Pakistan follow the orders of the men in khaki in word and deed in a way that neither Sharif nor Zardari did.
Of course, to keep going the illusion of “non-alignment”, such a government is likely to give a prominent position to Imran Khan, who is a favourite of several individuals in the US and the UK. It will be a diluted repeat of Musharraf’s policy of speaking something and doing another, the line that ensured the return of Al Qaeda and the Taliban because of the credulity and incompetence displayed by President George W. Bush, with Imran Khan in the role of PR Manager Pervez Musharraf, of course this time around with zero executive power, albeit a fancy title such as Foreign Minister or Deputy Prime Minister.