What was behind recent internal crisis in Pakistan? Sherlock holmes would have answered, "It is Sino - US rivalry, stupid!". No doubts, it is so. It is this rivalry which has pushed Pakistan into this crisis. It has been oscillating between US and Chinese laps. Pakistan is a typical case of a person who lives by begging. And beggars have to follow the edict of their benefactors.
Pakistan has been a surrogate of USA since its inception. But since 2015, when CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) project of $62 billion was conceived, Pakistan had begun to drift towards China. In Pakistan, it was claimed that Pakistan - China friendship was deeper than the ocean, higher than Himalaya and sweeter than honey.
This, of course had hurt USA. Point to be noted is though Pakistan has been double crossing USA but she looked the other way, e.g. Pakistan’s secret nuclear Programme was well known to USA (President Ronald Reagan) but it remained silent. Osama Bin Laden case and Pakistan’s double game in Afghanistan added to US agony. Despite this, it is claimed that USA had given 39 billion USD to Pakistan between 2001 and 2020 for 'war on Terror'. How could it allow Pakistan to slip away to Chinese fold? Fact is that USA had Pakistan Army and its Generals favouring it.
Despite, US annoyance with Pakistan, it had been keeping Pakistan amused such as by giving spares worth $700 million for F-16 fighters. It was in communication with Imran Khan’s party. Recently, Fawad Chaudhry, senior leader of PTI had met US ambassador to Pakistan. On the other hand, PDM government of Shehbaj Sharief was trying to renew relationship with China. Some time back, Pakistan’s new Army Chief General Hafiz Asim Munir had visited China and ice had melted. It is interesting to note that General Munir has no connection in USA. Therefore he was not leaning on USA.
China has been worried about its ‘bete noir' Imran Khan’s return to power because of his massive popularity. It had been closely watching political developments in Pakistan. Close on the heels of SCO meeting in India, on 04 May 2023, Chinese Foreign Minister visited Pakistan on 07 May 2023. Press release by China advised Pakistan to ensure political stability. This was a green signal for current Pakistan Government to act. Result was Imran Khan’s arrest.
Notwithstanding, Sino -US rivalry in Pakistan, the immediate cause of unrest in Pakistan is Imran Khan’s arrest on 09 May 2023. Currently, he is a very popular leader amongst the youth of Pakistan. In fact, when he was Prime Minister between August 2018- March 2022, his credibility had nose dived due to non- performance. And economic conditions had so worsened that successor government of Shebaj Shrief was also unable to control prices and deteriorating economic conditions.
Pakistan today moves with a begging bowl to China, Saudi Arabia and UAE. International Monetary fund (IMF) has taken a very tough stand. Inflation was touching the sky! Ordinary people’s life had become very difficult, infact, unlivable.
Thus, PDM (Peoples Democratic Movement) government of Shehbaj Shrief became tremendously unpopular and Imran Khan became popular at PDM’s cost. What had helped Imran was his carefully crafted image of honesty (not necessarily he is clean?) by Army by discrediting other politicians, such as Bhutto and Sharief families of Pakistan.
Popular leader’s arrest is now leading to chaos and disorder in Pakistan. It is not a revolution but deliberately instigated riots to intimidate the authorities. Some analysts in Pakistan, believe that it was pre-planned riots. The mob violence, arson and looting carried out by the rowdy followers of Imran Khan, hired or genuine, has brought Pakistan to the brink of collapse.
Intensity of the violence is so grave that army installations also have not been spared. An ISPR tweet on 10 May 2023 lamented that what enemy could not do in 75 years, this group of goons (PTI workers) has done it in one day! In Lahore, Corps commander’s house has been ransacked and set on fire. In Islamabad, GHQ of Pakistan Army has been attacked. Anarchy and Chaos has spread to all major cities. Pakistan is heading for a very dangerous situation. Army has been called out in Punjab and KPK (Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa).
People are taking out their ire against army because of Imran Khan’s accusation that army was behind his overthrow in April 2022. Thereafter, he has been constantly accusing ex-Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for betraying him. In February 2022, Army had decided to go neutral. Infuriated Imran called former Chief of army, General QJ Bajwa a traitor.
In fact, he has recently accused Director General-C (DG-C) in the ISI set-up, for making two earlier attempts to assassinate him. Even before his arrest, on 09 May 2023, he had given a call for his supporters to be ready for a 'street Jihad'. Army has not yet responded with a heavy hand but its intervention is soon expected to quell the rioters. But indications are that there were divisions within the army. Some corps commanders have refused to take action against rioters. If true, it is a very serious crisis. Some reports say that there was tussle between current Army Chief (COAS) and Chief of Joint services Committee (CJSC).
