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Pakistan’s transition mutates as Army Chief Asim Munir, PM Sharif work hand in glove to ease out Imran Khan

Pak Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (Left) and Army Chief Asim Munir (Right) have formed a formidable team to counter ex-PM Imran Khan

An emboldened Pakistan Army Chief Asim Munir and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif are slowly shifting the balance of power in their tussle to ease out ex-PM Imran Khan from political contention ahead of general elections.

Two factors have brought about this mutation. First, the May 09 attacks on army installations, the very symbols of the military’s power and influence provided the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), a dramatic opportunity to turn the tables against his foes, making him a force to reckon with. Soon after the attacks, pinned on Imran Khan’s supporters, Gen. Munir launched an all-out attack on Khan’s internal and overseas supporters. The furious assault disintegrated the ex-PM’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) with many heavyweights leaving the party, along with other lesser luminaries who refuged underground. Simultaneously, Gen. Munir launched a massive purge inside the military, where the ex-PM’s influence had begun to take firm roots.

As reported by India Narrative earlier, over 124 serving military officers including   one Corps Commander, two Major Generals and others are facing enquiries and trials.

Some of the other bigwigs who were actively involved in the Many 9 revolt include former Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. (Retd.)  Azhar Abbas. Besides two former heads of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. Gen. (Retd.)  Shuja Pasha, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Zaheerul Islam, are being listed among the leading lights who drove the rebellion.  Also, other prominent figures behind the conspiracy include Lt Gen. (Retd.)  Khalid Maqbool, Lt Gen. (Rtd.) Amjad Shoaib, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Ali Quli Khan and Maj Gen (Rtd.) Ijaz Awan.

Gen. Munir has also started taking impactful steps to counter Khan’s religious appeal—a move that had expanded the ex-Prime Minister’s mass base, especially after he married Bushra Bibi, supposedly endowed with mystical powers.

For instance, addressing a seminar at Jinnah Convention centre on July 10, Gen. Munir while expressing solidarity with the Sharif government urged people to shun disappointment, which, he said is infidelity (Kufr) as per the Quran. Through his speech invoking religious phraseology, Gen. Munir also made it clear that he is good orator having a thorough command on Urdu, Arabic and English. Citing Quranic verses in Arabic language and their extempore translation, he effectively targeted Imran Khan’s narrative of ‘Islamic touch’ in all his speeches.

The subtext of Gen. Munir’s address made it loud and clear that though he is not a Mullah, he knows and understands Quran by heart. Besides, he is not a fake flag bearer of Islam unlike Khan whose Yoyo past shows wild swings from a playboy to an Islamist.

Second, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has emerged stronger having become the face of a hard-fought deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which saved Pak.

Working closely with Gen. Munir, the two appeared to have engineered a plan to revive Pakistan’s ailing economy, though not without the potential for a blowback.

Soon after the IMF deal, China, Saudi Arabia, and UAE have apparently also given assurances to release fresh financial packages.

But this is coming at a heavy price. In return for loans, these food-deficit countries, may be appropriating around 40000 acres of barren govt lands in Pakistan, where modern agri-practices, including hybrid seeds are expected to be deployed.

This is where Gen. Munir comes in for most of this land belongs to the military. At any rate the move is becoming controversial for surrendering land to foreigners is bound to be a highly unpopular move.

As a new situation emerges, the faint contours of a post-Imran scenario are emerging, though nothing yet is cast in stone. India Narrative has learnt that despite the hype around Nawaz Sharif, the military establishment would prefer Shehbaz Sharif to cotinine as Prime Minister. Asif Ali Zardari can become President, while his son Bilawal Bhutto can extend his tenure as foreign minister, and head the ancestral Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Authoritative sources say that confabulations between Gen. Munir and Sharif are yielding a fresh understanding. Instead of trying Khan in military courts, he could be docked in National Accountability Bureau (NAB) or Anti-terrorism courts.

While the balance has clearly shifted, Khan is hoping for some “black swan” event that could bring him back to contention. His proxies overseas such as US based senior journalist Shaheen Sehbai have hinted that Asim Munir could be shot at, invoking Gen. Ayub Khan’s failed assassination attempt in 1968, which became a turning point in Pakistan.

Speaking at a programme of Moeed Pirzada, another chorister in Khan’s noisy orchestra, Shaheen Sehbai said:  “For those who can understand…Today I discussed many things in an interview with fried Dr Moeed Pirzada but one thing was very deep rooted. He asked how long the period of repression can continue. I said that even a small incident changes the direction of the history. For example: I was present in the Peshawar public meeting in 1968 when a youth namely Hasim, 20 feet away (from the stage) rose and fired at Ayub Khan. And the field marshal hid himself under a table. The bullet didn’t hit but on that day his palace of repression collapsed.”