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Bill Gates Mystery Photo Highlights Imran Khan’s Military Crisis

Pakistan’s Political Crisis: Imran Khan has been criticized for being too close to the military.

When Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan released a picture of a lunch with Bill Gates last month, social media users realized something odd: The roundtable had 13 seats, but only a dozen men.

The empty space contained a ghost -like figure who appeared to be chatting with others around him, raising the question of whether the image had been doctored. Shortly afterwards, local news channels reported that the country’s new intelligence chief, Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum, had been wiped out of the attack.

The drama began four months earlier, when Qamar army chief Javed Bajwa appointed Anjum to head Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, which oversees Pakistan’s internal security. Mr Khan then postponed the appointment and publicly voiced support for General Faiz Hameed, who is widely seen as his ally, to remain in the post. After a stalemate that lasted several weeks, the army chief found his way.

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The empty space contained a ghost -like figure that appeared to be chatting with someone else.

Pakistan’s civilian leaders have long been at war with the military, which has ruled the country for about half of its history. Yet if anything, Mr Khan has been criticized for being too close to the military since he promised to oversee the “New Pakistan” eliminating corruption and favoritism following his victory in the 2018 elections.

His relationship with Faiz Hameed received special attention. While the law says the prime minister appointed the ISI chief on a military recommendation, the opposition questioned Khan’s motives: Nawaz Sharif, a three-time prime minister, accused Faiz Hameed of orchestrating his removal on corruption charges in 2017 and diverting the election. years later.

Mr Khan’s own actions did not help. In addition to wanting to keep Faiz Hameed in the ISI, the prime minister violated the taboo by mentioning private discussions with army chiefs at public gatherings, opposing the military’s own claims that it did not interfere in politics.

“Naming the military openly in political forums is the biggest mistake this government has made,” said Shaista Tabassum, former head of the international relations department at Karachi University. Mr Khan and his ministers, he said, “have openly dragged the military into politics, saying things like the military are very far behind or we enjoy the support of the army chief.”

That was the backdrop for last month’s lunch with Gates, who was in Pakistan to promote a polio eradication campaign. Unlike his predecessors, Anjum instructed the media to avoid any photos or videos of him – leading to a bizarre image altered during lunch with Microsoft Corp. founder.

The extraordinary episode gives a glimpse of Khan’s behind -the -scenes tussle over a military promotion that has backed up the various problems facing the 69 -year -old former cricket star. The united opposition is vying to oust him in a vote of confidence in the next few days, as Asia’s second -fastest inflation jeopardizes his chances of becoming the first prime minister in Pakistan’s 75 -year history to end his full term in office.

While Mr Khan remains, his fierce battle with the highest-risk generals leads to months of instability that could determine whether the world’s fifth most populous country shifts further toward China and Russia or leans on the US and Europe.

Gates’ picture provides a clear example of how the military is now acting “neutral” against Mr Khan, signaling to Pakistani political parties that he no longer has the support of the establishment. Last year, the military’s implicit support helped Khan weather a similar challenge when he had to test his majority in parliament.

In one example of how it works in the field, intelligence officials often call certain politicians who criticize Khan on television talk shows and warn them to keep quiet. Now it is no longer the case, according to someone familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified given the sensitivity of the issue.

Mr Khan’s office and the Pakistani Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment. Pakistani security sources called allegations that the military or its affiliated institutions undermined the 2018 election results as “baseless and unfounded.” They reiterated that the military “has nothing to do with politics” and threw the allegations instead as “misinformation.” The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation referred inquiries to Mr Khan’s office.

For the military, referred to locally as an “organization,” Mr Khan once represented stability – especially when the economy recovered from a pandemic -induced contraction. The top general has a voice in every element of the prime minister’s administration, from foreign policy and security matters to economic decisions. Mr. Bajwa and other generals regularly hold personal meetings with leading businessmen and policymakers.

But relations are beginning to deteriorate, both because of Mr Khan’s involvement in military promotions and poor relations with U.S. Reports said the Pakistani military, once a major recipient of American arms, has sought a more balanced foreign policy after increasingly relying on China for weapons.

Relations began badly just days after Joe Biden’s appointment, when a Pakistani court ordered the release of four men previously convicted of beheading Wall Street Journal bureau Daniel Pearl in 2002. The case drew outrage from the White House, where a decade earlier Biden sat in next to Barack Obama watching Navy SEALs secretly enter Pakistan and kill Osama bin Laden.

Biden did not invite Mr Khan to his climate summit last April and will not speak to him by phone. Relations worsened when the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, with Khan saying the militant group had “broken the shackles of slavery.”

Biden appeared to offer an olive branch last year when he invited Mr Khan to attend his democracy summit in December. But the Pakistani leader rejected the request in a move welcomed by China, which has funded projects in the country worth more than $ 25 billion. Mr Khan has since improved ties with Russia, holding the first high -level meeting in more than two decades with Vladimir Putin just hours after the Russian leader invaded Ukraine.

Shehbaz Sharif, who heads the main opposition party and is ready to take power if Mr Khan is ousted, has vowed to improve relations with the US and the European Union if he wins. He has said the military has remained neutral ahead of the vote of confidence, a significant allegation given that his brother was ousted in a 1999 coup. Nawaz Sharif is now in self -imposed exile in London after being convicted in a corruption case he called politically motivated.

The 342 -member National Assembly will begin debate on the opposition’s no -confidence motion on Thursday, with a vote expected over the weekend. This week Mr Khan lost his slim majority in the house after two coalition allies withdrew support for his government.

Ahead of the polls, Mr Khan has vowed to stay. He gathered thousands of supporters in Islamabad last Sunday and claimed “foreign forces” came out to get rid of him.

Still, a Gallup poll last month showed Mr Khan’s approval rating had dropped to 36% from 40% in 2018, while Nawaz Sharif more than doubled to 55% at the time. In December, Mr Khan lost local elections in the stronghold he had ruled for eight years, while lawmakers from his party had struggled to get out before the polls.

The big reason is the economy. Mr Khan has struggled with some of the fastest price increases in Asia for several years now while managing a $ 6 billion program with the International Monetary Fund that requires tax increases set to further increase the cost of living. Mr Khan this month unexpectedly cut fuel and electricity prices to quell public anger, regardless of the IMF deal.

A win for Mr Khan will help him silence critics who say he can only win with military support. Defeat, on the other hand, could help him shift the blame over the economic slowdown ahead of the national elections that must be held by August 2023.

“No one is going to say in the future he is elected or he is in power with their support,” said Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, a professor at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. “This will be a political mileage for Khan in the next election.”

Still, there is another big question mark if Khan remains prime minister: Will he allow Bajwa, the general he is contesting, to extend his time as army chief when his term expires in November? Reports suggest Mr Khan instead wants to put Hameed, the former head of ISI, as a powerful ally.

Such actions “will spark new controversy in Pakistani politics and in the military,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore -based analyst who has written several books on the country’s military. Even so, he said, Khan should only be blamed for his current problems with the military.

“Khan couldn’t maintain human contact – he created unnecessary cracks,” Rizvi said. “The army is at a distance and will maintain it.”

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