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Analysis

Change in Pakistan Army’s Top Post: Reasons and Effects

Monday 28 November 2022
Change in Pakistan Army’s Top Post: Reasons and Effects

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Alwaght- While the Pakistani political conditions are tense due to street protests by the supporters of the dismissed Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Pakistani government on Sunday in a session proposed by the PM Shahbaz Sharif promoted Asimm Munir to general rank and named him the army chief. Appointment of a new chief for the army and dismissal of Qamar Javed Bajwa is hitting the nation's news headlines. Given the distinguished army position in national politics, the development raises some questions about the possible effects. 

Speculations about Bajwa leaving the post 

General Bajwa was elected as the army chief on November 29, 2016, and three years ago he was extended by Imran Khan for his second term. Now some sources have said that Bajwa resigned due to army differences with ruling Muslim League and the second largest party in the parliament Tehreek-e-Insaf. 

Bajwa's ouster comes as he implicitly acknowledged the central role of his military in politics last week, saying it was time for everyone to put aside their political share seeking, learn from past mistakes, and move forward. 

Bajwa was the de facto ruler of Pakistan and guided the country's policies over the past six years, and during his tenure, the differences between Imran Khan and the government with the army reached their highest level. 

The Pakistani army is always accused of involvement in political affairs, and it is for this reason that the governments in this country change not so long after taking the office. Accordingly, among the 30 prime ministers, 19 of them have not been able to complete their five-year term and have been removed from power through military and political coups, in which the army has always played an effective role. 

In Pakistan, political parties disagree with the army, but in major decisions such as how to communicate with India, Afghanistan and Iran, the governments follow the decisions of the army command. Imran Khan has repeatedly claimed that the army toppled his government with the American conspiracy and installed Shahbar Sharif. 

After his failed assassination attempt on November 3, Imran Khan accused Sharif and the army chief of involvement in the act and promised to resume street protests. In recent days, thousands of his supporters have taken to the streets in different cities nationwide to support their leader. But Khan said on Sunday after the selection of the new army chief that he would stop the protests of his supporters for the time being to avoid chaos— an action that seems to reveal the connection between Bajwa's departure and popular protests. 

The way Pakistan army chief chosen 

General Munir is the ex-chief of the Pakistani military intelligence, officially known as Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and also served in some key posts. 

This appointment is to be approved by the president of Pakistan. Referring the new army chief to the president for confirmation of his appointment is ceremonial, and the selection of the desired person to command the army and his introduction is under the full authority of the PM. 

The method of selecting the army commander in Pakistan is that this official is selected by the minister of defense behind the scenes with the cooperation of the army commanders, and then introduced to the PM, and if he agrees, the candidate is introduced to the president for final approval to appoint the person in question as the commander of the army. The army commander is appointed for three years and this period can be extended. 

Effects of picking new army chief on home developments 

Ismail Bagheri, an expert of Pakistani affairs, believes that even with retirement of Bajwa, expectations of a change in the army's approach to the home politics and foreign policy are unrealistic because the army chief's decisions are not separate from the army's principles and policies. The Pakistani army's decision-making body is not based on an individual but on its principles and departure of one person does not mean changes should be expected. Actually, the new chief should obey inter-army decisions or would be shown the door by other commanders.

According to Mr Bagheri, General Munir has inherited a country whose economy is on the verge of collapse and double-digit inflation has put many basic goods out of reach of the people. The recent devastating floods have destroyed a large part of the country's farming, and from the political side, the Taliban has gained power in Afghanistan, which, unlike in the past, does not have a good relationship with Islamabad and is distancing itself from its former backer. 

In these chaotic political conditions, observers expect Munir to find ways to bridge the gaps in the army caused by expectation of Imran Khan comeback, and at the same time mend the damaged public trust in the military. Pakistani experts suggest that the new army chief has no known political tendencies. So, his main mission is to revive the commitment that his predecessor made about the army neutrality in the politics and undo the grave face some political factions and media attacks made from the army. 

Since Imran Khan insists on his demands of holding early elections, it seems that the political situation in this country will remain strained and the new commander has a difficult task reducing the tensions, and overcoming them requires the help of all political leaders. 

The Pakistani army has had the power for 74 years and even during rule of the civilian leaders, there has been army’s stealth hand guiding Islamabad policies, and the unending political fighting and power play have always worked against the governments. Constant power struggle only causes instability and it is unlikely that it ends with the appointment of new army chief or next year parliamentary elections, and this vicious circle is expected to continue unfolding. 

 

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