HomeOpinionMay 9: A Watershed Moment in Pakistan’s History

May 9: A Watershed Moment in Pakistan’s History


May 9: A Watershed Moment in Pakistan’s History

NEW DELHI, (IANS) – Since its inception in 1947, the Pakistani Army has been a dominant force in the nation’s affairs. Over nearly eight decades, it has wielded power directly or indirectly, morphing into the most formidable economic and political entity in Pakistan.

The Pakistani military has built an expansive economic empire, leveraging its deep-seated political influence. Despite its engagement in significant wars and its role in the partition of the country in 1971, the Army has largely been insulated from overt criticism, shielded by its profound political clout.

However, the events of May 9, 2023, mark a pivotal chapter in Pakistan’s history.

For the first time, the Pakistani populace boldly confronted the army’s political meddling.

In response, the military resorted to severe measures to quell opposition, detaining hundreds of civilians, and political activists under draconian legislation.

What was once perceived as impregnable military sanctity was breached on that day, highlighting growing anti-military sentiment across the nation.

In the past seven decades of its existence, Pakistan has been under direct martial law for more than three decades. Even the Pakistani political leadership have in general ruled the country in connivance with the military, often placing their personal gains above Pakistan’s national interests.

Pakistani politicians, due to their own vulnerabilities, have frequently ceded their authority, allowing the military to overstep institutional boundaries.

Even the Pakistani intelligentsia, who critique the military’s ongoing political interference, have consistently faced harsh suppression by the military, resulting in a domestic media that predominantly promotes pro-military narratives.

In the past decade, the Pakistani military’s overt meddling in the nation’s affairs has often been masked by ostensibly civilian governance, however, its covert political influence persisted relentlessly.

This interference is largely driven by the need to maintain its vast, extra-constitutional business empire. As Pakistani writer Ayesha Siddiqa outlines in her book ‘Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’, the Pakistan Army has built a comprehensive commercial network spanning from manufacturing to real estate, becoming Pakistan’s largest business conglomerate.

She details how the army has commandeered national resources, detrimentally impacting the state economy. Particularly alarming is the robustness of this military economy, known as ‘milbus’, which thrives independently of Pakistan’s economic crises and operates outside the state’s accountability structures.

This system has been manipulated for the personal gain of military officers, exacerbating the economic challenges being faced by Pakistan.

The military’s encroachment into Pakistan’s political realm has been widely acknowledged, yet its extensive security apparatus has stifled public dissent against its constitutional manipulations and violations.

Since the late 1970s, following the execution of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by General Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistani political leaders had conceded the political arena to the Army, effectively adopting a secondary role in the governance of the country.

However, Imran Khan’s ascent had shaken this longstanding arrangement.

Ironically, Imran Khan’s rise in 2018 Pakistan elections was aided by Pakistani military however, the relationship between Khan and the military establishment quickly deteriorated in first two years.

Unlike his more accommodating predecessors, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, Khan presented a formidable challenge for the military leadership to control, marking a shift from the usual dynamics of political compliance. Imran Khan’s tenure had marked a distinctive chapter in Pakistan’s political history when Pakistani military’s political meddling came in forefront of public debate.

He has been openly blaming key military figures, including former Army Chief Qamar Bajwa, current Army Chief Asim Munir, ISI Chief Nadeem Anjum, and Major General Faisal Naseer, for not only orchestrating his removal from the PM office but also for undermining Pakistan’s civilian institutions.

Significantly, this accusation was validated by none other than Qamar Javed Bajwa himself, who in his November 2022 farewell address, had confessed to the Pak Army’s “constant meddling in politics over the past 70 years, which is unconstitutional”.

In such circumstances, the events of May 9, 2023, assume profound significance in Pakistan’s history especially for Military Establishment.

The arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan by the military on May 9, 2023, catalyzed a remarkable shift in Pakistan’s socio-political landscape.

Imran Khan was taken into custody by Pak military forces under charges for sedition, an action that sparked a nationwide uproar.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the unrest did not just manifest in widespread protests; it escalated dramatically as hundreds of demonstrators targeted military installations from Lahore to Quetta to Peshawar. This unprecedented response severely dented Pakistan Military’s long-held image as an inviolable and sacrosanct institution.

Historically, the Military has been revered as the protector of Pakistan’s ideological foundation and as a pivotal unifying force in a country rife with ethnic divisions.

Pak Military establishments had effectively elevated their status to one beyond ordinary scrutiny, where any criticism of the military was often seen as tantamount to criticizing the essence of Pakistan itself.

The events of May 9, therefore, signify a critical juncture, indicating a possible shift in public perception and the beginning of a new chapter where Pak military’s actions and its role in governance might face increasing scrutiny from the public it vows to protect.

While Pak Military might have temporarily managed to quell dissent using its typical suppressive tactics, such as imprisoning hundreds of civilians and political activists affiliated with Imran Khan, the fact that ordinary Pakistanis have become aware of the military establishment’s schemes indicates that the public can no longer be easily subdued or deceived.

This sentiment became particularly evident during Pakistan’s general elections on February 8, where the military establishment deployed every tool at its disposal to manipulate the outcome.

Despite these maneuvers, the strong electoral support for Imran Khan deeply unsettled the Military leadership. Although the Military Establishment eventually managed to orchestrate the installation of a government led by Shehbaz Sharif, this act only served to further tarnish its image among the Pakistani populace.

Consequently, the events of May 9 seem to have inspired a renewed push towards the democratic aspiration of extricating the Pak Military Establishment from the country’s political sphere.

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