Something very curious is going on in India’s immediate neighbourhood—across its western borders to be specific. The judiciary in Pakistan seems to have discovered the spine to take on the chief of the Pakistan army, something unthinkable until recently. First the Supreme Court suspended the three-year extension given to General Qamar Javed Bajwa by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi, through an interim order and later, even while allowing Bajwa an extension of six months, the court issued a stern warning to the government about legislating on the rules and procedures of appointing the army chief, including giving him an extension. Considering Pakistan is a country where army chiefs extend their tenures at their own will and considering, earlier, a PPP government had given an extension to then General Ashfaq Kayani without anyone protesting, no wonder the Supreme Court’s sudden zealousness is being described by the Pakistani media as an instance of “unprecedented assertion”. The question is if this sudden display of bravado would have been possible without the backing of the army in a country where the reins of actual power are in the hands of the military establishment. Seemingly, a revolt is brewing in the upper echelons of the Pakistan army over the extension given to Bajwa. Reports are that Bajwa’s extension has destroyed the career progressions of over 15 lieutenant generals, who will have to retire before Bajwa retires in three years’ time. Pakistan may have an army chief, but the chief is not the army. At best he is the first among equals. Rawalpindi GHQ is about a group of generals, the corps commanders, who control everything and select the army chief from amongst themselves. That there is unrest among the corps commanders becomes obvious from the way Bajwa made certain appointments, thus trying to eliminate all possibilities of dissent against his extension. The most prominent of such moves was the supersession of the senior-most officer after Bajwa, Lt Gen Sarfraz Sattar, by Gen Nadeem Raza as Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the second most important post after the army chief. Sattar was apparently then COAS Raheel Sharif’s choice to become army chief in 2019, following the natural sequence of promotions. Sattar had a year of service left but retired once he was superseded. And this is just one instance. Bajwa has carried out a major reshuffle, obviously in an attempt to surround himself with loyalists who would strengthen his hands if he continues for three more years as army chief. This being the situation, it is but natural that questions will be raised about who added the steel to the judiciary’s spine. In fact, the judiciary’s arrow is targeted not just at Bajwa but also at Imran Khan Niazi, who, anyway is in dire straits and is proving to be incapable of governing his country. As the economy spirals out of his control, Niazi’s reliance on the army increases to run Pakistan, or rather to stop himself from running it aground. As people’s resentment rises against his government, Niazi is getting increasingly dependent on Bajwa to ensure that he is able to retain his chair. This also has to be seen in the context of reports that the army chief is now personally trying to tackle the economic mess that the country has landed in. As observers in Pakistan have been pointing out, their country is witnessing a “diarchy of power”, where “personal relationship”—some sort of a quid pro quo arrangement—is ensuring the continuance of not just Imran Khan Niazi, but also the extension of Gen Bajwa’s “rule”. This sudden rebellion against both Imran Khan and Bajwa has to be seen in the context of another player, whose name is not being mentioned but who has Pakistan confined in a straitjacket—China. There is speculation that China, which has a major Uyghur problem in its hands and in typical style is being heavy-handed in tackling it, is unhappy with the push being given by Niazi and Bajwa to align Pakistan’s interests with that of Turkey. The Islamic Caliphate idea, with Turkey as the head, which is being pushed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has found the most ardent backers in Pakistan and in Malaysia under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. However, it is not helping the Pakistani duo’s case that Turkey may have banned the Turkic Uyghurs’ East Turkistan Islamic Movement (now known as Turkistan Islamic Party/Movement) operating in China’s Xinjiang province as a terrorist organisation, but reports are that “unofficial” support to the “jihadist” organisation still continues. Given the present circumstances, Niazi and Bajwa may have gone too far when it comes to Turkey, a fact that has angered China. Whatever be the case, the future is looking increasingly uncertain for both Imran Khan Niazi and General Qamar Javed Bajwa. There cannot be a military coup in Pakistan for fear of American sanctions, but the world should not be surprised if the duo’s downfall comes through a judicial coup, sooner or later, just the way it happened with Nawaz Sharif.

 

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