Expectations from Pakistan’s new military leadership go beyond call of duty
Although Pakistan’s ruling coalition (PDM) and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan are poles apart on almost every important national issue, they showed unbelievable harmony on Thursday over the two most important appointments in the military – Gen. Asim Munir as the new chief of army staff (COAS) and Gen. Sahir Shamshad as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
This development has raised hopes of the beginning of a new confrontation-free era in the Islamic republic.
The conciliatory attitude of the PTI, shown through President Alvi who, after consultations with Khan, seems to have changed the political environment with many people praying the harmony continues in the times ahead.
Never in the past was the appointment of the army chief of Pakistan so extensively discussed in the media and political circles as that of the new chief, who is the 17th head of over half a million soldiers.
Powers of the holder of this exalted office both in defence and other matters have added to its importance.
Imran Khan has already given a call to his supporters across the country to converge on the garrison city-- Rawalpindi-- on Saturday to mount pressure on the rulers to give a date for the next election. Constitutionally, the polls are due to be held in the last quarter of 2023.
Imran Khan is scheduled to announce his party’s future line of action in his address to the crowds. Although he was injured in a recent attack on his life and is recuperating at his Lahore residence, he will be physically present at Rawalpindi to address his supporters.
Incidentally, Gen. Asim Munir is assuming his role at a time the country is passing through a serious political and economic situation because of the ruling coalition and opposition parties’ reluctance to sit together and work out a strategy to steer the country out of crises. The PTI protests have aggravated the situation, and the new army chief, in the larger national interest, will have to go beyond the call of duty and work tirelessly to iron out differences between the political rivals and ensure cooperation between them.
For this purpose, he will have to shelve, for some time, the decision of his prestigious institution to stay out of politics to be able to play a role to narrow the yawning gulf between the ruling coalition and the opposition. Such mediation is indispensable for political stability, to which is linked economic stability.
For this purpose, he will have to shelve, for some time, the decision of his prestigious institution to stay out of politics to be able to play a role to narrow the yawning gulf between the ruling coalition and the opposition.
The new COAS will have to persuade both sides to join hands to solve the country’s problems before talking of the next elections. This will be possible only when over 100 PTI legislators are persuaded to return to parliament, taking back their resignations tendered in April.
The National Assembly speaker has already accepted the resignations of about a dozen PTI legislators but has now decided, in consultation with the government, to not accept the remaining resignations.
This keeps the door open for the return of PTI MNAs. Although it is not the job of the army chief, he will have to go the extra mile to normalize the situation.
Political parties should be made to realize that back-breaking inflation, unemployment and dwindling remittances merit more urgent attention than fresh elections. Huge foreign loans are beyond the capacity of the country to repay and parties will have to sink their differences and work together to make it self-reliant.
A mediatory role by General Asim Munir will be helpful in rebuilding the image of his institution which was dented because of irresponsible utterances coming from various quarters.
In view of the poor state of the economy, the new COAS should also think of taking measures that could be helpful in increasing the production and export of defence equipment. Through technological innovations, such items should be exported as they could bring bigger returns. The proceeds should be used as the soldiers’ contribution to the stupendous defence budget.
To bring down the defence budget, the new COAS should also exchange views with the political leadership to resolve the decades-old Kashmir dispute with India. Superfluous to point out that so far successive governments have only been raising the dispute at various international fora, without any positive response from India.
Ties with the US will be another serious challenge for the country. They were adversely affected when Khan alleged that the superpower was behind the ouster of his government in April.
Although the PTI chairman has now softened his stance on the matter by saying that it is a closed chapter for him and that he wanted good ties with the US, the army chief is in a better position to bring the two countries closer. The US was also important because it was the biggest market for Pakistani products.
US support for Pakistan is very important for a number of issues, especially the ones that are taken up by the United Nations.
For better or worse, none of these matters, among others, will be possible to address unless the army chief goes beyond the call of his professional and constitutional role. Only the top soldier is in a position to make the miracle happen.
— The writer is a senior and veteran journalist with a career spanning 40 years with major national and international newspapers.