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In Pakistan, Captain Imran defies selector Army chief triggering a political storm

Defying the army, Imran Khan orders opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif be stopped from boarding London flight (Photo: IANS)

It was all set for Pakistani opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif to visit London.

The Lahore High Court had allowed him to leave but at the airport he was stopped from boarding the flight on the orders of Prime Minister Imran Khan, then in Saudi Arabia. According to a few Pakistani journalists who are “close” to the Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif was traveling to London to discuss a “reconciliation” formula with his brother. Incidentally, the message was “drafted” with the complete approval of Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

But crossing all red-lines an “angry” Imran Khan decided not allow the younger Sharif to  execute his dramatic mission. “Selectors wanted Shahbaz to go to London but Captain Imran Khan said no,” said one journalist. He added that “the two- and half-year itch” has started, referring to the relations between General Bajwa and Imran Khan that are rapidly going south.

According to sources, Army Chief Bajwa and some senior leaders of Nawaz Sharif’s party PML-N had a few meetings. Following that, these leaders have stopped criticising the Pakistan army. In fact, three days ago former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told the media that his party and leaders like Shahbaz Sharif have no differences with the army.

Once again, Pakistan’s capital is rife with rumours that the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has lost the support of the security establishment and the opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif is becoming “favourite” of the army because of Imran Khan’s mishandling of Punjab, and the relationship with India.

“He (army chief) had his own opinion on these matters and wanted to know how we managed it. We expressed our reservations over the way the government (Imran Khan’s govt) is managing it, the matters will be worsened,” said Abbasi.

The military establishment is apparently annoyed with Khan’s insistence in targeting the PMLN’s leadership in Punjab and his refusal to change the team running the province. 

The key warning that an internal revolt was also brewing against Khan- led PTI came when one of the most senior leaders of the party from Punjab, Jahangir Khan Tareen, said that he was being “unfairly targeted” by government agencies on the behest of Imran Khan. Tareen has more than 30 loyal MPs in the party.

According to Pakistani observers, everything is not well between Imran Khan and his selector General Bajwa. Few months back, the Pakistani army chief called on both nations—Pakistan and India– to bury the past after the militaries of both countries released a rare joint statement announcing the renewal of a ceasefire agreement along a disputed border in Kashmir. But this has been followed by a series of flip flops from Imran Khan’s government.

Prime Minister Khan laid down a certain condition – that New Delhi must restore Article 370 of the Indian Constitution before Islamabad can consider the normalisation of relations. Obviously the Army top brass is not amused. The political situation in Pakistan is obviously reaching an inflection point.