On Wednesday, October 6, Inter-Services Public Relations, put out an official notification. Lieutenant-General Faiz Hameed, Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, was posted out to take command of the operationally active and significant 11 Corps. Hameed was replaced by Lieutenant-General Nadeem Anjum, who was commanding V Corps.
This should be a matter of routine. Except, in Pakistan it is not. Intense speculation had begun on social media days before the official notification and for good reason. ISI has long been blamed for political interference on behalf of the military: pressuring, cajoling, bribing and even punishing recalcitrant politicians for not falling in line. Ironically, it always finds partners in the political class. There have been occasions when the courts, the media and the citizens have had the opportunity to take a rare peek into the machinations of unelected centres of power.
The most significant was a case taken up by the Supreme Court of Pakistan when a celebrated former chief of Pakistan Air Force, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan in 1995-96, praying the court to inquire if the ISI ran a cell for political intrigue. The Chief Justice converted the letter into a petition to the court. Thus began the proceedings, inordinate delays notwithstanding, which culminated in a detailed judgement by the Supreme Court in November 2012. The case proved that the ISI had provided funds to certain politicians to manipulate the 1990 national election. The allegations were confirmed by former DG-I Lieutenant-General Asad Durrani in an affidavit to the Supreme Court.
This is just one example. Over the years interference by intelligence agencies has become institutionalised. Some of their experienced operatives know the political landscape better than most pundits. They closely observe and monitor politicians, pick up intel on their strengths and weaknesses, as also their financial dealings. Information is power. When the need arises, information can be exploited.
But leaving that aside, let’s get to what’s brewing in the political Valhalla. While ISPR’s notification is in the public domain, the Prime Minister’s Office has not confirmed the changes. That being a constitutional requirement, the delay appears to suggest — confirmed by insiders — that Khan is unhappy with Hameed’s departure and wants him to stay on for some more time. The ostensible reason for that is continuity at a time when the regional security environment is evolving rather than bringing in someone new and throwing him in at the deep end.
But that may be a surface ruse. In the particular case of Hameed’s departure, there seem to be two reasons for speculation. The political opposition in Pakistan, which comprises many parties but notably the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party, has long accused Hameed of batting for the Khan’s PTI. Not just that. The Opposition also blames Hameed for being the officer that stitched PTI’s victory through an elaborate plan. Hameed was not leading the ISI at the time, but he was heading a very important sub-directorate within the agency. Political insiders confirm that PM Khan trusts Hameed and wants Hameed to carry on as DG-I at least by the end of this year.
Be that as it may, we now have a problem and it appears to be more than just a bump. The General Headquarters (read: COAS Qamar Bajwa) has already put his imprimatur on the changes and the ISPR has put out the notification. In other words, Gen. Bajwa is already out on a limb. Secondly, while no one really knows the details of the charter that governs ISI’s functioning, it is generally understood that de jure he reports to the PM. Yet, as a subordinate military officer, he holds the office at the pleasure of the COAS.
Third, now that the ISPR notification has determined Hameed’s recall from ISI and his appointment as Corps Commander, Hameed falls under the direct charge of the COAS. Speculatively speaking, if Bajwa were to reverse his own decision, the PM’s remit would be extending to a decision about the appointment of a Corps Commander. That is an area the army guards jealously.
On the other hand, the PM can argue that since he has a constitutional right to agree to a name suggested by the COAS for appointment as DG-I, the current changes have been thrusted upon him and, therefore, he is not obliged to sign on to what the COAS has decided and now wants him to sign on to.
Given the multiple internal and external challenges Pakistan is facing, one hopes that this issue could be resolved without further delay. But going by how the two protagonists are locked in a commitment trap, it has the potential of moving from being a crapshow to becoming a clusterduck.
Some analysts have suggested that the removal of Hameed from the office of DG-I is grounded in Bajwa’s understanding that the former has become too controversial. For instance, the Chief Editor of this paper, Najam Sethi, wrote this in his leader earlier on Friday: “It should be admitted that Nawaz and Maryam Sharif played a definite role in setting the ball rolling. By targeting the Miltablishment and repeatedly naming General Faiz for unconstitutional conduct, they changed the popular narrative from a well-entrenched pro-establishment one to an angry anti-establishment position, compelling the Miltablishment to review its political options.”
Whether one accepts this line of argument, rejects it partially or in toto, is besides the point. Even if one argues that Hameed needed to get command of a Corps regardless of any grand strategy on the part of the father-daughter duo, one still cannot make an end run around certain facts on the ground, most notably the manner in which Khan’s government was brought in or the tools Khan has used to hound the political opposition.
This is the problem when the military tries to streamline politics; this is also the problem when, to ostensibly cleanse the system, the army breaks its own rules on tenures and appointments.
I was speaking to one of our eminent historians, Dr Ilhan Niaz. I asked him to give me a list of the different political experiments Pakistan has done since independence. He said to me that we had a dual (his term for hybrid) government with pronounced civil-military tensions from February 2008-August 2018. “Since August 2018, we have a dual government without pronounced civil-military tensions.”
That might just be changing.