ISI, short for Inter-Services Intelligence, is not your run-of-the-mill spy agency. Founded on 1 January 1948 with the goal to “gather, process, and analyse any information from around the world that is deemed relevant to Pakistan’s national interest”, its men know exactly where the corpses are buried. And so, it’s not by mistake that the American Crime News called ISI, the world’s finest and strongest intelligence agency, ranking higher than even the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that prides itself as the world’s premier foreign intelligence agency. But I digress.
Stratocracy, a term first used by the renowned English political theorist, Sir Robert Filmer, elucidated a form of government headed by military chiefs. But it was Samuel Finer, a political scientist of no less standing, who went on to differentiate a stratocracy as a government by the army backed by a constitutional provision as opposed to military regimes where the army is a rogue element that usurps a nation’s leadership using the threat of force.
The closest modern equivalent of a stratocracy is the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) of Myanmar, in South-East Asia. This military government completely abolished the civilian constitution and legislature in the country while at the same time reserving 25% of the seats in the legislature for military personnel.
Stratocracy is not particularly the best way to describe the political system in Pakistan, but what obtains in this south Asian nation for all intent and purpose, may not be too far from that concept either. Or how do you explain a system where men with all the guns are the ultimate kingmakers, pulling the strings while lurking far behind in the shadows!
Pakistan, officially called the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a nuclear-armed multi-ethnic nation with the majority of its people being of the Punjabis tribal stock, followed by the Pashtuns and then Sindhi and Sariaki ethnic groups in that order. It is the fifth largest country in the world and with a population of about 220 million people, it is roughly the size of Nigeria. Pakistan came into being from the efforts of a coalition of movements that sought a separate homeland for Muslims leading to the partitioning of the then British Indian Empire, 75 years ago, precisely in 1947.
Since independence, with four military coups and countless unsuccessful attempts, the military has controlled the main levers of power in Pakistan. For more than three decades, the men in uniform have ruled the country and dominated foreign policies as well as dictated security priorities. If you are in Pakistan and want to play with the big boys (apologies to Goya Menor), don’t you go looking inside Aiwan-e-Sadr, as the nation’s Presidential palace is called.
An ethnic Pashtun whose family is from Lahore, Pakistan, Imran Khan had a privileged upbringing that made him attend elite schools including Oxford University. But it was his exploits on the cricket pitch especially when he led his country in 1992 to win the first and only World Cup that thrusted him fully into the limelight. Now a world celebrity, he hobnobbed with London’s glitterati and ended up marrying a British heiress, Jemima Goldsmith who later became the European editor-at-large for the American magazine, Vanity Fair.
That was the past life of the man who would become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. In his later life, however, he traded the playboy image to embrace puritanical Muslim. Having divorced both his British wife and another lady named Reham Khan who is a broadcast journalist, he remarried this time to his spiritual adviser, Bushra Bibi. Imran went on to launch a political career and established a brand-new political party called Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) or the Movement for Justice. He wanted to be identified as a reformer out to upend Pakistan’s long entrenched political dynasties. His rhetoric was distinctively populist, anticorruption and anti-American.
For many years, Mr. Khan struggled to be accepted as a politician of reckoning. Around 2011, however, his political fortune changed for good and little by little, he started drawing large crowds in his rallies. His message seemed to have resonated among everyday Pakistanis. To cap it off, he also won the backing of the top military establishment who allegedly manipulated the process to pave the way for his emergence as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in August 18th, 2018.
During the electioneering campaign leading up to the election, opponents accused military leaders of sidelining some serious candidates and censoring major news outlets, all in a bid to give Mr. Khan a competitive advantage. Upon assuming the mantle of leadership, he quickly ushered in a new foreign policy for his country that drew Pakistan closer to Russia and China while distancing from the United States.
His government came into power in the midst of high hopes and expectations from the people and he seemed ready and able to take on the onerous task head on. As a fiscal conservative, Prime Minister Khan and his government presided over a shrinking current account deficit, curtailed defense spending and addressed a balance of payment crisis. He pursued public policies that would improve the nation’s tax revenue and made reforms on social safety nets to help the poor and the less privileged. He also launched an all-out war against corruption though was accused of targeting only his political opponents.
Despite the earlier successes recorded, Prime Minister Khan had to contend with a political crisis caused by double-digit inflation that has pushed the cost of basic foods and essentials, out of the reach of many Pakistanis. After a period that lasted over three years, the honeymoon was over. Pakistan’s economic challenges ignited a flood of criticism, and Khan was accused of not only mismanaging the economy but failed to deliver on his core promise of creating an Islamist welfare state out of Pakistan. Against this backdrop, opposition to his government quickly swelled and very soon there was enough vote to pass a vote of no confidence on his government.
Prior to this no confidence vote, he was advised by the opposition to resign but he chose to deny his reality, blaming an international conspiracy for his troubles. Using his position as a bully pulpit, Mr. Khan resurrected his campaign style caustic rhetoric and called those trying to remove him traitors who were being sponsored by the United States with the sole purpose of inflicting harm to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. As always, large crowds showed up and chanted support for him.
The man proceeded to adopt strong arm tactics and attempted to dissolve the nation’s parliament that would sit to remove him, a move that startled even his supporters and almost plunged a nation that is perpetually on edge, into a near constitutional crisis. Thankfully, Pakistan’s Supreme Court stepped in and opposed his action, paving the way for the vote that resulted in his removal.
For most of his tenure, Mr. Khan enjoyed the support of his close friend and Pakistan’s powerful spy chief, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hamid. The general was accused of silencing Mr. Khan’s enemies, real or imagined, through the acts of intimidation and repression. Late last year, however, the table turned and Pakistani’s military leaders moved to remove General Hamid from his position. In his place, a new spy chief was appointed fr against Mr. Khan’s protests. His relationship with the military top brass sored over his refusal to back the new chief. This rift would later become evident, even in public spaces, albeit in a subtle manner.
Speaking at a security conference in the country’s capital Islamabad recently, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa who is Pakistan’s army chief made it known that Pakistan is hoping to “expand and deepen its ties with other countries, including the United States, a marked departure from Mr. Khan’s foreign policy position that sees the United States as an adversary. Also, the chief strongly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine which Mr. Khan all these while, had been very hesitant to do.
In the end, even though Imran Khan still enjoys a great deal of popularity and built a huge following among a good segment of the Pakistani society, that was not enough to save him or his position. As Arifa Noor, an Islamabad-based political analyst summed up nicely; “Pakistani politics has two parallel strands, one is public support, and the other is military. One without the other doesn’t land you in the big seat.”
Imran Khan, the cricket star turned politician totally missed that memo and that ladies and gentleman, was why his cookie crumbled.
•Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: [email protected]