Pakistan in Turmoil: USA Not Out of the Game—Part Five!

"India must remain vigilant. What is currently happening in Pakistan is only a trailer of the storm that is likely to hit. Simmering discontent within the army will weaken it, and harsh measures taken by Gen. Munir to curb dissatisfied individuals might backfire."

Pakistan in Turmoil: USA Not Out of the Game—Part Five!

“I also plead with the Pakistani public to engage in decisive, outspoken but nonviolent activism if their country’s establishment continues or even escalates its destructive policies.” —A tweet by Zalmay Khalilzad, former United States Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations.

Until May 8, 2023, Imran Khan was undoubtedly the most popular leader in Pakistan. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) spokespersons often proclaimed that Imran Khan was their “red line,” meaning that the current government of Pakistan would not dare to arrest him. However, on May 9, 2023, he was indeed arrested, causing PTI workers to create chaos nationwide, crossing their “red line.”

The events of May 9, 2023, turned out to be a black day for Pakistan and may be considered Pakistan’s equivalent of 9/11. How did it happen? Let’s look back at Imran Khan’s tenure as Prime Minister from August 2018 to April 2023. His only achievement as PM was irritating China for being a ‘wrecker-in-chief’ of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Pakistan had always considered its friendship with China as deep as the ocean, high as the Himalayas, and sweet as honey. Therefore, CPEC, a $62 billion program, was seen as a game-changer for Pakistan. However, the US did not want it, and Imran Khan disrupted it, causing China to pull away from Pakistan.

Not only did Imran Khan damage CPEC, but he also harmed Pakistan’s economy through inefficiency and incompetence. The army received criticism for installing him as PM, and to rectify this wrong decision, they manipulated his removal. After his government was toppled in April 2022, Pakistan was on the verge of economic default. The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government led by Shehbaz Sharif tried all avenues to seek financial aid, but no one responded until the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a loan for Pakistan. Despite begging and cajoling, the IMF was not forthcoming with financial aid, burdening the Pakistani public with high inflation and rising prices of essential commodities.

Surprisingly, Imran Khan’s popularity increased, even after being abused by the general public a few months earlier. Perceptions had changed in his favour, and he became a political force that his successor government found challenging to face in elections, especially with his forceful demand for immediate elections before November 2022.

If elections were held as per his demand, other political parties would have been decimated, and his two-thirds majority would have allowed him to appoint an army chief of his choice. Unfortunately for him, the PDM government managed to scuttle his demand for early elections. But his popularity did not decline; in fact, it increased, and he became more aggressive. It seemed that the courts and judiciary openly supported him, leaving the PDM government helpless as the judiciary provided relief in all cases.

In November 2022, despite opposition from Imran Khan and some factions within the army, Gen. Sayeed Asim Munir was appointed Army Chief by the PDM Government. He was set to retire just two days before Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, but his appointment was influenced by his tiff with Imran Khan as Director General, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It was believed to be orchestrated at the behest of Nawaz Sharif, a former three-time Prime Minister of Pakistan whom Imran hated. Munir was not only the most senior Lieutenant General but was also Imran Khan’s nemesis, which favoured his appointment. Additionally, Munir’s qualification was that he did not come through the regular commission from Kakul Military Academy and did not have any links with the US, as many Pakistani Generals do.

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The elevation of Gen. Munir undoubtedly created deep but silent fissures within the Pakistan army. However, slowly and steadily, Gen. Munir began to consolidate his position by placing his own men in key positions. He also visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to improve relations, which had been disturbed by Imran Khan. Saudi Arabia had assured some economic help if the IMF had approved Pakistan’s loan program, and the UAE provided one billion United States Dollars (USD).

With the IMF not responding positively, Gen. Munir undertook a visit to China in the last week of April 2023. He discussed and deliberated with the Chinese leadership and was able to convince them of Pakistan’s genuine friendship. He secured a Chinese loan of two billion USD, which provided much-needed relief to Pakistan’s economy. Shortly after, the Chinese Foreign Minister visited Pakistan after the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in India. In his advice to Pakistan, the Chinese Foreign Minister asked them to stabilise themselves politically. This was a clear indication that China would not support Pakistan if there were prospects of Imran Khan returning to power. On May 9, 2023, the PDM government, with the tacit approval of the Army and its Chief, arrested Imran Khan from the court premises in Islamabad, crossing the PTI red line. This led to pre-planned violence, riots, and destruction. General Sayeed Asim Munir had made it clear which side he stood on.

The battle lines in Pakistan are now distinctly drawn: the United States of America (USA) supports Imran Khan, backed up by Pakistan’s judiciary headed by Chief Justice Umer Ata Baundiyal. China opposes them, with Army Chief Gen. Sayeed Asim Munir ably supported by the PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) government of Shehbaz Sharif. The conflict has reached a point beyond reconciliation, and there are fissures within the army that might be activated at a later stage. General Asim Munir has been warning people of dire consequences as he visits various military cantonments.

