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Finally, PM meets the army chief

The relations between PTI and military are deteriorating, and Shehbaz Sharif can take advantage of this rift. The government should launch investigations against the people behind the anti-army campaign while the incoming foreign minister should engage with the military before making the foreign policy

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif met Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa yesterday. This meeting was being anticipated as there were very intense clashes among both Sharifs and Qamar Bajwa.

Unlike other parties that shaded the whole military institution indirectly without naming a specific person, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif directly called out sitting Army Chief Qamar Bajwa and held him responsible for rigging and “selecting” the government of Imran Khan. Now, when his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif is the prime minister, critics wanted to see how civil-military relations will unfold.

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Earlier, when Imran Khan was appointed as the prime minister, General Bajwa not only attended his oath-taking ceremony but also congratulated him on becoming the prime minister. In the case of Shehbaz Sharif, he missed his oath-taking ceremony due to illness. Also, the first meeting between them yesterday lacked warmth. Unlike the articles and stories in 2018 that began with “Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa congratulated Prime Minister Imran Khan on assuming the top ministerial job”, none of the stories yesterday indicated that COAS congratulated Shehbaz Sharif on assuming the office.

The fundamental question is, can both of these institutions keep the past aside to work together? Seems like they can. Ever since the Lettergate controversy broke out, the opposition was constantly demanding the military to clarify the matter and put facts before the nation. When Shehbaz Sharif took office, he made the same demand. And DG ISPR held a press conference the very next day as the newborn government had demanded.

Although it made a lot of people unhappy including Imran Khan’s key aid Sheikh Rasheed, who said that this press conference by ISPR was “unnecessary” and he just opened a new chapter.

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But military fulfilled its duty and cooperated with the sitting government.

Though the conference did not much help the coalition government, as the major misunderstanding that whether opposition was a part of the intervention or not, was not addressed in the press conference. However, it did debunk a lot of claims that were made by PTI Chairman Imran khan which was helpful for the coalition squad.

If we look at history, Shehbaz Sharif has always refrained from clashing with the military. In fact, he was more like a mediator between his elder brother and the military. Senior journalist Mujeeb ur Rehman Shami says that on one occasion Pervez Musharraf had also said that “it would have been better if he (Shehbaz Sharif) had been the Prime Minister”.

Journalist Salman Ghani says that Shehbaz Sharif wrote several letters to his elder brother Nawaz Sharif from inside the jail. In these letters, he kept advising Nawaz Sharif that we should not clash with the Establishment.

When Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, there were speculations that Maryam Nawaz wanted to call out the military for its alleged intervention in the Pakistani politics and Shehbaz Sharif did not agree with this. Rumours were circulating that the disagreement between both Shehbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz was so severe that the PML-N began to divide into two blocks; those who wanted to call out the army and those who did not. Shehbaz Sharif was not in favour of messing with the state.

Nominating Shehbaz Sharif for the PMship might turn out to be a better decision for PML-N because he will have better access to the military. Thus, he can act as a bridge and resolve major differences with military before the arrival of Nawaz Sharif.

Mr Bajwa is not likely to remain in office for a long time as DG ISPR has cleared that he will not take any further extension. But whoever comes next will have the same policy as General Bajwa because this is how this institution works. The officials in the top military tier can have different opinions but they all act in accordance with the same policy. Whoever comes next as the army chief will surely remember the history between the military and each political party. So, Shehbaz Sharif should mend ties between PML-N and the military on time.

For now on, the military is likely to stay away from PMLN, not because of the adverse comments made by Nawaz Sharif, but because it does not want to give an impression that it is siding with the PML-N due to the ongoing propaganda on social media that pushes this claim. But PML-N should make efforts to cooperate with it. The relations between PTI and the military are deteriorating, and Shehbaz Sharif can take advantage of this rift.

Even though it looks really awkward when someone from PML-N condemns the campaign against the military, they should continue to do it anyway. They should launch investigations against the people behind the anti-army campaign as DG ISPR had already said in his conference that it is the civilians who have to take action when someone calls out institutions. The incoming foreign minister should engage with the military to get an actual picture of what’s going on before making the foreign policy.

Shehbaz Sharif himself should pay a visit to the army officer who was allegedly beaten by PML-N’s MPA’s guard and assure him that he will investigate the matter. State and government cannot co-exist without cooperating with each other so both institutions need to move on from the past.

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