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Talks On A ‘Spymaster’

General Syed Asim Munir, the former spymaster of Pakistan, assumed charge as the South Asian country’s new Army Chief on November 29, replacing General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who retired after two consecutive three-year terms. Usually, no one considers the retirement or appointment of an Army Chief of a country as an important piece of news. However, the post of Army Chief is no less important than the position of Prime Minister in Pakistan. Since its birth in 1947, the South Asian nation has spent almost half of its 75-year history under Military Rule. In the rest of the period, the elected leaders lasted as long as s/he served the interests of the Army. Till date, no Prime Minister of Pakistan has completed a five-year term.

Interestingly, the image of the Pakistani Army has taken a bit of a hit in the last few months. Former Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi recently claimed that the Army ousted him in April 2022. He further claimed that the Army triggered his fall by influencing his allies. Even the cricketer-turned-politician blasted the Army for making an attempt to assassinate him. Political analysts are of the opinion that Khan’s anti-Army campaign may have played a role in General Bajwa’s decision to retire. According to local media reports, many in the ranks of Brigadier and below are sympathetic to Khan, as they believe that the former captain of the Pakistani cricket team could create a transparent political system. However, the extension of the tenure of the top Army officers often stalls the promotion of the lower rank officers. Perhaps, General (Retired) Bajwa did not want the situation to deteriorate further, after considering the anger of his subordinate officers.

Analysts have stressed that General Munir is a close confidant of General (Retired) Bajwa, and the former shares a not-so-good relation with Khan. Earlier, General Munir used to serve as the Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI; the premier intelligence agency of Pakistan that is responsible for gathering, processing and analysing any information from around the world which is deemed relevant to Pakistan’s national security). However, Khan removed him within eight months, and appointed his close aide General Faiz Hameed as the ISI Chief. According to experts, Khan may not be able to put the Government of Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif under pressure during General Munir’s tenure as the Army Chief.

It may be noted that the Army had helped Khan become the Prime Minister in August 2018, as the Armed Forces were looking for a third alternative, other than the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), at that period of time. The image of Khan, who had attended Oxford University as a student, was clean and transparent. At that time, Pakistan was going through a severe financial, as well as a diplomatic, crisis. The US had blasted Pakistan for harbouring terrorists. In such a situation, the Army might have thought that Khan, a person with a clean image, would be perfect for the position of Prime Minister. Unfortunately, Khan failed to improve ties with the US during his tenure (from August 2018 to until April 2022).

Khan also failed to bargain for favourable terms on borrowing loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF helps various countries deal with the financial crisis, but with tough conditions. The global lender often prompts Governments to stop providing subsidies. As usual, such a condition hits the popularity of a leader hard. Hence, Khan decided to borrow loans from friendly nations, like Saudi Arabia and China. Although the Government of Shehbaz Sharif has eventually reached an agreement with the IMF to borrow loans; his Government, too, has failed to meet 16 of the 28 conditions.

Taking this opportunity, Khan is now campaigning for a snap Parliamentary Election. He believes that the ongoing financial crisis will encourage his countrymen to trigger the fall of the Sharif Government, paving the way for his Tehreek-e-Insaf Party to return to power. That is why the Sharif Government is not willing to go to the polls. Instead, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is trying to bring former Prime Minister (and his elder brother) Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif is currently in London in voluntary exile. Nawaz Sharif is still a very influential politician in Pakistan’s Punjab Province. Punjab is the most important province, politically, as it elects almost half of the total members of Parliament.

Nawaz Sharif could have been the most effective politician to fight against Khan. However, there are several corruption charges against Nawaz Sharif. Similar allegations are there against Khan, as well. Khan allegedly sold the gifts, which he had received from foreign guests as the Prime Minister, at exorbitant prices. If the allegations are proved, Khan may not contest the election. Earlier in 2022, Khan had threatened that he, along with his supporters, would march to Islamabad on November 26, demanding snap elections. The top Pakistani political leadership should avoid such a heated situation through mature strategies, and try to ensure peace in the country.

Nowadays, neighbouring India hardly interacts with the top political leadership of Pakistan. For now, India is playing the role of a silent spectator, as New Delhi is well aware of the fact that a prolonged political instability in Pakistan would have adverse effects on India.

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