Dawn Leaks reflects larger problem of Pakistan Army undermining politicians
The standoff between the parallel power centres in Pakistan - the political government headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the military high command led by army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa - seems to have come to a head over the release of the report of the probe into Dawn Leaks.
Based on the report, Sharif issued a series of instructions, including the sacking of his special assistant on foreign affairs, Tariq Fatemi, and action against principal information officer Rao Tehsin. Within hours of the instructions being released, the army publicly rejected the measures.
More unusual was interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan criticising the army for using social media to give opinions on what was an internal matter that could have been addressed through proper channels.
It is clear that the army is unhappy with the action taken by the government over the probe into a report last year in the Dawn newspaper on differences between the military and the civilian set-up on tackling terror groups.
The army was represented on the inquiry committee by two representatives - the Inter-Services Intelligence agency nominee and one from Military Intelligence. Both had recommended strong action against journalist Cyril Almeida, who wrote the report in the Dawn, but the Sharif government did not consider this.
More important, the army is incensed over the fact that it considers the prime minister's secretary, Fawad Hasan Fawad, as part and parcel of the problem. Instead, Fawad was used to issue Sharif's instructions - which the army high command did not take to very kindly.
Most analysts say Dawn Leaks reflects a larger problem in Pakistan - the constant efforts by the army to undermine the political leadership.
"The army continues to challenge the government and keep it on the defensive. The whole idea is to keep the civilian government in a state of flux," said Abid Hussain, an Islamabad-based journalist. Hussain said this is a cycle that keeps repeating in Pakistan: "Whenever civilians are in power, the military wants to show that politicians are corrupt and ineffective."
As the general elections approach in 2018, there are expectations that Sharif will come back to power with a bigger mandate.
This is what the army high command is afraid of, say observers, who add that a Punjabi prime minister with a bigger mandate is the only political threat that the army high command faces. The last time Sharif had such a mandate, he was removed from power through a military coup. This time it would be more difficult.
What has become increasingly common is for the military to comment on issues outside its domain. Last month, the military spokesman commented that the army would welcome the Supreme Court’s verdict on corruption allegations against Sharif and his family based on the Panama Papers leaks.
This was a clear signal to the public that the military would not be adverse to Sharif stepping down. But the judgment, which it is rumoured came after much back-door lobbying by the ruling PML-N party, gave the prime minister a breather, much to the dismay of many in the corridors of powers.
Soon after, an army-led media campaign was started to condemn the meeting of Indian businessman Sajjan Jindal with the prime minister last week. The military has continued to lead the media in campaigns against the elected government.
Over the past few years, the army has acquired a TV channel and used aggressive advertising through its various commercial enterprises to buy over the rest of the big houses, with a few notable exceptions.
Despite all this, analysts said the army’s high command can see its role being reduced in the coming years. "Short of staging a coup, it is doing all it can to ensure that its military and economic empire continue to grow and its say in national affairs remains unchallenged," said one analyst.
"What we are seeing are the last desperate acts of an emperor that senses its status as an unquestioned power is coming to an end."