Power play and fissures in Pakistan Army
by Jaibans Singh on 28 Sep 2021 26 Comments

The Pakistan army is going through a huge internal crisis, with fissures visible through the rank and file. While discontent at the lower levels is quite apparent, it is the power play within the senior leadership that is more significant. This is due to a succession battle that is raging with the second, and possibly final, term of Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa, coming to an end in November 2021, and also due to different perceptions regarding the Afghanistan policy of the Army.


In June 2021, there were reports of an assassination attempt on General Bajwa which led to the arrest of 14 officers, 22 SSG commandos and 30 soldiers. The assassination was to be carried out while the General was on tour in Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK), possibly with the intention of putting the blame on India. 


The initial report was given by Dr. Amjad Ayub Mirza, a human rights activist of POJK who is active on social media and is a keen Pakistan army watcher. Mirza made a video which went viral.


The incident was not reported by the Pakistan media at all, which shows the kind of control that “The Establishment” has over the fourth estate. However, the dissension did not die down and now is coming increasingly to the fore as the retirement date of the General approaches. General Bajwa has already put his cards on the table by appointing a Shia officer, Lt. Gen. Azhar Abbas, as Chief of General Staff (CGS). This puts General Abbas in the succession battle with the support of the outgoing chief. The development does not bode well for the Shia-haters and militant supporters within “The Establishment.” The other two contenders are Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, chief of the Inter-services Intelligence (ISI), and Lt. Gen. Sahir Shamshad, Rawalpindi Corps Commander.


The second contentious issue is the formation of the Government in Afghanistan in which the Pakistan Army wished to play a major role. There was, however, a differing perception in this too. Those with an Islamist and fundamentalist mindset, like ISI chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, wanted to place extremist elements of the Taliban in key posts. It is now reported that, at the behest of Lt. Gen. Hameed, two top two leaders of the Taliban, Mullah Baradar and Haibatullah Akhundzada, have been sidelined by the Haqqanis and are possibly under detention.


Thus, the ISI chief has engineered the ascendency of the Haqqani network that is partial to both the ISI as well as the militant warlords of terrorists organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) which operate in Kashmir. This is something that India needs to be concerned about.


All of this has been done by Gen. Hameed without keeping Gen. Bajwa in the loop. He has, as such, unilaterally and without state authority created a situation that the Government of Pakistan and the Bajwa faction of the Pakistan Army have reservations about. Many who are now ministers in the Government are on the terrorist wanted list of the US, other western nations, and the United Nations, with huge price tags on their heads. This has made it difficult to project the moderate face that the Taliban wishes to adopt to gain international acceptability. It also does not help in pushing Pakistani aspirations of building bridges with the US and other western nations.


Members of the Taliban who negotiated with the US and other countries at Doha are quite upset at the manner in which things are shaping due to ISI interference. They feel, quite rightly, that the Taliban is increasingly getting isolated instead of gaining the acceptability it requires. The emerging situation is perceived as the harbinger of doom for the already beleaguered and isolated country. Gen. Hameed has been hauled up for having engineered this set up, but now it is too late; those occupying the chair will not let go in a hurry.


While the Afghanistan policy of the Government of Pakistan (read Pakistan army) continues to be in a state of flux, there is a civil war-like situation developing internally. There are constant clashes of the army with the people. The local police in provinces like Sindh and Balochistan are restive due to interference in law and order by the Pakistan army and the many atrocities being committed by Army soldiers.


The Pakistan Army has its fingers in too many pies, including Afghanistan, India (Kashmir) and a host of fundamentalist organisations. On one side it is training terrorists and so-called Mujahedeen and on the other it is trying to project a moderate face. The resultant confusion has divided the organisation into a number of distinct pressure groups. The fact that Gen. Bajwa is now no more than a rubber stamp since his retirement date is approaching has led to a leadership vacuum.


As a result, each man is doing as he desires with no checks and balances in place. The tenuous internal security situation with militant warlords calling the shots in many areas is not helping; internal dissent is gaining alarming proportions; and the meddling of the ISI chief in Afghanistan, that too in an extra-constitutional manner, is a matter of concern.


The problems being faced by the Government of Pakistan in controlling the rogue elements of its Army cannot remain isolated from the overall dynamics of the South Asian region and the world at large. While the QUAD meeting is scheduled to discuss only Indo-Pacific issues, the power play in Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot be ignored as it has global repercussions. It is better to control the situation before it spins out of control.


(Jaibans Singh is a geo-strategic analyst and columnist

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