Widening Gap Between Government and Establishment

The Pakistan Armed Forces’s spokesman, Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major-General Asif Ghafoor’s recent tweets and statements indicated that all is not well on the civil-military front in Pakistan. Talking to a private TV channel, DG ISPR rejected all the rumors about ‘rifts’ between the government and the Army. He said PM Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa always remain in contact.

He said both leaders meet whenever it is needed, adding that some meetings are reported while some are not. He said it is imperative for the progress of Pakistan that both remain engaged to each other. He said Army is supporting the democratic government by fulfilling its constitutional obligations. Whereas there have been numerous incidences in the past which led to the speculation of a growing rift between Imran Khan and his all-powerful mentor, Army Chief. The recent meeting on November 15, 2019, after a long period of two months between the two and Imran Khan suspending his official engagements for two days, raised the eyebrows of many.

The differences between the government and the Establishment are not a new thing in the country. It’s the Pakistan Army which has the final say in almost every matter irrespective of an elected government is there or not. Pakistan has witnessed numerous successful and attempted military coups in the past 70 years since its independence from India. The majority of this period, Pakistan was reeling under direct martial law rule and for the remaining period, ‘direct’ interference in day to day’s functioning of the ‘elected’ government from behind the curtains. Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index report, ranks Pakistan as Asia’s most unstable political nation whereas its Army is the seventh-largest army of the world with nuclear arsenals at its disposal.

Reasons for Civil-Military Divide

There is a huge civil-military imbalance where Pakistan’s larger-than-life military establishment, takes a lion’s share of the annual budget. The common perception is that the civil-military divide has roots in the Pakistani army’s anti-India and anti-Afghanistan stance, as well as in the military’s approach to combating terrorism in the region. The civilian government is allegedly struggling to change these long-held policies in its fight for peace and democracy.

For instance, not to go long back in the history, Pakistan army had vehemently opposed the Nawaz Sharif’s bold initiatives to move quickly to normalize the relations with India after assuming Prime Minister Office in 2013 — often even going beyond state protocol and opening backdoor channels. Similarly, Sharif and Army were on the different page over issues of a method when it came to tackling terrorist safe havens inside the country where Sharif was not interested in launching operations from inside the country against the Taliban and other extremist actors. The government instead began peace talks with the terrorist outfits despite repeated advice from the Pakistan Army to the contrary.

Is Imran-Bajwa drifting away?

It is believed that Army is not very happy with Imran Khan on the handling of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issue. Army is of the opinion that it did not face FATF sanctions when Gen (retired) Pervez Musharraf was president, though a number of terrorist groups operated openly. Army also feels that earlier there was less global criticism of peoples’ disappearances and treatment of religious minorities. Bajwa had directly interfered in the recent cabinet reshuffle and new Interior Minister, Brigadier Ijaz Shah, allegedly appointed at the behest of the army chief. Shah is alleged to have run terrorist operations in Jammu & Kashmir when he served in the Inter-Services Intelligence. This is being seen as an attempt to shift power away from Khan towards nominees of the military.
Another controversial appointment is that of Nadeem Babar, who is not a member of parliament, one of 16 such persons in Khan’s 47-member cabinet.

On the other hand, insiders say that Khan now wants to send a signal to the outside world that he is not the military’s puppet and should not be treated as one. It is learnt that Khan has started snubbing Army Chief in one form or the other, which is likely to worsen civil government-military relations in the coming days. In a recent incidence when Khan went to inaugurate the Mohmand dam on May 2, the army chief requested Imran to accompany him on his military plane to Mohmand Agency,  Imran apparently refused on the grounds that since he had multiple programmes, he would prefer to fly separately. Even after the ceremony, Bajwa again requested Khan to accompany him on his plane to Peshawar to discuss important issues, but Imran again avoided it saying he had other engagements. Bajwa also requested Imran Khan to offer some conciliatory gestures to the political opposition. However, PM Imran Khan criticized the opposition and refused to announce any conciliatory gestures to the opposition, drawing ire of Bajwa, insiders point out.


The civil and military leaders in Pakistan are locked in a power struggle. They are on the same page in terms of foreign and security policy — which is why Pakistan has seen much policy continuity over the past four decades. Civilian leaders pitch this domestic power struggle to international audiences as a matter of ‘foreign policy’ and a ‘fight for democracy’ for the purposes of seeking international endorsements that can be leveraged in the local power tussle.

But the crux of the issue is that any democratically elected government with a vision for actual development and which is against the idea of feudalism will never sustain in Pakistan. No government will ever improve ties with India as that would put the position and control of the military in question. Democracy in Pakistan has been found only as an interval between the next military regimes. After seventy-plus years of independence, feudalism and age-old traditions prevail in Pakistan which is responsible for the weakness of democratic politics in Pakistan. True democracy, if at all Pakistan ever wants it, can only be achieved when democratic practices are allowed to prevail under the supremacy of an unchanged constitution. The irony is, the constitution of Pakistan has been a mockery in itself and has been changed by military dictators to their fancies.

In a tug of war as to ‘who is the boss’ there should not be any doubt whatsoever – its Pakistan army!!

22 Nov 19/Friday                                                                        Written by Azeema