The excitement in India might be natural but there was/is nothing to rejoice. Chaos can easily spill over to India, if we understand the logarithm of the crisis. Riots and violence, coupled with extreme shortage of food and items of daily necessity may make people to cross Indian border. This would create a serious humanitarian and administrative problem. Further, an unstable Pakistan would lead to religious overlords taking control. It will be 'Afghanistan in the making' with crazy hawks creating mayhem in Kashmir, which is just trying to get back to normalcy. India must remain vigilant and concerned.
Pakistan crisis might seem home made anarchy but as highlighted right at the outset, its roots go to US - China rivalry. One has to go back in history to know about the rise of Imran Khan from 2010 onwards. He had been cultivated by the army and finally installed into Prime Minister’s office in July 2018, through a rigged election.
Imran Khan has often claimed that he was always told by army that earlier rulers were corrupt and they had bought huge properties in London and Dubai. It may not be wrong. But retired Pakistani Generals were no saints. Large number of them have settled in Canada, USA, New Zealand, Dubai and Australia. One retired Lt Gen. Asim Salim Bajwa, whom Imran had appointed special advisor to his government and also Chairman of CPEC authority, had some 99 Companies, owned by his family in USA. Therefore it was not only politicians but also Generals who thrived on loans and aids given by USA, Saudi Arabia, UAE and China.
There is no doubt that Pakistan army Generals have been very close to USA. This is why their children get preferential treatment in USA. Almost all its senior officers in the past have had links there. Therefore, on US coaxing, Imran Khan was brought in to scuttle much hyped CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), started by Nawaz Shrief as PM in 2015. It boasted of an investment loan of $62 billion from China on various projects in Pakistan. More important was the fresh water port of Gwadar in the Arabian sea opposite Oman. It provided land route to China for its trade. Therefore, it was more beneficial to the Chinese for its trade with the Middle East and rest of the world as part of OBOR (One Belt One Road) project of China.
CPEC led to resentment amongst Baloch people and fledgling insurgency there gained momentum. A number of Chinese workers on various projects were killed. This annoyed China. It thus became apprehensive of return of Imran Khan government. More so, when it was alleged that Imran Khan’s party had hired a lobbying firm in USA to build his image.
Though Imran Khan was able to stall CPEC, but there was nothing else to show as his performance. Economy began to slow down. Prices of daily routine, food products, gas, electricity, transportation went sky-high. People began to cry. Army realised that Imran Khan had not come up to expectations and thus it decided to do away with him. The melody of 'One Page' of Army and Imran Khan, went awry. This turned Imran Khan anti-army, though he did try to patch up later but army refused to entertain him.
China has deep strategic interest in Pakistan, particularly in the warm water port of Gwadar, which provides her a land route to Middle East. But it does not trust Imran Khan , who is likely to swing to power, if elections were held immediately. China knew that General Munir was not close to USA. Therefore China wanted not only to delay elections in Pakistan but also discredit Imran Khan in such a way that his return to power is stalled. Last one year and so, Imran had been able to generate faith in him by young people, almost to the extent of blind devotion. His popularity index had to be brought down.
Everyone knew that Imran’s arrest will lead to riots and violence. PTI and Imran Khan had worked out a plan of action on his arrest. It is evident from his call to his workers before setting out for Islamabad High Court, where he was arrested. If Imran had pre - planned it, PDM government had also planned to allow rioters a free hand to allow them to cause mayhem. The resulting chaos would certainly affect common man and the fence - sitters. The call for political stability by Chinese Foreign Minister had set the plan for this unchecked violence. No wonder, some PTI leaders like Shah Mohammed Qureshi and Arshad Umer claim that perpetrators of violence were not their workers. Partly, it may be true. But videos, coming out of Corps Commander’s House in Lahore, show hand of Imran Khan’s party.
Finally, present crisis in Pakistan, is a big lesson for the army and people of Pakistan i.e. Dependence on others does not make one stand on one’s feet. Another lesson is that neighbours cannot be changed. Constant Confrontation with neighbours makes one dependent on others. Pakistan will continue to face such crisis , if it does not mend fences with India. Outsiders will only exploit it with 'freebies' to make it 'useless'.
(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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