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Fighting to heal fractures in Pakistan Army, ISI chief assails Imran in 1st ever press meet

Imran has been attacking General Bajwa for some time. Political commentator Gul Bukhari says Pakistan Army brass now seem confident enough of their authority to crack the whip.

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New Delhi: Fearing Imran Khan’s anti-government campaign could fracture the Pakistan Army, the Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) accused the former prime minister of seeking to foment “anarchy in the country”.

The allegation was made by spy chief Lieutenant-General Nadeem Anjum in Islamabad on Thursday, in the course of the first press conference ever addressed by an ISI chief.

The cricketer-turned politician’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has said it will stage a march from Lahore to Islamabad beginning Friday, to protest what it claims to be the assassination of television anchor and Imran backer Arshad Sharif, and to force a general election.

Former military officers, including senior commanders like Lieutenant-General Tariq Khan, have been publicly supportive of Imran, despite the politician’s mounting polemical attacks on Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Lieutenant-General Asif Ghafoor — for long in charge of public relations for the Pakistan Army, and recently appointed head of the XII corps in Balochistan — posted a black image as his Twitter profile to mourn Sharif’s death.

Imran Khan’s government fell in April, after a long-running dispute between the former prime minister and the army chief over the appointment of a new ISI chief.

Even as the Shehbaz Sharif government has struggled with rising prices and floods, Imran has staged a political comeback, securing multiple by-election victories.

The ISI chief responded to sharp attacks on the military by Imran, whose speeches in recent weeks have included apparent references to General Bajwa as “an animal” and “traitor”.

“Don’t do this, where you meet [the army chief] quietly at night through the back door and express your unconstitutional wishes but call [him] a traitor in broad daylight,” General Anjum said at the press conference.

Political commentator Gul Bukhari told ThePrint: “The Pakistan Army had been panicked by Imran’s attacks, but seemed reluctant to act because of their internal divisions. Finally, the Generals seem confident enough of their authority to crack the whip.”

Also Read: Journalist Arshad Sharif’s death has got Pakistan talking but it’s still blame game that’s on

Army chief asserts authority

General Bajwa, who is scheduled to retire in five weeks, had announced the promotion of 12 major-general rank officers — a move seen as intended to consolidate the military establishment’s unity.

The General had also addressed meetings of officers in Lahore and at the army’s corps commands. “General Bajwa argued that Imran’s erratic governance had led Pakistan into an economic black hole,” a source familiar with the meetings told ThePrint.

The officers promoted this month include Kashif Nazir, Director-General of counter-intelligence in the ISI. Nasir had replaced Major-General Irfan Malik, who was accused by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of threatening his daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

Lieutenant-General Nazir is believed to have conducted a thorough purge of Imran supporters from the ISI’s internal-espionage wing.

While Lieutenant-General Ayman Bilal Safdar, an artillery officer believed to have no strong political leanings, was given charge of the critical I corps in Mangla, Lieutenant General Salman Fayyaz Ghani was given command of the IV corps in Lahore.

Earlier, former ISI chief Lieutenant-General Faiz Hameed — who Imran sought to have retained in his job, despite the opposition of General Bajwa — was removed from the XI corps in Peshawar. He was also relieved of the responsibility of negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban jihadist group, with which he was attempting to seal a peace agreement.

The negotiations, Indian intelligence sources said, are now being conducted through ruling-party politicians.

The Pakistan government is believed to have considered the appointment of Lieutenant-General Asim Munir Shah — removed as ISI chief in 2019, after he revealed corruption in Imran’s inner circle — to succeed General Bajwa.

Lt-General Shah is, however, scheduled to retire earlier than General Bajwa, and the Pakistan Army has been pushing for senior-most officers, Lieutenant-Generals Asim Munir Shah or Sahir Shamshad Mirza, as his successor.

Also Read: As floods in Pakistan inundate farms and cities, country staring at major food crisis

‘Imran sought army help to survive’

General Anjum said that Imran had sought to secure his survival in office by making the army chief a “lucrative offer” to extend his tenure in return for remaining as prime minister.

The army, he said, however, “decided that it would restrict itself to its constitutional role”. “The army had an intense discussion and we reached the conclusion that the country’s benefit lies in us restricting ourselves to our constitutional role and remaining out of politics.”

General Anjum added that, when he was appointed as ISI chief, Imran had asked him what the country’s biggest problem was. “I said it was our economic woes. But those who asked the question did not agree. In their view, the opposition was the biggest problem,” he said.

Few details have emerged on the murder of Sharif, whose mysterious killing by the police in Kenya provoked claims that he had been assassinated for pro-Imran leanings.

Lieutenant-General Babar Iftikhar, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General, dismissed claims that the Pakistan Army had threatened Sharif. Instead, he alleged, the PTI-led government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had fabricated an alleged terrorist threat to secure the journalist’s exit to Dubai.

General Iftikhar also said Sharif was used to spread disinformation on a purported US plot to bring down the Imran Khan government.

The journalist, General Iftikhar alleged, left Pakistan on the advice of the CEO of the ARY television station, and stayed in Dubai until his visa expired. Following this, he had left to stay with friends in Kenya.

Sharif was known to be well-connected in the Pakistan Army, and counted Lt-General Asif Ghafoor among his personal friends for over two decades.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: New documentary promises to expose Sharif family. Netflix not part of it, despite rumours

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