Asif Haroon Raja
The US high-handed tactics
The US in its bid to keep the world under its hegemony, uses its military might, diplomatic clout and other coercive tools to terrify the third world countries and till now has been quite successful. It has managed to install puppet regimes in the developing countries and whichever ruler defied its dictates was either removed from power or assassinated.
Regimes have been changed by the US either through invasions, or fomenting insurgency or a political movement, or with the help of the military or the politicians in opposition.
Ups & downs in Pak-US relations
Pakistan has remained in the camp of the US since 1954 and had become its most allied ally. Pakistan first leaned towards China after seeing the discriminatory behavior of the US in the aftermath of Sino-India border clash in 1962, and then in the 1965 war. Pak-China friendship steadily grew stronger because the US preferred India over Pakistan.
The US tilt toward India became more pronounced after 1990 and both became strategic partners. Pakistan became the most sanctioned country due to which its robust economy dwindled and never stabilized. The US highly discriminatory policy compelled Pakistan to forge strategic relationship with China and to normalize relations with Russia.
It is in this backdrop that Pakistan under former PM Imran Khan (IK) started shedding off the magic spell of Washington by making its foreign policy independent. The change came from ‘do more to no more to absolutely not’ and refusal to give a military base to the imperious USA. IK declined the invitation of Biden to attend the democracy summit, attended Olympics ceremony in Beijing and visited Moscow last February against the wishes of the US. Pakistan adopted a neutral policy over the issue of Ukraine and abstained from voting in the UN. Pakistan is extending support to Afghanistan which is undergoing humanitarian crisis. All these acts coupled with IK’s inclination to make Pakistan an Islamic welfare state displeased Joe Biden and in anger he never phoned him.
In keeping with its old tradition, the US launched a regime change operation in order to replace the IK regime with a compliant regime. The regime change is a prelude to the bigger game plan, the objectives of which were framed after 9/11. Before going for Pakistan’s nuclear program, the next objective would be to separate Baluchistan.
Pakistan’s inanities and dependence upon the USA
Ever since Pakistan got wedded with the USA, it has gone through painful experiences. It has paid a heavy price for its mistake to put all its eggs in the basket of double-dealing USA. The US has used it for achieving its short term objectives and then discarded it like a used tissue paper. It has been constantly meddling into the internal affairs of Pakistan to keep it in line.
It was easy for the US to treat Pakistan as its satellite state since all the military and political leaders of Pakistan pursued a policy of appeasement to keep the imperialist USA in good humor. The politicians and the media in Pakistan sell their souls and make compromises on national interests cheaply. Our political leaders have been seeking American help whenever in distress, or blamed the military establishment for their misfortunes. Some even sought India’s help.
The 9-party Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), which later on morphed into a 13-party alliance built a narrative against the ruling PTI regime that it was a party selected by the military establishment and due to its incompetence, inflation and prices spiraled to record breaking levels in its 3 ½ years tenure, the economy slumped, and the lives of the people became wretched. The establishment was jeered over its poor selection.
Once the ruling regime failed to fulfil its tall promises and couldn’t provide any relief to the masses, the narrative of the PDM began to appeal to the senses of the disillusioned people. Their growing resentment galvanized the spirits of the PDM. As long as the military was on one-page with the ruling party, the PDM remained weak and divided, but no sooner the military became neutral, the squabbling opposition rived in infighting parties got united.
Suspected financial support of the US to the PDM could be another reason of their boosted spirits. The two major parties PML-N and PPP used the dirty money generously on horse trading to win over the loyalties of PTI’s dissident MNAs and to entice the allies of the PTI — MQM-P, PML-Q and BAP as well as Jahangir Tareen-Aleem groups to their side.
The conspiratorial letter
Pakistan’s outgoing Ambassador in Washington Asad Majeed sent a telegraphic cable to the Foreign Office on March 7, giving details of his meeting with the US undersecretary of South Asian Affairs Donald Lu. The latter expressed his discomfiture over IK’s visit to Moscow and Pakistan abstaining from voting in the UN to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine. He stated that if he didn’t mend his ways, a No-Confidence Motion (NCM) would be brought against him.
He summed up by saying that any regime other than IK would be acceptable and forgivable. The threat was conveyed openly since never before any Pakistani civil or military leader had defied the dictates of Washington.
Battle for regime change
The battle for regime change started after the PDM moved a NCM on March 8. The PTI didn’t attach much importance to the ‘letter-gate’, since such threats had been a routine affair. Above all, it didn’t want to lose the support of some of its MNAs suspected of being part of the conspiracy.
