New Delhi, Aug 11: In Pakistan, a frontline state on the gates of Central and West Asia, the stage is set for a massive purge that targets former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Over the years the former premier had developed powerful nodes of influence in the military, radical Islamist organisations, the media and within civilian state institutions as well as an influential section of the civil society.
Over the past few days, a focused effort seems to have been launched by a hybrid-combination of the top military brass, personally led by the Army Chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, and the new government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to weed out pro-Imran loyalists from the system.
On Monday, the first clear sign of the purge came when Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, known to be close to Khan, was removed as commander of the Peshawar based XI corps and shifted to Bahawalpur. This was Gen. Hameed’s second major transfer. He was earlier removed as the chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)-a position that Khan wanted him to occupy. Gen. Hamid was moved to Peshawar. But he was still tasked with a major responsibility-of conducting a dialogue, through tribal intermediaries and the Afghan Taliban, with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or the Pakistan Taliban.
The TTP had been running riot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bolstered by the presence of a large number of senior functionaries who were released from prison after the Taliban swept into power in Kabul on August 15 last year.
Hameed’s transfer coincided with a massive IED blast that killed TTP’s top four leaders on Sunday, including top gun Maulvi Omar Khalid Khorasani. Seemingly, all bridges for the continuation of a dialogue have been burnt with the strike, and Gen. Hameed’s role in peace talks has been, in all likelihood, terminated.
Known for his hatred towards Christians, Khorasani was on the drone list of the Americans, who had already offered a $3 million dead or alive reward on his head.
After Hameed’s transfer the anti-Imran purge had been further energised. On Tuesday, Khan’s trusted Lieutenant Shahbaz Gill was arrested and charged with sedition. If the charges are proven, he could face the death penalty-a prospect that is bound to sow fear among Khan’s senior supporters belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party that the former premier heads.
The knives are out for Gill because he virtually called for a revolt within the army establishment during a discussion programme on the pro-Imran ARY television channel.
It can now be expected that the trail of Gill’s investigation will tighten the noose around Khan, making him the mastermind of the “seditious” remarks. “The comments were according to the script prepared under the supervision of PTI Chairperson Imran Khan which was carried forward by former information minister Fawad Chaudhry and Gill,” the interior minister Rana Sanaullah said, during a press conference.
The ongoing purge is likely to have at least three major consequences. First, the marginalisation of Khan and the PTI is likely to generate a power vacuum which can be expected to be filled by the anti-Khan camp-a process that could be capped with the arrival from London of the in-exile former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, underwritten by a pruned military that has been shaped by Gen. Bajwa.
Second, with a dominantly pro-west dispensation in power, US influence in Pakistan is bound to increase. The military is expected to back the shift, as Gen. Bajwa enjoys excellent ties with the West. In fact, Pak media reports suggest that on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s insistence, Gen. Bajwa called the US Deputy Secretary State Wendy Sherman, requesting her to facilitate the early release of the $1.2 billion first instalment of an IMF loan that a cash strapped Pakistan badly needs. Besides, three days before the terror kingpin Ayman Al Zawahiri was shredded by a hellfire missile in Kabul on July 31, Gen. Bajwa was on the phone with US Central Command Chief General Michael Erik Kurilla, leading to speculation that the Pak military had coordinated with the Americans the fatal drone strike.
Third, the purge is bad news for the Chinese whose CPEC projects are likely to suffer, especially as the IMF is likely to scrutinise the project details, pick holes in them, before parting with its loans. Already, News International website is reporting that the China-built Dasu hydropower project’s stage -1 with the capacity to generate 2160 MW hydel electricity has been delayed by three years, resulting in cost overrun of Rs 100 billion.
(The content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)