Colombo, August 16 (Counterpoint): The appointment of Senator Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar as the Caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan till elections are held for the National Assembly, is expected to serve four objectives: (1) ensuring law and order and governmental neutrality in the elections to be held in March 2024 (2) putting the all-important army in a commanding position (3) restoring the strained relations with the US (4) ensuring the safety of Chinese personnel and projects in Baluchistan and generally preventing a rift with Beijing.
Kakar (52) belongs to the small and new Baluchistan Awami Party (BAP) that he founded in 2018. He had earlier broken away from the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) led by Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif as well as the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) led by the now-incarcerated Imran Khan. He was to be Federal Minister of Information in the PTI government but Imran Khan ditched him.
Alienated from both major parties, Kakar is expected to be neutral in the politics and administration of Pakistan which are usually plagued by the rivalry between PML (N), the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPI) and the PTI.
PML (N) was pushing for the appointment of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar as Caretaker PM. But he would neither be neutral nor serve the army’s core interests. The PML (N) has had a chequered relationship with the army fighting with it and making up with it alternately.
In Baluchistan politics, Kakar has positioned himself as an anti-separatist and anti-terrorist leader. As such, he will wholeheartedly back the army’s muscular campaign against separatist and militant outfits that have been threatening Pakistan’s relations with China.
China has a port at Gwadar and is executing infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars in Baluchistan which the local Baluchis think are of new use to them. Only recently, Baluch separatists attacked a vehicle carrying some Chinese personnel. No Chinese was hurt though.
With Imran Khan in jail and his PTI having no popular and credible leader outside the prison, Kakar will be untrammelled by PTI’s efforts to whip up mass anti-government and anti-army agitations in Pakistan. He would thus find the time and space to attend to the country’s still unresolved economic and foreign exchange problems.
Mend Fences with US
To resolve the economic crises, Pakistan needs the support of the IMF and that entails support in Washington. Although the outgoing PML (N)-Pakistan Peoples Party coalition government led by Shehbaz Sharif was friendly to the US, the army was not confident that these populist parties would abjure the populist anti-US stand.
The Pakistan army has had a long-standing relationship with the US receiving high-quality weapons from time to time. The army has always fought against local forces inimical to the US.
The army was happy to help engineer the removal of Imran Khan from power because he had become very critical of the US. The US is said to have sought Imran’s removal in an informal interaction between top US official Donald Lu and the Pakistan Ambassador in Washington.
Imran Khan, who directly challenged the army, demanding that the Generals stay out of politics, was ousted through a no-confidence motion allegedly facilitated by the army. He was later convicted for corruption and subjected to a five-year ban on political activity.
Analysts expect the Caretaker government to maintain the current heavy pressure on Imran and the PTI. Efforts will be made to split the PTI, though Imran may still enjoy popular support.
The Establishment (ie: the army) may push back elections beyond March 2024 to allow time for the economy to improve and for Khan’s support base to dissipate.
One of the reasons for delaying the elections could be the redrawing electoral constituencies in light of the findings of the just concluded national census. This will not be a smooth and quick process because the census itself will be challenged for alleged political and ethnic biases.
Special Army Legislation
Some special legislation has been carried out to empower the army to stem any dissidence or populism within it.
Last Thursday the Senate passed a bill to amend the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 to mandate five years in jail for anyone who disclosed sensitive information pertaining to the security of the country or the Pakistan Army without express permission from the Army Chief.
The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2023 has Section 26-B, which forbids any person subject to the Army Act from engaging in any kind of political activity for two years from the date of “retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service”.
It further says that those who have “remained posted, employed, seconded, tasked or otherwise attached on sensitive duties” are forbidden from taking part in “political activity of any kind, during a period of five years from the date of his retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service”.
It states that anyone who violates the aforementioned conditions, upon their conviction by the court constituted under the Army Act, will be punished with “rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years”.
Section 55-A forbids any person subject to the Army Act in the past five years from directly or indirectly entering into employment, consultation or other engagement with an entity having a conflict of interest with the activities of the Pakistan Army or its affiliates.
Section 55-C stated that a person subject to the Army Act, who “ridicules, scandalises, brings into hatred or otherwise attempts to lower the armed forces of Pakistan or any part thereof in the estimation of others shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years or fine or with both.”
Section 176-AA (power to issue instructions) states that the Army chief may “from time to time, make and issue instructions for carrying into effect the provisions of this Act and the rules and regulations made thereunder, provided that all such instructions already made and issued shall always be deemed to have been validly made and issued under this act”.
A clause introduced to Section 176-C proposes that the Army chief “may delegate any of his powers and functions conferred by, or delegated under this act, to any officer or authority subordinate to him”.
The law does not apply to those who seek prior approval from the COAS for the above.
Section 176-E proposes that the laws under the act “shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent contained in any other law, rules or regulations for the time being in force”, adding that any such inconsistent law shall, “to the extent of any inconsistency, cease to have effect”.
The basic idea is to stop the politicization of the army following reports that a section of it had begun supporting populist leader Imran Khan. The new laws are applicable only to serving and retired military personnel, and not to civilians.
The National Assembly on Monday passed the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023. The most significant alteration made in the now-adopted bill was the removal of a clause that would have granted intelligence agencies power to arrest suspects or conduct searches without warrants.