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By giving General Bajwa an extension, Imran Khan has lost the leverage he held

If Imran Khan is unable to deliver, the military will replace him even before he gets to say ‘what’.

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When Imran Khan rode to power on the support of General Qamar Javed Bajwa and his team in July last year, everybody knew that the Pakistan Army chief was here to stay. His tenure extension was a foregone conclusion. Yet for a whole year, much air time and ink were spent on debating a question that was moot.

Now that the extension has been announced, Imran Khan has lost the leverage he held.

Contrary to what most experts and Pakistanis think, and indeed what Imran Khan himself thinks – that Imran Khan is here to stay for nine more years – I believe he has become more dispensable now than ever before and has plausibly shortened his own political life with this extension to General Bajwa.

PM & army chief on same page

In Pakistan’s history, military dictators have often decided their own tenures, be it Ayub Khan, Zia-ul-Haq or Pervez Musharraf. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was the first army chief to get an extension under a civilian government, but only after a tug of war between the civilian president and the military chief.

But this time, the civilian and the military heads were on the ‘same page’ on General Bajwa’s extension. It was a historical first for a prime minister in Pakistan wanting to give an extension to the army chief to assure his own political survival, as he hangs on to power by a thin majority cobbled together for him by the army chief and his team.

Sources close to Imran Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), say that General Bajwa’s extension became a matter of discussion right after the party came to power.

And according to senior journalist Talat Hussain, by March this year, the question was not whether the extension would be given, but for how long.

Also read: Imran Khan was right. Modi did resolve the Kashmir issue once and for all: Reham Khan

The General’s hubris

Yet, it wasn’t as linear and straightforward as it may seem now.

Many believed that General Bajwa to an extent was also dependent on Imran Khan. After all, Khan now possessed the ultimate power – he could choose not to extend the General’s tenure.

And the dynamics of this power equation played out interestingly over the last few months.

So, opposition leadersbureaucrats, and several other people were placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) and charged with corruption, and put away in prison awaiting trial. Many of them had never criticised and resisted the ‘miltablishment’ nor were they caught in its crosshairs. In fact, many of them are even known to be close to the military.

So, what went wrong?

I called up one such person who had ended up on the ECL with ‘trumped up’ corruption charges despite having cordial relations with the military. How did this happen? I asked.

I found his response entirely unbelievable: “Gul, things are not linear. It’s a game of give and take (between military and the PM)”.

Imran Khan was getting to be the playground bully and punching above his weight, being vindictive with the opposition or whoever came in his way, because he held the key to General Bajwa’s extension.

It would be entirely reasonable to ask why the Pakistan Army chief would be so desperate to please Khan to ensure his own extension when he could easily get rid of the puppet and put another less demanding yes man in his place and get the extension.

The answer to that lies in the General’s hubris to prove that his choice of Prime Minister is right – to change him so soon would be an admission of a huge blunder. It’s another matter that all the key positions in the Imran Khan cabinet have now been taken over by military’s men and women.

Also read: Imran Khan used Modi excuse to give Bajwa extension. But General can’t save him from rivals

Puppet and the puppeteer

According to the commonly held belief, with General Bajwa getting a three-year extension and Lt Gen Faiz Hameed being appointed as the ISI chief (he is tipped to be the next army chief), Imran Khan is set to rule for two terms easily.

But I contend ‘ye hava kisi ki nahi’ (this wind belongs to none) – the wind is a metaphor for military loyalty. If Imran Khan is unable to deliver, or if the military takes fancy to another politician-in-the-making, it will replace him before he gets a chance to say ‘what’.

The more important question here is not how long the political puppet will last, but how long will be the political tenure of the puppeteer.

Months before his retirement, the 21-gun salute to the Pakistani General in the US signalled Trump administration’s support for an extension. The US President has clearly put his eggs in General Bajwa’s basket to provide his country a face-saving exit from Afghanistan.

The UK also appears to have bought Bajwa’s pitch, hook, line, and sinker despite history advising against it.

What remains to be seen is whether the General has the will or the capacity to actually deliver on the wild promises he made to the US and the UK that helped bolster his bid for longevity.

Also read: New ISI chief Faiz Hameed a manipulator picked by army chief Bajwa to be his master’s voice

The author is a Pakistani columnist and human rights defender. Views are personal.

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  1. Gul is angry that chacha Zardari is in prison! Enough said.
    No wait!!! Adi Talpur is in prison too….

    More where that came from!

  2. Amazing piece of conspiracy theory. I agree with the RealPolitik ingredient of the analysis that Bajwa’s extension gave stability to Imran government but the insinuation that this is somehow bad or ‘immoral’ is nonsense. Good move but biased analysis.

  3. Gen Ayub Khan was the first pakistani military chief who got extension in service from a civilian ruler Gen kiyani was second

  4. Yes, it seems possible. It is the US pressure on Pakistan which is responsible for extension to Gen Bazawa. For the time being, all three, namely Imran, US and Bazawa seem to be on same wavelength, but how long? Here any nonstate actors active in the AfPak region, which are supported by all or anyone of the three, can spoil the game.

  5. What a Wonderfull piece of yellow journalism or as we call Lifafa journalism. Now India can only wish to show the world that he is not elected bcz Hazaron kawaish asi ke her kawaish pe jan nikle. One advice for “The Print” please get used of Imran khan bcz he is here to stay. If you want to see how independent Pakistani journalists are, then just see how this writer was able to say all this against Mititary & IK but still able to live in PK. Now show some guts and report on actual situation in Kashmir.

    • Are you actually trying to insinuate that press is free in Pakistan? it due to this free press that numerous channels, newspapers get shut down periodically on a whim?..or is it this free press that gets a Pemra notice to ‘must talk on kashmir’ and ‘must not talk or show interviews of the opposition?!!? How about you guys show some guts and report on actual situation in Ex FATA? Why have the PTM leaders been arrested without evidence (real evidence) or a trial? Glasshouses and stones my friend!
      Btw we thought Pakistanis were hospitable people…all this talk for just 1 cup of tea? While we shared 90K cups of tea, food, even did rightful burials which you wouldn’t, but never mentioned it! Now you can go back to your handlers to get new instructions.

  6. I must compliment ThePrint for the fine selection of writers from Pakistan. I hope Ms. Bukhari stays safe and continues to write fearlessly.

  7. From what I understand Pakistan military decide by consensus at the corps commanders’ level. Extending Bajwa for another three years may have set the resentment brewing within the 3-Star army chief hopefuls. So, it’s unlikely that IK will have a trouble-free inning going forward. Already IK has earned the title of U-turn Khan, and even after crushed by the weight of the big Boots the opposition is still gaining enough ground support to have their voice heard.
    The PM and the Army may be on the same page but the page belong to the Army!

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