Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

In Pakistan, it’s politicians vs. generals

  • Print

Ever since Pakistan’s third, disastrous stint of military rule ended in 2008 with the coup leader, President Pervez Musharraf, slouching off to exile in London’s Edgware Road, the generals have tried hard to be seen to be getting out of politics. Behind the scenes the army still wields immense influence, but being seen to boss around civilian governments is to be avoided.

It is thus a sign of the army’s current unease that its newish chief felt that he had publicly to defend the army’s ‘’dignity and institutional pride’’ on April 7. General Raheel Sharif was responding to rank-and-file concerns of ‘’undue criticism of the institution in recent days,’’ the army said.

Tensions have been rising over the treatment of Musharraf, a former general, who unwisely returned from self-imposed exile last year to relaunch his political career, only to face charges of high treason. Because even retired generals are thought to be untouchable, many Pakistanis did not believe that the trial would ever get off the ground. Indeed, the army seemed to come to Musharraf’s rescue when he claimed a heart scare, moved into an army hospital and dodged court appearances by claiming ill health.

After weeks of legal wrangling, however, the former president was indicted on March 31.

Even then people assumed that the government would allow Musharraf to slip off back into exile, rather than risk the repercussions of his conviction and possible death sentence. Not so, said a government minister, Khawaja Saad Rafique, who branded Musharraf a ‘’traitor’’ who must face justice.

Such language infuriates the army establishment, and it heightens their worry that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf ousted in his coup in 1999, really does want the legal process to run its course. Last week the government turned down Musharraf’s request to leave the country to visit his ailing mother in the Persian Gulf.

Adding to the army’s annoyance is the government’s dogged effort to negotiate a peace deal with violent Islamist revolutionaries. In late March negotiators met militants from the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. A cease-fire was agreed upon, but violence continues. On April 9 in Islamabad, the capital, more than 20 people were killed by a bomb at a vegetable market, an act in which the T.T.P. denies involvement.

The army wants to launch an operation against militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan, a region it says must be subdued before NATO combat troops leave neighboring Afghanistan in nine months’ time. It fears that the T.T.P. will stall for time. Next year, without the NATO presence, militants will melt into Afghanistan much more easily should the Pakistani army attack them.

In the past a strong, public rebuke from an army chief would have sparked panic among politicians. Nowadays, though, a feisty judiciary and media appear to have made even the threat of a coup unthinkable.

‘’Nobody should expect special treatment,’’ says Defense Minister Khawaja Asif, who was locked up during the Musharraf coup.

Still, even those who share the view that Pakistan’s bouts of military rule are at the root of its many problems fear that Sharif is being needlessly antagonistic. If, as seems likely, talks with the T.T.P. prove fruitless, only the men in khaki will be able to deal with the militants.


Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Brian Pallister responds to NDP victory in Alberta

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Winnipeg’s best friend the dragon fly takes a break at English Gardens in Assiniboine Park Wednesday- A dragon fly can eat  food equal to its own weight in 30 minutes-Standup photo- June 13, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Will you miss the old Banana Boat building?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google