Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan has escalated his criticism of the country’s powerful military, accusing the head of the army of harbouring a “personal grudge” against him and ordering his arrest and a crackdown on his party.
“It is personal. It’s got nothing to do with national interest,” Khan told the Guardian in an interview at his home in Lahore, after a dramatic week in which he was arrested at Islamabad’s high court by almost 100 paramilitary officers on Tuesday and held in police custody, in connection with a land corruption case.
“Without any doubt, the military is behind my arrest,” he said. “Pakistan is now being run by the army chief. The crackdown on us is by the army chief.”
Arrests of political rivals are nothing new in Pakistan – when Khan was prime minister, several senior opposition leaders were jailed, some for more than a year – but such anti-military rhetoric is unprecedented in Pakistan’s politics, where the army has long been seen as the country’s kingmaker and exerts enormous power.
Khan was released from police custody on Friday evening, after supreme court judges ruled that his arrest was “illegal and invalid” and the high court granted him bail.
Known for his populist politics and firebrand speeches, Khan, 70, fell out spectacularly with his former military allies after he accused them of orchestrating his removal from power in April last year. He has since accused them of two attempts on his life.
Khan alleged his arrest, and that of seven senior members of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was symptomatic of the unrivalled power wielded by the military. [Continue reading…]
Though Pakistan is only the world’s 42nd-largest economy, it boasts the sixth-largest military. The country won’t be able to pull itself back from the brink unless its leaders question the ideas that brought it to its current calamity.
There’s a template of sorts in Bangladesh, which broke away from Pakistan in 1971 to become an independent nation. Once derided by Henry Kissinger as a “basket case,” over the past two decades Bangladesh has quietly proven naysayers wrong. It has emerged as one of the world’s largest garment exporters, developed close economic and diplomatic relations with India, and firmly subordinated its army to civilian power.
In 1999 Bangladesh had a per capita income of about $400, slightly lower than Pakistan’s ($420). By 2021, Bangladesh’s per capita income of $2,460 was more than 60% higher than Pakistan’s. Nearly three-quarters of Bangladeshi women are literate, compared with less than half of Pakistani women. Manufacturing—an important measure of a poor country’s ability to boost productivity by moving workers from farms to factories—accounts for 21% of Bangladesh’s economy compared with only 12% in Pakistan. Bangladesh’s foreign-exchange reserves of about $30 billion are almost seven times as large as Pakistan’s.
That Pakistan lags behind what was once the poorer half of the country speaks to more than a failure of specific policies. The big difference is how each country conceives of itself. Pakistan’s problems go back to a founding ideology rooted in arguments used to carve a Muslim-majority homeland from British India, argues former Pakistani ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani in his 2018 book, “Reimagining Pakistan.” The country “decided to base itself as an independent state on the same grounds that it had sought its creation,” he writes. “Islamic nationalism, pan Islamism and competing with ‘Hindu India’ superseded” a more pragmatic approach that embraced “the ethnic, linguistic and cultural differences” of Pakistanis while also pursuing their material interests.
In Mr. Haqqani’s telling, Pakistan has clung to a counterproductive ideology, championed most fiercely by the military, that includes “militarism, radical Islamist ideology, perennial conflict with India, dependence on external support, and refusal to recognize ethnic identities and religious pluralism.” Mr. Khan’s confrontation with the army may have set off the current conflagration, but the roots lie in a worldview that prevents Pakistani leaders from pursuing more-practical policies such as economic modernization and peace with India. [Continue reading…]