Pakistan News: Army tightens control over Pakistan as Imran Khan’s popularity declines | World News
There are now more than a dozen past and current military officers in prominent government roles, such as leading the state airline, the energy regulator, and the National Institute of Health, which is leading the country’s pandemic response. Three of those appointments occurred in the past two months.
The high profile of the military comes as Prime Minister Imran Khan sees his influence and popularity decrease due to the slowdown in the economy, high consumer prices and corruption investigations involving his close aides. Analysts have long viewed the army’s support as critical of Khan’s party, which holds 46% of seats in parliament, to hold together a government that depends on several smaller coalition partners to stay afloat. .
In some ways, this is nothing new: the military is Pakistan’s most powerful institution and has directly governed the country for much of its seven-decade history. However, it is a far cry from the “New Pakistan” that Khan promised when he took office in 2018.
“By appointing a growing number of current and retired military officers to key positions, the government is giving up what little space civilians had to develop and execute policy in the country,” said Uzair Younus, a senior nonresident member of the Atlantic Council. phone. “The military’s open and covert role in government continues to grow.”
Many in Pakistan can see the change during government virus briefings on state television, in which uniformed officers of the current army are seen attending the government’s pandemic response. Retired Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa is now Khan’s communications adviser and also oversees the implementation of approximately $ 60 billion in Pakistani investments as part of the China Strip and Highway Initiative.
At least 12 army supporters in the cabinet also participated in the administration of dictator-turned-president Pervez Musharraf, which ended in 2008. That includes Interior Minister Ijaz Shah and Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Khan’s financial adviser.
The increased military involvement even has the support of civilian government advisers such as Zaigham Rizvi, a member of the Naya Pakistan Housing Program working group in charge of executing Khan’s main economic project of building low-cost houses. Two army officers were named to the body last month.
“There was a feeling that if we give majority leadership to the military, the military has a good system,” said Rizvi, who worked at the World Bank for 10 years as a housing expert. “They do things.”
Pakistan’s army declined to comment. Nadeem Afzal Chan, a spokesman for Khan, was not immediately available, while Information Minister Syed Shibli Faraz did not respond to a request for comment.
Khan has long dismissed accusations that he was too close to the military, and said in 2017 before his election victory that any notion that he is an army puppet was a “strange conspiracy.” Last year he told local media that “the army is standing with me.”
However, the economic anguish caused by the pandemic increases tensions again. Pakistan is the most infected nation in Asia after India, with more than 108,000 coronavirus cases and around 2,200 deaths.
The economy is forecast to contract for the first time in 68 years, and the central bank expects the economy to shrink 1.5% in the year ending June. The nation received a $ 1.4 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund in April, and is among the countries seeking debt relief.
Questions about the army’s role in leading the government arose when the virus began to escalate in March. As Khan addressed the nation and urged citizens to remain calm, it was the army spokesman who announced the shutdown the following day. Most of the press statements from the country’s virus hub, chaired by Planning Minister Asad Umar, are produced by the army media wing, complete with its line and logo.
On March 24, Khan was visibly upset when reporters asked him, “Who’s in charge here?” Although there was no reference to the army, he threatened to leave abruptly.
Then, in late May, its aviation minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, defended the performance of the national airline and its military leadership after a passenger plane crash in the financial capital Karachi. “It is not a crime to designate people affiliated with the army,” he said.
Khan’s grip on power is likely to continue to decline as current and retired army officers, as well as army-backed politicians-in-office, take on more executive authority, said Arif Rafiq, president of Vizier Consulting, a risk advisory firm. focused on the Middle East and South Asia. He noted that Khan will come under more pressure as Pakistan’s economic challenges continue to escalate.
“The military has expressed dissatisfaction with Khan’s handling of coronavirus blockades; there are also indications that the military is not happy with the handling of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and governance in Punjab, the largest province,” he said. Rafiq. “We have seen the top military spokesperson openly press for tighter closure and a retired army officer assumes the roles of government spokesperson and chief administrator of CPEC.”
Last year, the military had already begun to take a more active role in policy making beyond national and foreign security policy, with Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa meeting privately with top business leaders to find ways. to boost the economy. The country’s parliament adopted a law in January that gave Bajwa a three-year extension from November 2019 and was also named a member of a government’s economic board.
While many democracies appoint retired military officers to fill senior government positions, it becomes a problem if civilians are not making the decisions, according to Michael Kugelman, a senior associate in southern South Asia in Washington at the Wilson Center.
“And herein lies the risk to democracy,” he said. “If retired generals are more influenced by their former leaders than by their current leaders, then democracy is not being adequately served.”