The COAS, institution and damage done | By Naveed Aman Khan


The COAS, institution and damage done

GENERAL Asim Munir was the shortest serving ISI Chief of powerful spy agency of the country. He was appointed DG ISI in October 2018 by the then Army Chief, Gen Qamar Bajwa.

But eight months later, he was replaced with Lt Gen Faiz Hameed on the insistence of the then Prime Minister Imran Khan.

After the departure of General Bajwa, Imran Khan will not enjoy warm ties with neutral military establishment, which can’t look after his wishes any more.

While there was no official word on why the ISI Chief was fired, an alleged audio clip of Aleem Khan, a former leader of PTI, surfaced earlier this year in which he accused Imran Khan of sacking Lt Gen Asim Munir for exposing corruption of his wife, Bushra Farid Maneka.

The tables have turned. Imran Khan, who fell out with the military, was ousted from power in April this year through a no-confidence vote.

As he is trying to make a comeback through political mobilisation across the country, Lt Gen Asim Munir has been appointed the COAS, the most powerful position in Pakistan.

Imran Khan and Lt Gen Faiz Hameed steadfastly opposed Lt Gen Asim Munir’s appointment as COAS.

But PMLN supremo Nawaz Sharif who is in exile in London had his way in picking the successor of Gen Bajwa, who has retired on 29 November after six long unending years at the top.

We hope that the new leadership of the defence forces of Pakistan will play its constitutional role and stay out of the politics of domestic affairs.

General Asim knows about the critical challenges Pakistan is facing from civil military relations to tackling ties with India, managing Afghanistan and balancing between the US and China.

All these years, he has kept a low profile, avoiding public comments and controversies but he has held several key posts in the military, an indication that the top brass has been grooming him for leadership roles.

To me General Asim Munir is a devout, clear-headed and upright soldier committed to protecting the interests of the military and the state.

There were instances of Lt Gen Asim acting swiftly to protect the military and the ISI from public criticism.

In July 2018, IHC judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui criticised the ISI, saying the agency was manipulating judicial proceedings to get favourable decisions.

Justice Siddiqui was sacked in October that year by President Arif Alvi on a recommendation from the Supreme Judicial Council for misconduct.

General Asim Munir has the reputation of a strict and tough officer rooted in Islamic tradition.

He takes over the strong military with nuclear weapons at a critical time for Pakistan. General Bajwa’s six-year term has seen mixed results for the country.

With regard to India, relations took a massive hit after the post-Pulwama clashes. General Asim Munir was the ISI chief when the Pulwama attack took place on February 2019 in which 40 Indian personnel were killed.

But two years later, India and Pakistan agreed to renew a ceasefire that was in tatters. Under General Bajwa, Pakistan oversaw the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan, which seemed to have given a strategic victory to the establishment.

But the Taliban’s return also posed new security and strategic challenges for Pakistan, with TTP gaining momentum from their Afghan brothers’ triumph and ramping up attacks.

At home, the military, which has always remained the power behind the throne, faced a credibility crisis after Imran Khan, who was earlier backed by the Generals, accused them of plotting his ouster from power.

With Imran travelling across the country mobilising people and publicly attacking the military and his political rivals, the establishment has got popular rival in the political class.

General Asim will have to keep his priorities right. I expect continuity between General Bajwa and General Asim on India policy.

General Bajwa sought to limit tension, as evidenced by the new border truce last year and his focus on more regional trade and connectivity, as well as Pakistan’s muted response to the errant Indian missile that landed in Pakistan.

I am optimistic that General Asim and the Army institution on the whole will focus on stabilising Pakistan politically and economically.

General Asim will endorse Bajwa’s efforts to keep tension down in the relationship with India and focus on getting things in better order at home.

If General Asim concludes that political stability is more likely with early polls and he presses the government to agree to them, that could inject tension into what have been smooth civil-relations in recent months, post-Imran ouster.

General Asim isn’t about to do Imran Khan any favours, as General Bajwa did. I can’t rule out him endorsing efforts by the state to try to undermine Imran Khan’s electoral prospects.

Post-retirement of Gen Bajwa and Lt Gen Faiz Hameed challenging days are ahead for both the military and Imran Khan.

I am sure composed and committed General Asim Munir in command will bring new strength to the institution.

General Asim Munir COAS and Lt General Nadeem Anjum DG ISI equation has replaced Gen Bajwa and Lt Gen Faiz Hameed.

The fresh equation of General Asim, General Nadeem and entire new team will have to mend the damage of the institution, especially done since 2011.

This replacement seems to bring genuine change within the institution. I am sure this new team commander will bring the lost grace and glory of the institution.

Imran Khan, feeling the sensitivity, difference and the temperature has directed PTI not to troll the new COAS and the institution at all.

—The writer is editor, book ambassador political analyst and author of several books based in Islamabad.