Fahad Ali looks at the
drop-scene of a long drawn out drama
After a prolonged spate of tension-ridden months the change of command at the helm of Pakistan army finally materialised letting the Pakistani nation take a sigh of relief. In a change of command ceremony that, in some ways equals the handing-taking over of office by the civilian political chief executive of the country, the outgoing COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa handed over the ceremonial cane, symbol of the authority of the office, to newly appointed army chief General Asim Munir thereby ending General Bajwa’s unlikely extended stay at the top of his institution that was mired with a host of controversies and schisms. As is the wont with anything related to the army, the appointment of the new chief was a hush-hush affair surrounded by rumours of all kinds and the country was rife with speculation since after regime change took place that saw Imran Khan’s government biting the dust in April last.
The change of command ceremony took place in GHQ with military band playing national songs along with medley of folk tunes. Prior to handing-taking over the office, both the outgoing COAS and the incoming one, laid a wreath at the Yadgar-i-Shuhada in GHQ and offered fateha. Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, senior serving and retired officers, diplomats as well as government functionaries were in attendance, particularly former COAS Gen (Retd) Raheel Sharif was spotted sitting with his wife. The outgoing COAS addressed the occasion in which he thanked the army for providing the opportunity to lead it and praised his institution for always responding to his call regardless of whether it concerned terrorism in different parts of the country or natural calamities.
Though the appointment of the new COAS held the country to ransom for good about seven months but the tension was heightened manifold in the final week prior to the final decision. In this context Imran Khan’s stand on the appointment of the new chief played a cardinal role that consistently aimed at making this appointment controversial on the pretext that it was a puppet government devoid of public support that is not authorised to decide this matter. In this regards it was speculated that President Alvi could return the prime minister’s advice for reconsideration because of his party’s reservations and this fear caused tremendous sensation. The fear was compounded when the president made a flying trip to Lahore where he held a nearly 45-minute-long discussion with Imran Khan on the issue but on his return to Islamabad calmly and without demur signed the summary for appointment thus ending the drama.
It is however unclear what caused Imran Khan’s change of heart though his turnaround confounded his party as well many seasoned observers. Prior to this development it was widely believed that, keeping in view his reported opposition to the proposed general for the top slot, Imran Khan would make political capital out of this confrontation that may assist his anti-establishment stance. Though Imran Khan has no role to play in the appointment of the army chief but his decision to challenge it might have caused it to become controversial in the long term. Another issue that was duly ironed out was the discrepancy in date of retirement of Gen Asim Munir and the vacancy of COAS falling vacant and both the promotions to the impending vacancies were made with immediate effect for which some peripheral changes were carried out in the regulations concerned with them by the federal cabinet.
This long-drawn affair that practically overshadowed every other national endeavour in Pakistan is usually considered a normal matter in civilised world where democratic dispensations hardly interfere in such practices. The order of priorities in uniformed outfits has evolved over time and career progression and promotions are well-oiled process that hardly cause any ripples. It is a pity therefore to observe that what should have been a routine matter has become a vortex that seemingly sucked up the entire nation in intrigue and there is hardly any chance that the focus of attention would soon shift away from this matter. What is needed is a profound reappraisal of this position as well as its relationship with the rest of the institutions of the state otherwise the lopsidedness of such situation will keep the country in perpetual disarray.
It is quite obvious that the new leadership of the army has landed in an unenviable spot as the deep polarisation has fractured the polity. There is a strong tendency to flaunt authority on all levels and unfortunately this tendency was encouraged by the very institution that is now bearing the brunt of its convoluted initiative. Added to it are the results of years of economic mismanagement and incompetence that have now come home to roost and have made life miserable for the common man. In wake of such conditions, a closed-end outfit like army will find it very difficult to resist temptations to intervene and the main task of the new leadership would be to discourage such temptation. It must always be borne in mind that even well-meaning interventions can quickly turn into nightmares and Pakistan has witnessed the horrendous aftereffects of them. It should be realised that the governance should be left to the civil executive, judiciary and legislature and their guidance must be accepted to come from the people of the country.
The change of command though has taken place smoothly yet the new army leadership is confronted with myriad issues and the most important of it is to restore public’s trust in it. There is hardly any doubt that the meddling of military in civilian affairs has been a consistent irritant within the civilian political circles but now this overt and covert involvement has come under fierce scrutiny after Imran Khan was ousted from power. It has become evident that the relentless criticism of the military by Imran Khan and his followers has resonated deeply among Pakistanis and seriously damaged the military’s reputation within the country and has forced it into defensive and left it with no option but to publicly step back. Many observers point out that the recent political turmoil has caused schisms within the military, with many lower-ranking officers quietly supporting Imran Khan while its top brass has lost patience with his accusations though it was compelled to act with restraint.
The widespread perception in the country is that the army, particularly its top leadership, both domestic and foreign policy aspects of the country and their word is considered final in such matters. It is quite clear that the army follows a national policy that is considered parallel to the recognised de jure dispensation and in most cases its decision is rated to be final causing a deep heartburn within the civil governance circles. It certainly is not a viable method of managing the affairs of a nuclear-armed state that has to take care of its traditional rivalry with India and also to deal with increasingly recalcitrant Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The economic downturn faced by Pakistan also requires a unity of purpose as these issues are extremely knotty and an integrated national action could be able to tackle it. TW