Alarm bells sounded when ten dissidents of PTI took refuge in Sindh House (SH) Islamabad on March 18. The renegades were shifted to Marriott Hotel after the SH was stormed by the activists of PTI. The opposition claimed that as many as 25 PTI members had been taken on board.
The PTI after failing to win back the loyalties of the deserters, moved a case in the apex court to disqualify the floor crossers but couldn’t evoke a positive response since the accusation was based on conjectures. The other reason given was that the court didn’t want to meddle into the parliamentary affairs.
Foreign conspiracy card
Learning that loyalties of some of the PTI allies had become doubtful, it became obvious that the dice had upturned in favor of the opposition. IK and his core team decided to play the foreign conspiracy narrative as a rearguard action, which was not a concoction. This narrative was played since the military establishment and the ISI had decided to remain neutral and to stay out of politics.
IK assembled a huge crowd of his fans at Islamabad on March 27 and waved a letter stating that the US had hatched a conspiracy to remove him from power. Evidence of all the meetings of PDM leaders with the US officials in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi was collected. A campaign was launched against the floor crossers propagating that crores of Rupees had been doled out to them and the fence sitters.
Purpose was to establish a connection of the masterminds with the PDM leaders and the dissidents, to put the USA on the defensive, shame the conspirators, to put fear into the hearts of the dissidents, and build a narrative to win the sympathies of the public that he was being punished on account of pursuing an independent foreign policy.
IK didn’t explain as to why this important letter was not discussed in the right quarters from March 8 to March 29. One reason could be that he was hopeful of winning back the loyalties of his party dissidents.
The contents of the letter were eventually discussed in the National Security Council (NSC) on March 30. The participants agreed that the language of the letter was undiplomatic. Based on their inputs, the case was brought before the Parliamentary Security Committee on March 31. A demarche was given to the US charge d’ affairs in Islamabad, and also in Washington, which happened for the first time.
Foreign Minister Qureshi during his visit to Beijing brought the matter into the notice of his counterpart. China made an announcement that it will not accept another round of cold war in this region.
Last ditch effort to save the crown
Seeing the writing on the wall that the PDM had won the number game, instead of getting depressed or exercising one of the options of resigning, or dissolving the National Assembly (NA), or facing the NCM, IK remained in a fighting mood and asserted that he will fight till the last ball. He also talked of a big surprise. No one could guess as to what surprise he could spring. Most thought that having lost the political battle, he was bluffing.
Vote of no-confidence – April 3
The session of the NA was held in the morning of April 3, but to the utter surprise of the opposition leaders who were 100% sure of victory in the voting, the deputy Speaker Qasim Suri after listening to the charge sheet of conspiracy and treason under Article 5 of the constitution by the newly appointed law minister Fawad Choudhry, read out the prepared script and rejected the NCM in a huff.
It left the 190 members of the opposition gaping in disbelief. The Speaker reconfirmed the ruling of his deputy. Soon after, the PM dissolved the NA. The waiting President completed the last formality by issuing the dissolution notification. All this was preplanned and executed within minutes.
The opposition leaders had remained so engrossed in buying the loyalties of MNAs and in completing the numbers, and were so excited to have collected much more votes than was required that they never took into consideration this sort of a bombshell which would paralyze them.
What was intriguing was that instead of rejoicing the exit of the PTI which had become a nightmare for them, the whole lot of opposition members along with the turncoats got demoralized as if victory had been stolen from them. What was most disquieting for them was that the tag of ‘Ghadars’ (traitors) was added to the tag of ‘Thieves & Looters’. Master stroke played by IK left his opponents and their patrons aghast.
What worried the opposition was that things had gone against the script. IK had come out of the ‘do or die battle’ as a victor since he had built a strong narrative to win the empathies of his voters. His theme of ‘victim of foreign conspiracy’, and his boldness to expose the conspirators would help him to sweep the next elections. His popularity graph had fallen considerably, shot up as was seen from the recent local body’s poll results.
There was complete political breakdown compounded by a constitutional crisis. Finding themselves in a quandary, the legal wizards of the two mainstream opposition parties rushed to the Supreme Court (SC) and submitted petitions to declare the ruling of Qasim Suri illegal and to reincarnate the dead government.
The SC Bar Council insisted upon the SC to take suo-moto notice and take up the issue on Sunday. The 190 PDM legislators and defectors raved mad for being dubbed as traitors. They argued that if the matter was so sensitive, why such a belated action, and why only a demarche, and why not an apology was sought from the US?
