The generals are back in control in Pakistan – this is unofficial.
There are now more than a dozen former and current military officials in prominent government roles, including the leadership of the state carrier, the energy regulator, and the National Institute of Health, which is leading the country's pandemic response. Three of these dates have taken place in the past two months.
The military's increased profile comes because Prime Minister Imran Khan sees his influence and popularity dwindle due to a slowing economy, high consumer prices, and corruption investigations in which his close advisers are involved. Analysts have long viewed army support as critical to Khan's party, which holds 46% of parliamentary seats, to hold together a government that relies on several smaller coalition partners to stay afloat.
In a way, this is nothing new: the military is Pakistan's most powerful institution and has ruled the country directly for much of its seven decades of history. However, it is far from the "New Pakistan" that Khan promised when he took office in 2018.
"By appointing an increasing number of current and retired key military officers, the government is freeing up the limited space that civilians have had in developing and implementing policies in the country," said Uzair Younus, a non-resident senior fellow on the Atlantic Council phone. "The open and covert role of the military in governance continues to grow."
Many in Pakistan can watch the shift during government virus briefings on state television, where uniformed current army officers are supporting the government pandemic. Retired Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa is now Khan’s communications advisor and oversees the implementation of approximately $ 60 billion of investments in Pakistan as part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.
At least 12 army loyalists in the cabinet also participated in the dictator's government, which became president Pervez Musharraf and ended in 2008. These include Interior Minister Ijaz Shah and Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Khan's financial advisor.
The increased military involvement is even supported by civilian advisors such as Zaigham Rizvi, a member of the Naya Pakistan Housing Program task force responsible for leading Khan's main economic project to build low-price houses. Two army officers were called into the body last month.
"There was a feeling that if we give majority control to the army, the army will have a good system," said Rizvi, who worked as a real estate expert at the World Bank for 10 years. "You do things."
The Pakistani army declined to comment. Khan's spokesman Nadeem Afzal Chan was not immediately available, while Minister of Information Syed Shibli Faraz did not respond to a request for comment.
Khan has long rejected allegations that he was too close to the military and, before his election victory in 2017, said that any idea that he was an army henchman was a "bizarre conspiracy". Last year he told the local media: "The army is with me."
However, the economic plight caused by the pandemic is again creating tensions. Pakistan is the most infected nation in Asia after India, with more than 108,000 coronavirus cases and approximately 2,200 deaths.
The economy is expected to shrink for the first time in 68 years. The central bank expects the economy to shrink by 1.5% in June to June. The nation received debt relief from the Paris Club in April and a $ 1.4 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund, and is one of the countries seeking debt relief.
Questions about the role of the army in governance came to the fore when the virus escalated in March. While Khan turned to the nation and urged citizens to remain calm, it was the army spokesman who announced the closure the next day. Most of the press releases from the country's viral nerve center, chaired by Planning Minister Asad Umar, are created by the Army's media wing – including the line and logo.
On March 24, Khan was visibly upset when reporters asked him, "Who is responsible here?" Although there was no reference to the military, he threatened to leave abruptly.
In late May, his aviation minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, defended the national airline's performance and military leadership after a passenger plane crashed in the financial capital, Karachi. "It is not a crime to appoint people who are members of the military," he said.
Khan's takeover is likely to continue to decline as current and retired army officers and army-backed political officials take on more executive power, said Arif Rafiq, president of Vizier Consulting in New York, a risk consulting firm that focuses on the Middle East and South Asia. He noted that Khan will continue to come under pressure as Pakistan's economic challenges continue to increase.
"The army has signaled its dissatisfaction with Khan's handling of the coronavirus barriers. There are also signs that the army has been dissatisfied with the China-Pakistan economic corridor and governance in Punjab, the largest province," so Rafiq said. "We saw the chief military spokesman openly press for a harder lockout and a retired officer take on the role of government spokesman and chief CPEC administrator."
The military had already begun to play a more active role in policy-making beyond foreign and national security policy last year. Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa met privately with leading business leaders to find ways to boost the economy. The country's parliament passed a law in January that provided Bajwa with a three-year extension from November 2019. He also became a member of a government's economic committee.
While many democracies have retired military officers in senior government positions, it becomes a problem when civilians are not at the helm, said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia, Washington, DC, at the Wilson Center.
"And here is the risk to democracy," he said. "If retired generals are influenced more by their former bosses than by their current bosses, democracy is not being served properly."
(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)