Imran Khan in his residence in Lahore, Pakistan; File Photo

Recently, he visited the Sialkot military garrison and threatened those who questioned his authority. The above tweet by Zalmay Khalilzad, an important Republican leader and a close associate of President Joe Biden of the USA, is in connection with this. In his tweet, he exhorts the people of Pakistan to rebel against the present regime and the army. On May 15, 2023, he told Gen. Munir that he was incompetent and asked him to resign. He also expressed concern about the arrest of Imran’s wife, Bushra Bibi. Here are his tweets:

“Instead of stepping back from the brink, is the Pakistani establishment going to ratchet up the drama? Rumour has it that they intend to arrest Imran Khan’s wife, Bushra Begum. And trot out an obscure sedition law to detain Imran Khan and keep him in prison. (1/3) #Pakistan

This would be an inexcusably reckless action. I reiterate my call for the resignation of the current army chief and putting things on track by setting a date for elections. (2/3)”

Regarding Gen. Munir’s Sialkot address, Zalmay Khalilzad expressed reservations and resentment. He accused him of using gutter language against the families of retired persons. Moreover, Zalmay contends that Gen. Munir had warned the audience to take them along with him if he went down. In his tweet, Zalmay found Gen. Munir temperamentally unsuitable to have control over the nuclear button. To quote him, “He (Gen. Munir) simply does not have the temperament to lead the armed forces of a large and important country, Pakistan. Such a volatile, angry, and self-absorbed person must not have his finger on a nuclear button.”

This indicates that the USA cannot be considered out of the game in Pakistan. Unofficial and official efforts are underway to create a division in the Pakistan Army and reinstall Imran Khan into the power structure. Joe Biden may have ignored Imran Khan due to his close relationship with former US President Donald Trump. This had annoyed Imran Khan, and he complained about not receiving a telephone call from Joe Biden. He even went so far as to accuse the USA of overthrowing him, publicly demonstrating a paper in the air as a supposed secret cypher from the USA for his likely exit. This was a tactic to exploit anti-US sentiments prevalent in Pakistan, which led to his unprecedented popularity. However, he later shifted the blame to the army and Gen. Bajwa, and now he is directing his blame towards Gen Munir for his current ordeal.

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A recent audio leak of a conversation between Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Imran Khan reveals deep US involvement in the current crisis in Pakistan. In the audio, Imran Khan blames the army and the last army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, for bringing down his government in April 2022. He claims there was the “worst crackdown in history” against his democratic party. He then requests Waters to make a statement in his favour regarding the ongoing crisis in Pakistan. In other words, he directly invites intervention in the internal affairs of Pakistan. To be frank, it was a call for the USA to use its leverage with the Pakistan Army to rescue him, essentially seeking division within the Pakistan Army.

While the USA is busy creating rebellion in the Pakistan Army, China has begun to consolidate Gen. Munir’s position not only in the army but also among the public. In doing so, China has played the Kashmir Card, which is important not only for the Pakistan Army but for every Pakistani. As a bid to placate Pakistan and its army, China has declined to attend the G-20 Meet scheduled to be held by India in Srinagar from May 22 to 24, 2023. China’s excuse is that Kashmir is a disputed territory. This is reminiscent of China’s excuse in 1965 when Pakistan was at war with India, as China accused India of stealing Chinese sheep. India, despite this, is proceeding with the event. The emotional tsunami that this act by China will create in Pakistan is enough for them to forget about ‘Roti, Kapda aur Makan’ (food, clothes, and housing). This is why Pakistan cannot stand on its own feet and oscillates between the laps of China and the USA.

Nevertheless, India must remain vigilant. What is currently happening in Pakistan is only a trailer of the storm that is likely to hit. Simmering discontent within the army will weaken it, and harsh measures taken by Gen. Munir to curb dissatisfied individuals might backfire. In order to divert attention, Gen. Munir might escalate violence on the Line of Control (LoC) with India. Terrorist activities, not only in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) but also in Punjab and other states, might increase. States like Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Karnataka, Bihar, and Maharashtra might be targeted. Conversely, a weakened Pakistan Army could boost ongoing insurgencies in Sindh, Balochistan, and KPK. If Gen. Munir continues with China’s outsourced war on India, then India must not hesitate to openly support Baloch and Pashtun movements. It’s time to throw away the yoke of ethical propriety. The demands of the 21st century call for a tit-for-tat reaction!

Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran who served in  ’71 War & has operated extensively in various insurgency environs across the country. He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert writing for several reputed publications such as  ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: [email protected]

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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Turmoil In Pakistan: Is China Winning? - Part 4

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