The battle shifted from the parliament to the SC. It was quite strange that the SC which had rejected the petition of the PTI seeking decision over the defection clause saying that it was the internal matter of the parliament, this time agreed within an hour to assemble a bench on Sunday to discuss the verdict given by the deputy speaker duly authenticated by the speaker.
The chief justice Bandiyal called a meeting of senior judges at his house on holiday and held discussions with them. The five-member bench held sessions daily and gave the unanimous ruling on April 7. It declared the ruling of the deputy speaker unconstitutional and against the law. It restored the NA and directed the Speaker to complete the process of voting on April 9, starting 10.30 am. It was now the turn of the opposition leaders to celebrate and for the PTI to feel dejected.
The ‘letter-gate’ bomb was not considered a serious matter by the SC. Washington denied the allegation. IK after losing the legal battle complained that the US-inspired conspiracy had been legitimized and the traitors let off the hook.
Day of high drama
April 9 was a day of high drama. The proceedings of NA started on time but the Speaker Qaiser instead of holding voting allowed the PTI legislators to resort to delaying tactics by playing up the conspiracy theory and further ratcheting the jangled nerves of the opposition and provoking them to create a ruckus. The hide and seek play went on until near midnight. The purpose could be either to avoid the voting, which was not possible since the SC had given the date and cutout time of voting. The Speaker knew that if he didn’t comply with the court orders before 2400 hours, he would be proceeded against under the charge of contempt of court.
The only possible motive behind the inordinate delay could be to cause nervous breakdown to the dissidents, forcing them in sheer panic to revert to the treasury benches.
The jittery NCM movers contemplated approaching the apex court to arrest the obstinate Speaker. After 2300 hours, the doors of the SC and of the IHC opened up; additional security forces and prisoner buses arrived. At about 2330 hours, the COAS and the DG ISI landed in the PM House in a helicopter and held a meeting with the PM. These fast paced developments gave rise to many tantalizing rumors.
At that belated stage the Speaker after meeting the PM stated that the PM had handed him the US letter which can be read by any member in his chamber. He ended the proceedings melodramatically minutes before 2400 hours by resigning from his seat and inviting former Speaker of PML-N Ayaz Sadiq to complete the proceedings. The latter conducted the voting in which the opposition bagged 174 votes.
For the first time in Pakistan’s history an elected PM was voted out of power through NCM. IK’s premature ouster upheld the track record that no PM could complete five years tenure.
To be concluded
The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence, security & political analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, takes part in TV talk shows, and delivers talks.
Regime change in Pakistan
Asif Haroon Raja
Change of guards
On April 11, the opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif (SS) was elected as the new PM; he secured 174 votes. The PTI boycotted the voting. SS straightaway announced a relief package in the form of 10% increase in pensions and fixed Rs 25000 as minimum wage for the laborer effective from April, but soon the date was shifted from April to May. When President Alvi regretted conducting the oath taking ceremony of the PM on April 12, the Chairman Senate Sanjrani performed this duty. Stock exchange became bullish and the Rupee value appreciated.
Oath taking ceremony of the new cabinet members numbering 34 from different coalition partners was again performed by the Senate Chairman.
Responding to the call given by Imran Khan (IK), the people came out on the streets on the night of 10/11 April. Huge rallies were taken out all over the country and in western countries to record their protest against the decision of the Supreme Court (SC). They glowed their mobile torches, carried placards and chanted slogans in favor of IK and against the army, the US and the incoming rulers. Social media launched a vicious propaganda campaign to smear the image of Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. The BBC issued a frivolous report giving manufactured details of the happenings in the PM House on the night of April 9.
An impression has been built as if the army’s top leadership was part of the plot of regime change. Concocted stories and fake audio tapes of senior generals circulated on social media to discredit the army. Letter-gate scandal is being drummed up fiercely.
The top brass of the army took a serious note of the anti-army vilification campaign and the circulating myths and notions by some quarters to malign the institution, aimed at driving a wedge between army and the society. They expressed their concern in the annual formation commanders conference presided by Gen Bajwa on April 12 and pledged to uphold the constitution and rule of law at all costs and to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan against all external and external threats with full force.
DG ISPR’s Press Briefing
After the conference in GHQ, the DG ISPR Maj Gen Iftikhar Babar held a press briefing on April 14 and made an effort to put the record straight and to dispel the misperceptions. An impression has been built by the ousted PTI that Gen Bajwa was part of the conspiracy to make the vote of no confidence successful. The factor of ‘establishment’s neutrality’ has become a sour point.
