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Explained: How Pakistan’s military views the country’s political crisis




After populist Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted from power last month in a vote of no confidence in parliament, he has upped the ante on his political rivals, and even the country’s military generals, whom he blames indirectly to support his opponents. The army categorically denied these allegations. Khan held massive political rallies across the country and called for snap elections. He thinks his current popularity, largely due to his allegations that Washington spearheaded his impeachment, could help him sweep future polls.

Currently, Shehbaz Sharif of the center-right Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party is at the helm, but he is struggling to cope with a deteriorating economy, rising inflation and the devaluation of the rupee. The incumbent government blames Khan for mismanaging the economy during his three-and-a-half-year rule. But Khan managed to divert attention from economic issues by using tried and true anti-Western slogans.

Governance issues

The stakes are high, all the more so for the South Asian country’s mighty military, which has repeatedly said it should not be forced into political matters. “The army always stands with the incumbent government. We supported the Khan government but we don’t want to be dragged into political affairs,” a security official familiar with the situation told DW.

Sharif and his aides also warned Khan against pressuring the military. The new administration says it wants to undertake several electoral reforms and fix the economy before calling a general election, possibly by the end of the year. “Khan is a failed politician who destroyed the country’s economy. He was constitutionally eliminated but he is telling false stories to hide his poor performance as prime minister,” Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former prime minister, told DW. and senior member of Sharif’s party. .

Security issues

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, says the military is wary of the crisis. “He has a fundamental interest in internal stability. This means that prolonged political unrest is problematic, especially if it risks escalating into violence. And given how highly charged and hyper-polarized the current political environment is, the violence certainly cannot be ruled out,” he said.

Pakistan shares borders with Iran, Afghanistan, China and India, and the security situation along its borders is a concern for army generals. Militant attacks near the Afghan border and separatist activity in Pakistan’s West Balochistan province have increased dramatically in recent months. The country’s security situation and changing regional and global geopolitical dynamics are of concern to Pakistan’s security establishment, analysts said. “The army is apolitical but it is concerned about the economic crisis, which is linked to [the country’s] security,” the security manager said.

Experts say Khan is aware of these dynamics, but will he try to lower the political temperature? “If Khan keeps his comments about the military in check, it will help him start to rebuild his relationship with them,” Kugelman said.

Is military intervention an option?

For many supporters of the former prime minister, military rule is more acceptable than having Sharif in power, whom they accuse of corruption and nepotism. They believe a postponement of the election could hurt Khan’s re-election prospects. “There is absolutely no chance of direct military intervention,” the security official told DW.

Analysts also say military generals don’t want to get involved at a time when the economic crisis is spiraling out of control. “I don’t expect direct military intervention. The military has no interest in being burdened with the responsibilities of direct governance,” Kugelman said. “If political unrest gives way to unrest and there is sustained political violence, then all bets would be off and one would not want to rule out the possibility of a coup,” he added. Ayesha Siddiqa, an independent security analyst and strategic affairs expert, said “direct intervention is always an option, but so far things are quite manageable.”




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