Pakistan's Pulwama admission and Abhinandan remarks a sideshow; real battle is over future of Bajwas

To an Italian, the entire episode puts one in mind of the good old days of Silvio Berlusconi where the then prime minister was continuously 'misinterpreted' or 'quoted out of context'.

Francesca Marino November 03, 2020 06:41:15 IST
Pakistan's Pulwama admission and Abhinandan remarks a sideshow; real battle is over future of Bajwas

File image of Qamar Javed Bajwa

The umpteenth slip of tongue, misrepresentation or quote out of context — it appears politicians in Pakistan, starting with their prime minister, have little to no control over what they say, whether they write it or when they say it on record. Blame the media, after all, the poisonous media is always ready to spit venom on good people, but in Pakistan, it could not be under tighter control.

The latest episode — one that to an Italian, is very reminiscent of the times when former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was continuously 'misinterpreted' or 'quoted out of context' — comes from the former Speaker of the National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq and from Cabinet minister Fawad Chaudry. Apparently, in trying to prove their loyalty to the current regime and praise their army masters, the poor fellows caused an earthquake in the government.

Chaudry, at the National Assembly, said: "Humne Hindustan ko ghus ke maara (We hit India in their home). Our success in Pulwama, is a success of the people under the leadership of Imran Khan. You and we are all part of that success." As soon as he realised what he had said, he changed the statement rephrasing his line as: "Pulwama ke waqiyeh ke baad, jab humne India ko ghus ke maara (When we hit India in their home after the incident at Pulwama)".

It was indeed an admission, slip or tongue or not, of what India has been saying since the beginning: Pakistan was behind the Pulwama attack in which 40 members of army personnel lost their lives. The media, both Indian and Pakistani, started to whip up a frenzy and created a storm. A storm in a teacup, indeed. There was no need, in fact, for any open or disguised admission. It was clear since the beginning that Islamabad was behind the Pulwama attack, and the only ones thinking Pakistan was not behind it were those who will deny it even in the face of an open admission by the Chief of Army himself.

The Pulwama attack had been claimed beyond any doubt, since the first moments, by the Pakistani-based, trained, born and breed terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed. To anyone with an iota of sense, starting from ordinary Pakistanis, it is known that JeM, like many other jihadi groups, is an ISI creation. And that the army and ISI are the 'selectors' of Imran and his government, the State involvement in Pulwama, or, at least, the involvement of segments of the State, has never been a secret or a matter of discussion.

Chaudry's 'misinterpreted' words and the troubles he faced later trying to find an exit, played well with the press, and so did the words of Ayaz Sadiq. He said: "I remember Shah Mahmood Qureshi was in the meeting Imran Khan had refused to attend and Chief of Army Staff General Bajwa came into the room, his legs were shaking and he was perspiring. The foreign minister said, 'For God's sake, let Abhinandan go, India's about to attack Pakistan at 9 pm'." Cue another storm, a bigger one, on social media and TV channels. But again, a storm in a teacup.

The main point here is not in fact whether Qureshi was trembling and shaking, or why and how Abhinandan was released, but the simple fact that these things have been said in the National Assembly. The revealed once more a crack not between the Opposition and mainstream, but according to local analysts, within the Pakistan Army itself — and this is a crack that widens everyday. "A large number of senior army officials have given the go-ahead to the PML-Nawaz party against the two Bajwas (Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army chief and Asim Saleem Bajwa, the chairman of the CPEC Authority)," says Shahid Qazi, a former politician from Balochistan.

"Army officials are worried about the revelation of corruption and unconstitutional activities by the generals — which began with Noorani's leaks about the Bajwas' interference in the 2018 General Election. The army knows that these exposés will not stop unless the two Bajwas are sacrificed, and for that reason they have decided to 'use' PML-Nawaz against the them," he continues, adding, "The party has been instructed not to target the whole army and that it will be supported against the Bajwas. The speech by Ayaz Sadiq, the arrest of Captain Muhammad Safdar Awan and the PML-Nawaz's position in Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) processions must be read in this context."

Translation: No slip of tongue happens by chance in Pakistan.

After Sharif's attack on the top command of the army, the accusations of carrying out false flag attacks like the recent bomb blasts in Peshawar and in Quetta have become quite frequent and transparent. Even Maulana Atta ur Rehman, younger brother of PDM chairman Maulana Fazlur Rehman, gave an incendiary speech threatening the generals for their involvement in politics and accusing the army of sabotaging his party's rallies with bomb blasts. There is little chance, people say, of saving the army chief's face or post. Whether he lays the blame on his men or takes responsibility for the mess in Pakistan, his image will be heavily tarnished.

And as the Game of Thrones plays out in the country, Imran and his selectors continue to throw dust in the eyes of people: Pulwama, Abhinandan and above all, the unleashing of jihadi sentiment in the the streets on the pretext of protesting Charlie Hebdo's cartoons. The streets of Pakistan have been plastered for the past few days with pictures of Abhinandan and flooded by goons burning French flags and demanding the decapitation of practically all the western citizens.

While the Pulwama drama was developing in Parliament and while two sections of the army were at each other's throats, the prime minister was busy accusing the West, and of course India, of Islamophobia. He was also openly backing Khadim Hussain Rizvi, founder and president of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, a far-Right Islamist political party. Further, he was calling for jihad against France and the rest of the world on any and all available social media platform. "France is challenging you. Declare Jihad... I declare jihad against kafirs," he said.

Islamophobia, jihad, Pulwama and Abhinandan are all smoke screens, or the Pakistani version of Marie Antoinette's brioches to throw at hungry people instead of bread. After all, focussing on the enemy outside will temporarily make people stop thinking of the enemy within — an enemy who kills its own citizens in cold blood everyday, an enemy who frequently makes people 'disappear' and one who dumps bodies in the streets. This is also an enemy who shrinks any possible freedom of the citizens and ultimately, an enemy who needs an enemy outside to survive.

If you have an enemy outside, every horror committed in the name of 'protection' is justified. The truth is that something is going to give in the country. The two Bajwas may go, or they may decide on a bloodbath to settle matters once for all. But anyone labouring under the impression that if the Bajwas go, the country will finally be ruled by a civilian government, would do well to think twice and recall the history of the country. What we see at the moment, as Pakistani analysts point out, is not civilians against the army, but two sections of the army playing civilians.

To revisit Game of Thrones: "Winter is coming. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives." And this particular pack, don't forget, has survived more than 70 winters.

The author is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written Apocalypse Pakistan with B Natale

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