If the Army under Gen. Munir does the unthinkable and goes neutral, it may be speculated that it is inviting internal repercussions
Gen. Asim Munir will take over from Pakistan’s present Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, on November 29 and will have to deal with multiple contradictions straightaway. These are internal to Pakistan’s political life. It is fair to say that our western neighbour is in the grip of serious economic and political instability, unlike when Gen. Bajwa — who served an unusual two terms — had come in six years ago.
This fact is likely to pressure the government and the Army, and also tell on civil-military relations in a country where the Army has called the shots since 1947 although it placed itself in direct power for only half that time. Islamabad’s security, nuclear and foreign policies are wholly shaped by Rawalpindi, the Army HQ, and its economic and financial policies substantially so.
Earlier this week, Gen. Bajwa has reportedly said that the Army — the most stable institution in a nation rocked by all manner of difficulties, partly born out of its decision to use terrorism as state policy — had been blamed for its involvement in politics and will now keep out of it. This is easier said than done and was probably said for the sake of effect.
Pakistan’s armed forces have sought to control the country’s politics in order to remain relevant, and in order to have untrammeled control over the country’s resources. If the Army under Gen. Munir does the unthinkable and goes neutral, it may be speculated that it is inviting internal repercussions that could hurt his own cause.
The incoming chief was the most senior among the six officers who were reported to be under consideration for the top job and yet there was intense speculation about who might make it. This is because as head of the ISI, then Lt Gen. Munir had been peremptorily removed by Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of the day, after only eight months in the job, the shortest tenure ever for the head of ISI. Evidently Mr Khan had not taken kindly to the ISI delivering news of unsavoury happenings within the PM’s family circle.
Today Mr Khan is the Leader of the Opposition and widely seen as PM-in-waiting. The ISI head he discarded is now the Army chief, and there is in-built tension in the situation. Little surprise that President Arif Alvi flew to Lahore to clear the appointment of the COAS with the former PM. The selection by the current PM was not sufficient for the President, who is from Mr Khan’s party. Is the new COAS going to be on probation? If so, what quarters in the Army might Mr Khan seek to exploit to discomfit Gen. Munir? Might the incoming head of the Army have his own plans for the current Leader of the Opposition? There could be other imponderables. Remember, Shehbaz Sharif is not deemed a strong leader as his country is in a pickle. There is likely to be temptation enough for the PM and the Army chief to act in tandem on the political turf.
By choosing the seniority principle over other considerations, Mr Shehbaz Sharif may have forestalled his opponents for a time. But India would no doubt watch the situation with interest — as would China, Iran, Russia and the US. For now, Pakistan’s capacity to intervene effectively in Kashmir is perhaps limited. That would suggest that silent pistol killings by assassins will remain the favoured method to create fear in the Valley.