According to certain reports, it has been claimed that a “civil war” broke out in Karachi following the various turn of events. Let’s look at the facts that what role is the Army likely to play in this complex emerging situation?

Over 70 years after the birth of Pakistan, the harsh realities of the ‘idea of Pakistan’ is contradicting its ideals and constitutional values. In Pakistan, the nexus between the politicians and the Army Generals is deep-rooted, and are easily interchangeable. The recent political turmoil that is ongoing in Pakistan is bad for itself but is significant enough for India to take notice in the neighbourhood.

The two back-to-back joint opposition rallies in Pakistan with thousands of people taking part is setting the stage for a new season of Game of Thrones for the country. Despite the pandemic, an enormous number of people in Pakistan joined the rallies; first in Gujranwala on October 16, and the other rally that took place in Karachi on October 18.

Visual from the Pakistan Democratic Movement gathering in Karachi.

The opposition parties in Pakistan, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), Pakistan People’s Party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur), and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, and some smaller ones, including the Baloch National Party and the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, have come together to protest against the Imran Khan government and Pakistani Army. The opposition parties in order to back the protest have formed a joint opposition alliance and have named it as Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).

Apart from political parties protesting against the ‘deep state’ in the country, police officers in Sindh province are also revolting against the atrocities of the powerful army. Almost all police officers in Sindh Police have now applied for a two month leave in protest against the humiliation meted out to the Sindh IGP Mushtaq Ahmed Mahar, during the PML-N leader Safdar Awan’s arrest.

Pakistan’s army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has ordered an inquiry into rumours that Sindh police chief was kidnapped by army troops to coerce cops into arresting Safdar, the son-in-law of exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. It is being reported that the Army chief directed the Karachi Corps Commander to immediately inquire into the circumstances to determine the facts and file a report as soon as possible. 

What is the Pakistan Democratic Movement?

Four big opposition parties, along with some small parties in Pakistan have come together to challenge the Imran Khan government as well as the iron grip of the Pakistan Army over the country’s political system. The opposition parties through the rallies are trying to channelise the public discontent related to the country’s economic and distresses. Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) was launched by exiled Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, and Asif Ali Zardari’s son Bilawal Bhutto. 

Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are seen during a protest rally organised by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of political opposition parties, in Karachi, Pakistan October 18, 2020.

The protest marked the beginning of political turmoil in Pakistan as the united opposition challenged both Khan as well as Pakistan Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. This is the first time in the country when voices against the army are rising, as earlier no one dared to speak up against the army in Pakistan.

The October 16 protest in Gujranwala, a city in Pakistan’s Punjab province, was joined by major political parties of Pakistan, along with a video link from London that had Pakistan Muslim League (N), or PML-N, leader Nawaz Sharif on it. The former Pakistani Prime Minister doubled his attack on the Pakistani army and named both Bajwa as well as Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, the chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), alleging the two of selecting Khan in the 2018 election. He also said, “Khan was not elected but selected in the 2018 election by the Pakistan Army.”

It was not just Imran Khan who was targeted. The Pakistani Army was also a clear target, at least for PML-N. General Bajwa was one blamed by the opposition parties for Pakistan’s ills. Sharif accused the Army and General Bajwa of driving him out of power. Making several statements, he also concluded that the Army in Pakistan has now become “a state above a state.”

This attack of Sharif on the Army is being considered remarkable, as this was the first time somebody so openly challenged the country’s most powerful institution in this manner.

PML-N leader Safdar Awan’s arrest saga

During Pakistan Democratic Movement, the PML-N was represented by Nawaz Sharif’s daughter and party leader Maryam Nawaz and her husband Safdar Awan, who is a retired army captain. Unlike the Gujranwala rally which revolved around PML-N, the Karachi rally on October 18 had Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP) in focus.

But soon, there was a dramatic turn in the series of events. Maryam Nawaz on the morning of October 19 tweeted, “Police broke my room door at the hotel that I was staying at in Karachi and arrested Captain Safdar.”

According to various news organisations, it has been reported that Awan was arrested for “violating the sanctity of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s mausoleum” in the city. Jinnah is considered to be the founder of modern Pakistan. It is reported that earlier on October 18, Awan raised political slogans at the mausoleum of Jinnah.

Police vs Army in Pakistan: Sindh cops revolted as IG abducted

Police in the Sindh province is putting up a determined fight against the all-powerful military of Pakistan for “abducting” its chief, Inspector General Mushtaq Mahar. According to Pakistani media, it is reported that the abduction of the IG took place in order to forcibly get his signature on the arrest warrant of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law retired Captain Safdar Awan.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari questioned the army and the ISI about the incident in a tweet. He also alleged that the Sindh Police chief was abducted by Pakistan Army and its intelligence wing for a few hours before Safdar Awan was arrested. Bilawal insinuated that the Pakistan military had pressurised the Sindh Police to act against Safdar Awan and forced him to file an FIR for Safdar’s arrest.    

The abduction of the IG caused extreme bitterness among the police officers who retaliated by submitting leave applications. According to the reports, almost the entire top brass of the police, including three Additional IGs, 25 DIGs, 30 SSPs, and dozens of SPs, DSPs, and SHOs across Sindh, gave their leave applications, as a protest against the “resentment caused to all ranks of the force” by the unfortunate incident of abduction of Inspector General Mushtaq Mahar.

Leave application police officers submitted in retaliation as IG Mushtaq Mahar was abducted.

The situation turned out to be so intense that Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa had to step in and order an inquiry to prevent the Sindh police from going on mass protest leave.

Why these incidents become significant?

The incidents that are happening in Pakistan becomes significant in many perspectives. Nawaz Sharif’s fiery rhetoric against the chief of army staff and generals are pointing towards the hostility that is there in Pakistan against the Army’s hold in its political matters. There is also a prevailing rage among the opposition party leaders on the Pakistani government’s amendment bill in Pakistan National Assembly passed in January 2020 that gives current Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa an extension till 2022.

To be in politics, one has to be a feudal lord, and to retain feudal lordship, one needs the protection or blessings of the army. The Army in Pakistan has a major hold in its politics and political leaders in order to remain in power often accepts the relevance of the Army in the country’s affairs. The prevalence of the Army in Pakistan can be calculated with the fact that most Generals in Pakistan, after retirement, hold key positions in the civil economy.

The presence of the Army in the politics of Pakistan can be clearly blamed on the constitution of the country. In 1962, the country’s second constitution was approved, under General Ayub Khan. The revised document approved the intervention of the military in domestic politics. The document said that the President or the Defence Minister of Pakistan must be a person who had held the rank of Lieutenant-General in the army.

Incidents when Army showed its power in Pakistan

Amid this continued struggle for power, violence has been a stark reality in the politics of Pakistan. In 1999, General Pervez Musharraf arrested Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and imposed martial law till the time he appointed himself as the president of Pakistan. There are other incidences as well where the army showed its power to maintain its hand over Pakistan’s politics.

The country’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was shot dead, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged, his daughter Benazir was shot dead, Zia-ul-Haq died under mysterious circumstances, and General Pervez Musharraf survived two assignation attempts. The list of State leaders and clergy heads who have been violently ‘eliminated’ is endless.

The whole basis of a nation and a State is the people and their core beliefs. In Pakistan, the army’s core beliefs are projected as nationalism and the people have to conform. In Pakistan, the prosperity of the army is of supreme importance and the people are working to secure its future in order to maintain their prosperity.