Pakistan’s military establishment has thrown its weight behind the country’s Supreme Court in an intense tussle between the judiciary and the leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) over the disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The chief of army staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa arranged a briefing last week for a select group of journalists at the army’s General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi. At least 30 editors, senior analysts, TV anchors and owners of media houses attended this briefing.
The general was focused and forthright in his remarks about the current political situation, according to a senior analyst who attended the meeting and who spoke to Asia Times on condition of anonymity. “He elaborated his viewpoints on the issues which normally men in uniform prefer not to discuss in the public,” he remarked.
The general, said the analyst, voiced disapproval of the government’s anti-judiciary campaign, which he believed could only be disastrous for the country. He quoted the general as saying: “Destabilizing the judiciary or ridiculing its verdicts could land us in political disarray. Anyone who is indignant with the Supreme Court decisions [should] not be allowed to humiliate the judiciary or raise question marks on the integrity of honorable judges.”
Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified PML (N) figurehead Nawaz Sharif from holding office in July of last year following a probe into his family’s wealth that was prompted by details revealed the Panama Papers. Cases relating to several of his offshore companies – including Avenfield Flats, Flagship Investment Limited, Al-Azizia Company Limited, Hill Metals Establishment, and 15 other firms set up by the Sharif family – were sent to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for trial, and are pending judgments
Following the Supreme Court’s judgment, the Nawaz camp let loose a vociferous anti-judiciary campaign, terming the court judgment as “tone-deaf” and the judges “biased and prejudiced.”
“He elaborated his viewpoints on the issues which normally men in uniform prefer not to discuss in the public”
According to Asia Times’ source, Bajwa, at last week’s briefing, referred to the country’s constitution, which guarantees equality in application of the law irrespective of a citizen’s status or standing. He said a longing for privileged treatment by Pakistan’s civil and military elite had given birth to bad governance and injustice, and that this had to be curbed if the country wanted to retain a respectable place in the world. “Through all these years, the country is managed but not governed,” the general is said to have remarked.
Referring to the likely grey-listing of Pakistan by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the general said he held the civilian government and its absconding finance minister, Ishaq Dar, responsible for putting the country in such an awkward position. He said the civilian government had failed to implement its National Action Plan (NAP), and that Dar failed to enforce money-laundering and terror-financing laws, which could’ve saved Pakistan from the FATF’s penalties. “It is a shame that out of 210 million people only 1.2 million pay taxes… He (Ishaq Dar) was a total disaster for this country,” said Gen. Bajwa.
General Bajwa said the army’s efforts had forced the Taliban to release a letter seeking negotiation. However, he also conceded that Pakistan did not have complete control over the activities of the insurgent Haqqani Network or the Taliban on its soil.
He also declared that the armed forces would not like to see Pakistan miss a potential economic boost from the successful implementation of projects related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China has put various CPEC projects on hold due to the security situation and internal political uncertainty in Pakistan.
Reflecting on General Bajwa’s meeting, Dr. Farrukh Saleem, an Islamabad-based political and economic analyst, told Asia Times that the concept of ‘troika’ was now at work in Pakistan, with the military – which has in the past engineered coups – stepping into the current row between judiciary and executive. “Whenever a vacuum is created, it is instantly filled by the powerful component of the troika,” he said.