Pakistan Army is unwilling to spare Imran Khan or his supporters, defenders, and protectors, especially in the judiciary
As long as the government and the Army stay within the four corners of the constitution and law, there is little that can be done about the judges who are stymying action against Imran and his stormtroopers.The problem, however, is that it is not quite clear what ‘iron hands’ the Army can deploy to remove the ‘obstructions’ placed in its path by the judiciary. As long as the government and the Army stay within the four corners of the constitution and law, there is little that can be done about the judges who are stymying action against Imran and his stormtroopers. This is probably the first time when the Pakistan Army has faced a situation in which the judges are not quite towing the line set by the General Headquarters. In the past, the judges would always be on the same side as the military. This was because often the crackdown on political activists and leaders would follow a military coup. If the judges did not fall in line with the diktat of the dictator, they were eased out. But this time, the judiciary is split between judges who are quite brazenly backing Imran Khan and his supporters and those who are not taking any sides. The former bunch of judges is led by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial. Supporting him are about half a dozen other Supreme Court judges. In the Islamabad and Lahore High Courts also, Imran is finding support. The joke doing the rounds in Pakistan is that the rule of law has been replaced by the rule of in-laws in the country—the son-in-law of the Lahore High Court Chief Justice is a former lawmaker from Punjab, the mother-in-law of the Chief Justice is a strong supporter of Imran as is the rest of his family—and other judges have expressed their allegiance to Imran Khan and his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in social media posts. Clearly, the kind of relief being given by the judges—blanket bails disallowing any arrest under any circumstances, dismissing cases without hearing any arguments, mass bails to arrested activists—is creating a situation in which something is going to give. If the government stretches or tears the law and pushes its way to get rid of the judges who do not fall in line, it will have serious repercussions; if it does not, the military might take matters into its hands and either flout the orders of the court or even roll up the entire system—a putsch.
The ISPR statement seems to smack of an effort to project the Army as being united—a somewhat forced unity—behind the chief General Asim Munir.The tough stand taken by the Army has not, however, settled the niggling doubts about how much the rank and file is in tune with the top brass. Imran is believed to still enjoy support within the army and army families. Many might not be openly supporting Imran because it can create problems for them, but the support exists. The ISPR statement seems to smack of an effort to project the Army as being united—a somewhat forced unity—behind the chief General Asim Munir. In the past, the Army would never find the needs to issue such a long-winded statement to drive home its message. There is also an element of helpless flailing in the statement in the hope that Imran and the judges see light of the day and succumb to the threats being made by the Army. After all, if the military could have gotten what it wanted, it would have long back. That it is having to present a united face by taking all the formation commanders on board means that it does not have too many options under the law, even less so if the judiciary does not play ball, which so far it is not. Imran, meanwhile, continues to remain defiant despite his party being dismantled piece by piece. Even the multitude of cases against him, including a murder case in which he has been implicated, bringing back memories of the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. According to some reports, Imran believes that there could either be a mutiny in the Army against General Asim Munir or some other pressures that could force the Army to back down and catapult him back into play. This is mostly wishful thinking on his part. But it is also undeniable that there is growing resentment both in the classes as well as in the masses over the crackdown by the military. The arrests of family members, including women and parents, to pressurise leaders and workers to surrender are not going down well. The heavy-handedness has even resulted in the arrest of the father of a leading member of the Pakistan Peoples Party just because some of his relatives are still in PTI. The dragging away of a former governor whose son is a close associate of Imran Khan has also created waves. In smaller towns and cities, the crackdown is even more brazen—houses are being broken into and vandalised by the police and family members are being abused, physically and verbally. While the long term impact of such measures will certainly rankle and affect the image and standing of the Army in Punjab, in the immediate, there is a danger of these ham-handed tactics boomeranging.
The dragging away of a former governor whose son is a close associate of Imran Khan has also created waves.For now, the expectation, or apprehension, is that Imran will most likely be arrested and all efforts will be made to break him in jail. If he is finished politically—it is not going to be enough to dismantle his party and denude it of all big names—he might have some slack cut for him; if he remains politically relevant, then all bets are off on what happens to him next.
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Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. His published works include: Balochistan: Forgotten War, Forsaken People (Monograph, 2017) Corridor Calculus: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor & China’s comprador ...Read More +