He clarified that the US had never asked for a military base; there will be no martial law; Gen Bajwa didn’t seek extension in service; there is no division within the army; army stays out of politics; options were not given to the former PM by the army chief, but those were put forward by the government and the establishment was asked to resolve the political crisis; the PM visit to Moscow was in consultation with the GHQ; the word ‘conspiracy’ was not written in the cable sent by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington; a demarche was sent to Washington on account of the undiplomatic language used by the US undersecretary, which was noted as interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs. Lastly, the nuclear program is in safe hands.
Veterans tilt towards Imran Khan
The briefing did help in deflecting the anti-army tirade but didn’t cool down the tempers of the PTI activists and fans inside and outside the country. A new debate over the subtle difference between the words ‘conspiracy’ and ‘interference’ has been generated. For many, it amounts to the same.
What is worrying for the army top brass is that never before the veterans openly expressed their affections for IK and their resentment against the establishment’s interference or neutrality. These feelings were discernible within a segment of serving officers as well. Gen Bajwa’s speech at Islamabad Security Dialogue on April 17 favoring the US and condemning Russian invasion of Ukraine at a time when the alleged US conspiracy theory was the hottest topic was not well received.
Gen Bajwa’s address in Lahore
To cool down their emotions, Gen Bajwa had to address officers in Rawalpindi and Lahore garrisons. At Lahore the interaction went on for over four hours during which he had to answer hundreds of loaded questions. The crux of his briefing was that IK had been helped in forming governments in Islamabad and in Punjab, he was guided at every step to improve his policies, and he stood committed to the one-page doctrine, ignoring the banter and accusations leveled by the opposition. He shared his difficulties saying that IK never listened to the advice rendered, didn’t change the chief ministers of KP and Punjab, and wasted all his energies in chasing his political opponents instead of focusing on economics and governance. He candidly admitted that the tiff developed over the posting out of DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz in last August.
His concluding remarks that he will welcome IK if he gets elected in next elections which are not far and will extend full cooperation raised eyebrows. By the time the elections are held, either he would be attending farewell dinners in Oct/Nov or would have joined the retired club. The onus of cooperation or non-cooperation will be on the new chief and not him.
The PTI ex minister Fawad spilled the beans and laid to rest the conspiracy theory on April 20 by stating that his party’s ouster was the result of strained ties with the establishment which couldn’t be repaired despite concerted efforts.
Imran Khan’s backlash
Imran Khan in the meanwhile gave a call to his party activists, followers and fans to stage a protest over the ouster of his party on the night of 10/11 April. The response was overwhelming.
His narrative is that he had been punished for refusing to toe the US dictates, to meet the CIA Director and to give a base to the CIA, to condemn Russia and to make Pakistan’s foreign policy independent. He is lashing out at his political opponents and his party dissidents who had floored his party with the help of the USA. He has held public meetings in Peshawar, Karachi and Lahore in which the attendance was mammoth.
IK fiery speeches in the public meetings were emotive and provocative and amounted to incitement to violence. IK’s charisma that had peaked in Oct 2011 has once again catapulted with a big bang.
He will keep increasing the temperature and will restart politics of non-cooperation and agitation to fail the government. He is demanding early elections, or else he would block the whole country. True to his words, he is proving more dangerous to his opponents after being ousted from power.
While he abstained from ridiculing the army, he stated that neither the army nor any external power could safeguard the country and democracy but the people were the real defenders and saviors.
New Government’s challenges
For the new government, the plate is full to the brim with a plethora of compound problems. Each member has to remove the tag of ‘traitor’ for which a probe committee has been formed. Immediate challenges will be depleting foreign exchange reserves, soaring public debt, foreign debt, trade imbalance, fiscal deficit, current account deficit, and the new budget in May.
Managing the cabal of 12 political parties that were part of the PDM, each hungering for lucrative cabinet seats will be taxing for the new PM SS who took oath on April 12. He had to labor hard for a week to convince the coalition partners to accept the allotted ministries and take oaths of their offices. The PPP got the lion’s share and is still aspiring for the seats of President, Chairman Senate and at least two seats of governors.
Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, the two leaders of PTM showed their intent by brazenly expressing their resentment over the air strikes carried out against the hideouts of the TTP in Khost and Kunar. Akhtar Mengal felt so bitter over the security forces operation against the terrorists in Chaghi that he didn’t attend the oath taking ceremony. The BNP-M, and ANP didn’t accept any portfolios in the cabinet due to their reservations. Cooperation of BNP-M and PTM will be conditional to Pak Army’s disassociation from counter terrorism, and support of the MQM-P will be subject to meeting their 7-point demands, most important of which is reopening their offices in Karachi.
