Pakistan’s former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa declared at the end of his tenure that the army would no longer interfere in politics.
However, the recent arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan – once seen as the “blue-eyed boy of the army” – and the military’s intention to prosecute civilian protesters under military laws prove that men in uniform are still There are too many in politics.
The recent turmoil in Pakistan is also a poignant reminder of the significant power wielded by the military.
Amidst the ever-changing political landscape, the only permanent force is the military establishment, while political parties co-exist only to share power with it.
Khan, whose success in the 2018 general elections was won by the army before the couple parted ways, now has over 100 cases registered against him. These cases range from corruption and treason to terrorism and even blasphemy, which is punishable by death.
His arrest was followed by several days of violent anti-army protests across the country. Protesters set fire to police vehicles, damaged public property and mobs stormed army commanders’ compounds in Lahore and Rawalpindi.
However, a few days after the military’s intention to use military law on civilians became public, events took a rapid turn. Peaceful rallies expressing solidarity with the military took center stage.
How did an army of about 140,000 men become the seventh most powerful army in the world at the time of the partition of India in 1947?
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan (right) accuses former army chief General Qamar Bajwa of ousting him from power before completing his term. Anjum Naved/AP
one army with one state
Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has been under military dictatorship for a total of 34 years. While not directly in power, military elites have operated carefully in hybrid regimes, exerting influence on civilian governments from behind the scenes.
The British colonial legacy has played a significant role in shaping Pakistan’s military today. British generals continued to lead Pakistan’s military until 1951, when authority was transferred to General Ayub Khan. Just seven years later, Ayub became the second President of Pakistan through a military coup.
This foundation led to the establishment of the spy agency Inter Services Intelligence in 1948. It gained notable influence in the 1980s, when the US waged a covert war in Afghanistan using Pakistan as a proxy against the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This period also saw the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, an elected Prime Minister.
This was followed by an era of religious extremism under the leadership of General Zia-ul-Haq. This reinforced Pakistan’s obsession with an intervention in Afghanistan with “strategic depth”.
In the following years, Pakistan saw the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, an elected prime minister under the rule of General Pervez Musharraf. It was a time of enforced disappearance of civilian dissidents. Pakistan also became a safe haven for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden while receiving funding from the US as a frontline ally in the war on terrorism.
Pakistan’s Army Chief General Asim Munir hosted Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaki in Islamabad last week. Inter Services Public Relations/AP
Pakistan’s military received substantial financial assistance from the US during the Cold War. This increased its power domestically while allowing it to undertake adventures abroad to which it was unaccountable.
Traces of Pakistani military involvement can also be seen in the Arab conflicts and Bangladesh “rape camps”.
Military immunity to hyperinflation in Pakistan
Pakistan is on the verge of an economic meltdown, weighed down by harsh pay-back conditions from international lenders. With only A$5.2 billion worth of state reserves and a loan of over A$13.5 billion to the International Monetary Fund, the military nevertheless received an increase of A$11.27 billion in the previous year’s budget.
Between 2011 and 2015 alone, the army’s assets have increased by 78 percent. As of 2016, the armed forces in Pakistan run more than 50 commercial entities, including public sector organizations and real estate ventures worth $30 billion. Today, his business assets exceed A$39.8 billion.
Top military officials, including former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and army spokesman General Asim Saleem Bajwa, have experienced significant financial gains within a relatively short period of time. Bajwa’s immediate family amassed substantial wealth, becoming billionaires within six years.
General Asim Saleem Bajwa and his brother established a business empire consisting of 133 restaurants in four countries, operating under the Papa John’s Pizza franchise. An investigation into real estate corruption was also launched by the brothers of former army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who was for many years the most powerful man in the country.
The Pandora Papers exposed a long list of former Pakistan military officers who amassed immense wealth through tax evasion and corruption.
Over time, the military’s economic interests have gained prominence. This includes military-owned businesses, significant onshore and offshore land and property holdings, influence on defense contracts, as well as alleged involvement in undertakings linked to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects.
The military’s influence in Pakistan goes beyond politics and the economy. To control information dissemination, the military employs a combination of traditional and social media censorship. It also uses harsh laws with vague words.
Former female Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December 2007 in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. Emilio Morenatti/AP
These laws effectively criminalize any form of “ridicule” directed at the military, with severe penalties such as long prison sentences and heavy fines. Slain journalist Arshad Sharif was charged with “sedition” under similar laws for allegedly spreading hatred against the army and disrespecting state institutions.
As a nuclear state, the Pakistan Army is like Voltaire’s description of Frederick II of Prussia: it is a state unto itself, benefiting from its sheer size, immense wealth and an advantageous geopolitical position.
The military’s rise to power in Pakistan is linked to the cultivation of a collectivist ethos that portrays politics as inherently corrupt, while positioning itself as the sole bastion of probity, discipline and nationalism.
It is because of this view that despite corruption within the military, it has successfully distanced itself from the prevailing political culture, which is characterized by kinship ties, factionalism, patronage networks and most importantly corruption.