Amid salutes, handshakes, approvals and occasional disapprovals, we need to sit back and introspect on the two ‘general’ appointments – of Qamar Javed Bajwa in 2016 and Asim Munir in 2022.
Both appointments of the chiefs of army staff will be etched in history and memory for absurd reasons. So much has happened. We know that. Yet, so little has changed.
It was the usual autumn season in November 2016. No different than November this year. Leaves were turning dry and brown, winter chill was setting in – and politics was blustery. Speculations about the name of the new army chief were making rapid rounds – General Raheel Sharif stepped down and General Qamar Javed Bajwa was designated as the next in line.
The task before General Bajwa was daunting. Tension was simmering between India and Pakistan and troops were regularly trading fire across the Line of Control. Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan were on a decline. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was urging Pakistan to help mediate a peace deal with Afghan Taliban whereas Pakistan maintained that they could not force the Taliban against their will.
More significantly, it was the time, like any other in the country, when civil-military relations were on fire. Though Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N government claimed being “on the same page” and the military stated it believed in the constitution and harmony between institutions, rumours and fears of a military takeover hung over at the time Bajwa took charge.
Six years on, Lt. General Asim Munir is faced with a set of similar challenges, only minor tweaks here and there.
For better or worse, the fight over power, and more power, is on between the political and military establishments, as they were at the time of Bajwa’s appointment. Only we have shunned clichés of ‘same page’ and ‘civil-military relations’.
For better or worse, the fight over power, and more power, is on between the political and military establishments, as they were at the time of Bajwa’s appointment. Only we have shunned clichés of ‘same page’ and ‘civil-military relations’. The acknowledgement has come from General Bajwa himself, who in his farewell address said the need for the nation to shed intolerance and adopt a “true democratic culture”, and that“…in February last year the army, after great deliberation, decided that it would never interfere in any political matter.”
Would it be wrong to say the relations are a tad more stressful, with Imran Khan unceremoniously jumping into the rink, throwing a tantrum to seek attention? He has been on the mission to expose the military’s behind the scene workings to oust him from power in April this year. How it will unfold in future is difficult to guess, but for now the tension is palpable.
Further, India-Pakistan ties are tense too. Inter Services Public Relation (ISPR) yesterday denounced Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi’s remarks about retrieving parts of Azad Kashmir. ISPR stated that this was an unwarranted statement of a high-ranking Indian army officer concerning Azad Jammu and Kashmir, “an apt manifestation of Indian armed forces’ delusional mindset”.
As General Asim Munir marches in, the road ahead is bumpy. There are a whole slew of challenges before him. Will he focus on delivery in his sphere or lock horns with matters beyond his scope? Will he be able to enhance democracy and strengthen political institutions as suggested by his predecessor?
It’s time to introspect. What has changed and what remains to be changed.
May General Munir strive on the nation’s blessings, and smile. The glum expressions of his previous chiefs have not worked so well.