In other words, Akhtar Mengal would insist upon withdrawal of Frontier Corps and ISI/MI from interior Balochistan. The PTM would seek withdrawal of the army from former FATA, and the MQM would like the wings of Sindh Rangers to be clipped and influence of Altaf’s unit/sector commanders to return. Both the PPP and the PML-N would be interested in defanging the NAB, and in civilianizing the ISI. The ANP is still tied to the agenda of Pashtunistan. The PTM and the ANP are likely to get close to the Taliban regime in Kabul, ignite Pakhtun nationalism, and foment misgivings between Pakistan and Afghanistan. They would thus facilitate the CIA’s job to do the rest.
While restoring the health of the sick economy is the biggest challenge, SS main worry would be how to keep the greedy allies appeased and united, and above all how to deal with the confrontational politics of PTI. The government is pinning hopes on the foreign funding case against the PTI pending in the ECP court since 2016 which is being concluded within a month. It is hoping that if the decision goes against the party, it could pave the way for its disbandment.
As a tit-for-tat, a series of corruption cases would be initiated against the PTI leaders. Unlike the last tenure of PML-N in which it was very soft towards the vandalism of the PTI, this time it would handle them more firmly. They will be dealt with the way the TLP activists were brutalized by the former regime.
The political situation in Punjab is still in choppy waters. After the physical brawl in the provincial assembly in which the Deputy Speaker and the Speaker Pervez Elahi were injured on the day of voting, the Governor Punjab Cheema belonging to PTI refused to give oath to the newly elected Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz son of SS. He cancelled the resignation of former chief minister Buzdar on technical grounds. The PTI’s President Alvi has so far ignored the request of the PM to de-notify Cheema. It’s a complete muddle.
Points to ponder over
Would it not have been better if the PTI was allowed to complete its tenure? There would have been no conspiracy card, horse trading, upwelling of anti-army emotions and character assassination of the army chief, IK’s popularity wouldn’t have got a shot in the arm, and Pakistan would have been saved from a national regime comprising ill-reputed parliamentarians. Barring the newcomers, almost all other cabinet ministers are on bail and court cases are pending against them.
Interestingly, the IMF wants the entire federal cabinet to declare their assets, bank accounts, tax returns and business details. This is the biggest bombshell dropped upon the plunderers.
The big question is whether fresh elections would resolve the chronic problems? Whenever elections are held, the losers will not accept the results and the tug of war will recommence. With tainted institutions, and soiled politicians and bureaucrats, no progress is possible, whether the next regime will be of PML-N or the PTI. It will suffer a similar fate with zero results. Pakistan will continue to lurch from one crisis to another and the foreign conspirators will continue to play the game of snake and ladders with our mini mind leaders.
The only way out is to carry out electoral, judicial, bureaucratic, police, economic and education reforms. These cannot be done by a single political party or a weak coalition. The incumbent regime comprising politicians from different parties, backgrounds and ideologies, with some branded as anti-Pakistan, looters, money launderers and criminals, not much can be expected. The case is akin to the adage, “too many cooks will spoil the broth”.
SS’s speed and efficiency would be hugely hindered by the selfish coalition partners, confrontational politics of the PTI, and the tainted reputation of the judiciary and the police.
Would the conciliatory comments of Gen Qamar Bajwa and change in regime ease tensions with the US and alter the interventionist and bossy policy of Washington? The answer is a big NO. The only possible change could be that the US, IMF and the EU become helpful and a bit more generous, the FATF removes Pakistan from the grey list.
Generosity of the US will of course not be cost free. Would Pakistan cede to the US demand for a military base or airspace, and if so, what impact will it have on Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan and China?
What effects Gen Bajwa’s harsh comments will have upon Pakistan’s relations with Russia, which promised oil and grains at a cheap price, and resolving gas shortages? Vladimir Putin instead of reacting, showed grace by congratulating the new PM.
Would falling back into the magic spell of the US change the objectives of the Indo-US-Israel nexus against Pakistan? Do we still consider the trio harmless and friends of Pakistan?
So far the vibes from China are positive. Rejuvenation of CPEC at a faster pace is the only way to recover our economy and to make Pakistan self-reliant.
If the incumbent regime tries to delay elections, the PTI is likely to again repeat its old tactics of long march after Ramadhan, and this time stage sit-in at Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi and Quetta in an attempt to paralyze the state machinery. If so, will it be possible for the law enforcement agencies to block the sea of people from different directions?
Taking into consideration the exceptionally high emotions of the people, is the stage not getting set for chaos and anarchy? Will the establishment remain neutral in the face of building volcanoes?
The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence, security & political analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, takes part in TV talk shows, and delivers talks.