Islamabad: The failed assassination attempt on former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is likely to change many equations in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of Pakistan Army where top Generals are currently huddled to deal with the deluge of criticisms and accusation coming their way.
In fact, the injured Imran Khan has already fired the first shot by accusing Major General Faisal Nadeem, head of ISI-Directorate C of conspiring to assassinate him. Nadeem, a few days, was nicknamed by Khan as ‘Dirty Harry’.
Nadeem and one of his sector commanders were in news recently for allegedly torturing a senior PTI leader, Azam Swati. Swati was detained for an alleged tweet maligning the army. He accused Nadeem and another ISI officer of stripping him and beating him mercilessly. Imran Khan had sought immediate sacking of both the ISI officials, calling them ‘Dirty Harry’
Ever since his forced resignation as Prime Minister early this, Imran Khan has been targeting the Army chief, General Javed Qamar Bajwa and his other officers for playing dirty with him. Khan was not long ago a protege of Bajwa who, along with his former boss, Raheel Sharif, had literally hoisted him to Islamabad seat of power. Both fell out in a power struggle. His ouster catapulted him to greater public support and since then, his stridently anti-Army posturing has increasingly found empathy among the people, much like Benazir Bhutto after her return to Pakistan.
The Imran Khan saga has parallels with the tale of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who fell to assassins in December 2007. Although she was not as lucky as Imran Khan, Benazir was on her way to assume power challenging the army when she was killed. In fact, she had accused several ISI officers, and President Pervez Musharraf, of conspiring to kill her. Like Imran Khan, she too had named a few ISI officers and others, including a close confidante of Musharraf, Brigadier Ijaz Shah whose involvement with militant groups was well known. It was later learnt that Benazir was warned by the then ISI chief, Nadeem Taj, not to attend the rally in which she was killed.
Imran Khan is now infallible and the General’s attempt to call him out on his secret rendezvous with the army all along has boomeranged. Recently, in a surprise move, the ISI chief, Nadeem Anjum, had addressed a press conference, accusing Imran Khan of many things, including tempting General Bajwa with ‘life-long extension’. There was widespread befuddlement over the ISI chief’s presser but Imran Khan dismissed it as ‘lies’ and went ahead with his long march to Islamabad.
Since his unceremonious ouster, Imran Khan has not let up his tirade against the army leadership calling them ‘animals’, ‘neutrals’ and ‘traitors’. After the ISI chief presser, he had decided to take them head on, calling for the sacking of ‘Dirty Harry’, an ISI senior officer who had allegedly tortured his party colleague and Senator, Swati.
Within the army, as Bajwa is set to hang his boots, nervousness is obvious. Imran Khan has for some time been a dividing agent among the leadership. Some Generals were not happy with Bajwa abandoning the army’s protege. There were similar dissension within the middle ranks and troops. It is said that Bajwa had to personally calm the storm down. It is not known how successful he had been. In fact, several retired senior officers of the army, including former ISI chief, Zahirul Islam, had openly come out in support of Imran and his party, PTI. There are many in Rawalpindi who think that it was premature on the army’s part to cut ties with their protege. They feel that the leadership has failed to sense the direction of the wind. Imran, whatever his failings may be, is today a far more popular leader than any of his opponents and that alone should have cautioned the Generals.
The army’s plan to challenge Imran Khan directly, which the ISI chief presser was clearly, has not worked. In fact, with the botched up assassination attempt, Imran Khan’s popularity, like Benazir Bhutto’s, has also risen among the people. With Imran Khan’s popularity rising, the army’s disconnect with the people has been equally staggering, much of which exposes the failings of General Javed Qamar Bajwa.
If Bajwa and his men were to press ahead against Imran Khan, it would be the most debilitating conflict the army has got into with the people of Pakistan. Imran Khan is here to stay and the new Chief of Army Staff would do well to work with him.