On the first day after the completion of his first year in office, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the extension of a full tenure for Army Chief General Bajwa in a clear attempt to secure an insurance policy for the completion of his own tenure.
Insiders say Khan, who is fighting too many fires at home and in the region, had this extension on his mind since he took oath last August. There are whispers from behind the walls of Banigala that General Bajwa has brought good Karma for Imran. It was not the matter of if but when the announcement will be made, say sources in the PTI.
“Imran Khan was advised to make the announcement in July before he embarked on his first US trip but he found the crisis after the Indian annexation of Kashmir on August 5 as a better opportunity,” a source claimed.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan’s obsession with media forces him to make decisions to shift focus from one crisis to the other. While everyone was focused on Kashmir, we saw arrests of Maryam Nawaz, President Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur. While we were absorbing this shock and coming to terms with India’s annexation, he announced the extension,” says an Islamabad-based analyst.
Insiders say Khan, who is fighting too many fires at home and in the region, had this extension on his mind since he took oath last August
Given the past experiences of candidates for the top slot, it was always a wise decision to tell all and sundry what was going to happen. If the decision about the extension or the replacement is made at the end of the tenure, it gives rise to speculations and possible lobbying, weakening the national security institution. At a time when internal instability is compounded by external threats from both the eastern and the western side of the border, the country cannot afford any more crises. So the timing was perfect. More than three months in advance, a decision was made and conveyed. Forget the technicalities of the announcement or if it was made in strict accordance with statecraft. These formalities will be made in due time. The manner in which the decision was conveyed shows the intent of the prime minister who is well within his powers to make such a decision.
The announcement of the extension was conveyed by the Prime Minister House just hours after the meeting of the All Parties Conference chaired by Maulana Fazalur Rehman ended. The lacklustre meeting was not attended by PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif due to a backache and Bilawal Bhutto who was in Gilgit Baltistan. The leader of the meeting didn’t know about the announcement of the extension that came right on the heels of the meeting.
The opposition is still trying to overcome the shock of the defeat of the no-trust move against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, and looks visibly demoralized. Though meetings of the APC are planned in the next week, there is no word from leaders of major political parties of the opposition on the extension announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Twitter timelines of major leaders including Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari are conspicuous by their silence on the move.
The PPP might not have moral standing to negatively comment on the move since their prime minister gave a full three-year tenure extension to General Kayani in July 2010, besides giving a one-year extension to General Pasha. The PML-N did not give any extensions during their rule. Maryam Nawaz Sharif, however, was the only PML-N leader clearly opposing the extension by insisting on following the letter and spirit of the law, maintaining tenure length, just before her arrest.
Soon after the announcement on Monday evening, video clips of Imran Khan and his partly leaders started surfacing on social media criticising the PPP leadership in 2010 over the extension to General Kayani and warning Nawaz Sharif not to give any extension to General Raheel Sharif in 2016.
Imran Khan had once even praised General Raheel Sharif for not getting an extension. So how will Khan justify his decision on the pretext of “regional security”?
“He will probably justify this mother of all U-turns on his own theory that only great leaders make U-turns,” quipped a commentator in the Margallas valley.
Imran Khan has played his last card, insist analysts in Islamabad. “After November, Imran Khan has no leverage left in the power equation. From that point, the descent begins. If he thinks that by giving an extension he has bought a life insurance policy for his government, he probably doesn’t know the political history of Pakistan,” said one of the analysts.
General Ayub Khan got his extension from the then civil government in 1950s and the one recommending it was Major General Iskandar Mirza who could only stay as the president for 20 days before Ayub Khan deposed him. Mirza was not even allowed to be buried in Pakistan. From Yahya to Kayani and many in between, we have seen beneficiaries giving a rude send off to their benefactors.
This is probably what the “silent” political leaders of the opposition have on their minds. Many believe that after November, the miltablishment will not allow the high handedness of Imran’s administration in pushing the opposition and the media to the wall as the economy continues going south, governance continues to deteriorate and the regional situation continues to favour Pakistan’s rivals. Is this extension elixir for Imran Khan or a new life support for the opposition? We would have to wait till the end of the year to find out.
The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad.