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EDITORIAL: The outgoing Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa handed over “the baton of command” to General Syed Asim Munir at an impressive ceremony in Rawalpindi yesterday before walking into the sunset, leaving behind a legacy of challenges impacting national security and political stability for his successor.

Just a day before the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had ditched the ceasefire and returned to warpath. By pursuing his predecessor’s (General Raheel Sharif’s) campaign against the TTP outfit, General Bajwa had greatly succeeded in putting the terrorist outfit on the back foot. But that doesn’t seem to have completely pulled out the deep-entrenched roots of the TTP, posing a challenge to the new army chief to go after the trouble-makers before it is too late.

Equally challenging for General Asim Munir would be the deteriorating national political scenario as the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is seriously weighing in with its threat to dissolve assemblies in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where it commands majority.

The question how that will that step pan out in terms of political stability and economic viability has no clear answer.

Even if General Munir strictly follows his predecessor’s lately discovered “apolitical” commitment, as required by the Constitution, the country’s history is replete with evidence that clearly show how armed forces on various occasions felt compelled to give stability and national security precedence over anything else, including democracy and its future.

A plausible answer to the question how General Asim Munir will play on domestic national field is therefore, in some way, contingent upon the national political leadership. Hopefully, the politicians will not tilt the balance of power in favour of army rule by undermining national security for their political gains.

Let the armed forces concentrate their focus on threats that loom across and within our borders which, in some cases, are prompted by regional and international developments. Even as the ceasefire on the Line of Control in Kashmir holds, it would be a strategic error to believe that the Hindutva-driven rulers in New Delhi would like to see a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.

Then, there is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that doesn’t sit well with India’s hegemonic ambition. On the Western front while Iran is largely a friendly neighbour despite Pakistan’s ideal relationship with Saudi Arabia, the unending turmoil in Afghanistan tends to spill over in the form of extremist outfits like Daesh. And how to remain equally balanced as a new ‘cold war’ tends to re-emerge with its unpredictable consequences for Pakistan is also a challenge that confronts the country.

And, a word about General Bajwa’s so-called “Bajwa Doctrine”, and whether or not it impacted the national political scenario. As he left his office, he told a Dubai-based daily, Gulf News, that he was certain that the “political quarantine of the armed forces” would bode well for Pakistan. “We have restricted the army’s role to its constitutionally mandated task only by deciding to make it apolitical,” he reportedly told the newspaper.

He thinks this would help reinvigorate and strengthen the democratic culture and help in supporting state organs to effectively perform and deliver. Also, it would help enhance the army’s prestige in the long-term, he added. What he said is in response to criticism by both sides of the national political divide following the 2018 general elections.

Having lost at polls, the then opposition, later on gathered as Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), termed the PTI’s electoral success an outcome of bungling of RTS (result transmission system) by the establishment and described the Imran Khan-led government “selected” one. And when PDM assumed the reins of government by ousting the Khan and his government through a vote of no-confidence, the army leadership was accused of putting in place an “imported” government to please the Americans.

That the army has decided to insulate itself from the vagaries of politics in the country and elsewhere is a fact. In other words, the army has made the right decision to protect its image that has been unfortunately sullied by its interference in political matters or disputes from time to time, if not regularly. We can’t praise the army enough — it did take a brilliant decision.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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