Banners urging army chief Gen Raheel Sharif to take control of the government have appeared mysteriously in cities across Pakistan, with some quarters alleging that the military’s public relations wing may have been behind the move.
This is the second time in a year that such posters and banners have appeared, following a deterioration in relations between the civilian leadership and the military high command.
According to the media, a little-known political party of Punjab province put up banners in 13 cities on Monday. Its leaders urged Gen Sharif to impose martial law and form a “government of technocrats”.
The banners were put up in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Sargodha and Hyderabad by the “Move On Pakistan” party. Unlike its earlier campaign requesting the army chief to reconsider his retirement, due on November 29, the message was ominous this time around.
A banner hanging at a traffic intersection on a key Karachi thoroughfare read: “Janay ki baatain hui puraani, Khuda ke liye ab ajao (The talk of leaving is now old; for God’s sake, appear on the scene now).
Ali Hashmi, the central chief organiser of the Move On Pakistan Party, told the Dawn newspaper the goal of the campaign was to suggest to the army chief that he should impose martial law and create a government of technocrats. Gen Sharif should himself supervise this set-up, Hashmi said.
The Inter-Services Public Relations, the military’s media arm, has been silent on the issue, and Dawn quoted analyst Amir Rana as saying the move strengthened the view that something was cooking.
The banners sprang up overnight on all major thoroughfares in the 13 cities, even within cantonments, despite the presence of several checkpoints and extra security. But Hashmi said his party’s banners were removed in Lahore and Faisalabad on Tuesday morning.
Move On Pakistan, which has little grassroots support, has been registered with the Election Commission for the past three years and Faisalabad-based businessman Mohammad Kamran is its chairman. He runs several schools and businesses in Faisalabad, Sargodha and Lahore.
The party came into the spotlight in February, when it put up posters and banners across the country asking the army chief not to retire and to “help in eradicating terrorism and corruption”.
Though the party maintained five months ago that it was not inviting the army to take over, this time it said “there is no choice but to enforce martial law”.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz was cautious in commenting on the matter. On a private TV news channel, minister of state for privatisation Mohammad Zubair said the army chief had already expressed his intention not to seek an extension in tenure. “He (Gen Sharif) is the head of a great institution. I’m sure the person who will replace him will be equally professional and competent,” he said.
Gen Sharif had dismissed speculation that he wanted to remain in office by issuing a statement in January which said: “I don’t believe in extension and will retire on the due date.”