Pak's hybrid regime a betrayal of Imran Khan's previous stand against military

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan

Islamabad [Pakistan], May 8 (ANI): Though Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to clip the military's wings in the name of democratic reform, today, his Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf (PTI) has become everything he claimed to stand against, a de-facto hybrid martial law regime where ex-soldiers dominate key civilian government posts and dictate foreign policy.

The military establishment has largely assumed a direct role in managing the country's economy, politics and now day-to-day administration through its now leading role in containing a new outbreak of COVID-19, Salman Rafi Sheikh writes for Asia Times.

A report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) last month depicted a distressing portrait of the state of human development in Pakistan by noting that "powerful groups" in the country enjoyed privileges valued at roughly 7 per cent of the country's GDP.

The military, which ruled the country for half of Pakistan's history, receives privileges of over $1.7 billion in the form of preferential access to land, capital and infrastructure, as well as tax exemptions, the report said.

It further mentioned that the Pakistani military is "one of the largest conglomerates of business entities in the country, besides being the country's biggest urban real estate developer and manager with wide-ranging involvement in the construction of public projects".

Furthermore, top ex-soldiers have secured many top-flight positions including as ambassadors, with the most recent being the appointment of retired Lieutenant General Bilal Akbar as the nation's top envoy to Saudi Arabia, reported Asia Times.

Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Bajwa's recently reported secret meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Pakistan, his recent visit to Saudi Arabia and his frequent meetings with foreign ambassadors are also evidence of how the military is now effectively running Pakistan's external affairs.

Imran Khan's PTI government continues to defend these appointments, claiming that ex-military personnel are more "disciplined" and even more "competent" than civilians. The deployment of troops in major cities to enforce COVID-19 containment measures also speaks volumes about how close the military establishment is to their one-time adversary Khan, writes Sheikh.

Last month, the armed troops were called to crackdown on banned radical organisation Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan's (TLP) violent protests in wake of the police's inability to contain protesters who had taken several officers hostage.

If the crisis had been allowed to deteriorate, it would have inflicted serious damage to the political credibility and capacity of the PTI government and given the political opposition a new rallying point to call for Khan's resignation and fresh national elections, wrote Sheikh for Asia Times.

However, when the army was called in 2018 to contain the same TLP, whose sit-in in Islamabad was result of the military establishment's interference in politics, it blatantly refused to deploy its troops "against its own fellow Pakistanis" and advised the then-Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government to resolve the matter through negotiations.

This was due to PML-N's bitter opposition to the military's political role and thus, the army allowed the crisis to weaken the civilian government.

Sheikh opined that Pakistan's descent into a hybrid martial law regime has major implications for the polity, noting that the military establishment has effectively managed to turn around constitutional changes that were implemented to block future military coups and suspensions of democracy.

The army's direct involvement in politics has also largely reversed Pakistan's democratic progress, even as the opposition continues to fight back. (ANI)

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