ISLAMABAD: In a country like Pakistan, whose economic, strategic and political condition is in a state of a complete disarray; it seems that the appointment of the new chief of the powerful military establishment was by far the most crucial decision that had to be taken.
The sensitivity of the decision and the crucial appointment can be understood by the statement of the sitting Defense Minister of the country, who said that the whole country has come to a standstill because of the appointment of the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
“The whole country is on a standstill because this matter and procedure of appointment of the new army chief and the joint chief of staff committee has to be completed”, said Defense Minister Khawaja Asif.
But after a week long deliberations over the names of the candidates for the next army chief; the process finally came to a closure after PM Shehbaz Sharif government appointed General Asim Munir as the country’s new Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and General Sahir Shamshad Mirza as the new Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee (CJCSC).
But this whole process of appointment was not that easy even though, the appointments were made on the basis of seniority and top two senior candidates out of the six, recommended by the Army General Headquarters (GHQ) were appointed as COAS and CJCSC.
The newly elected COAS General Asim Munir will be taking charge on November 29, 2022 replacing the current COAS General Qamar Jawed Bajwa, who will be retiring the same day. The new army chief selection and the appointment has been the pivotal focus in Pakistan as former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has been addressing his anti-government long march, had been highlighting the concerns over the critical appointment.
Imran Khan had expressed his reservations over the competency and eligibility of the current sitting coalition government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, stating that the current regime did not hold the authority to appoint an Army chief on merit. Khan further added suspicion over the candidates for COAS position, stating that the current government would want to bring an army chief of their liking, who he said would free them of their money laundering and corruption cases and would take directions from them to target Imran Khan and take action against him by influencing the courts.
Imran Khan had serious reservations over the nomination of General Asim Munir in the list of eligible candidates for Army chief not because he may have allegiance towards Nawaz Sharif and the current coalition government. But there were many much more sensitive reasons why Khan did not want to see Munir as the next army chief.
During the time when Imran Khan was the Prime Minister of Pakistan, then Lieutenant General Asim Munir was the Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It was during that time that various events happened that irked Imran Khan and led to the de-seating of Munir as DGISI, that also on a Sunday night.
Reason 1: Punjab CM corruption
When Imran Khan took office as Prime Minister, he appointed Usman Buzdar as Chief Minister of the country’s largest province Punjab. Many believe the selection of Buzdar was to put a puppet CM in Punjab, who would follow the orders of Imran Khan without any ifs and buts.
During that time, then DGISI Asim Munir told Imran Khan about the wrongdoings of CM Buzdar in form of money laundering, land grabbing and corruption, being done through the connections of Imran Khan’s wife Bushra, his wife’s best friend Farah Gogi and his close aid Shahzad Akbar. Imran Khan was asked to intervene into the matter as it would create a wrong impressions to his government.
Imran Khan rejected the details given by DGISI.
Reason 2: February 2019 Pakistan response to Balakot strikes by India
Then DGISI Asim Munir also asked Imran Khan to talk to his opposition political parties after the February 2019, incident, when Indian planes targeted a terrorist hideout in Jabba, Balakot and Pakistan responded within 24 hours downing an Indian Airforce (IAF) plane and arresting Wing Commander Abhinandan, who was later released as a goodwill gesture via the Wagah Border to India.
DGISI Asim Munir has asked Khan to hold a joint session of the parliament on the matter and take all political parties on board to give India a strong message from the political front as well.
Imran Khan rejected the idea.
Reason 3: Use of ISI to influence courts, NAB against Imran Khan’s opposition party leaders:
The third reason was the rejection of then DGISI Asim Munir to use the intelligence network to influence the courts, National Accountability Court (NAB) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to not only file corruption cases, treason cases and sedition cases against Khan’s opposition party leaders including Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif, Marryum Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari and others, but also to ensure that they are disqualified and jailed in those cases.
It was because of these three prime reasons that then PM Imran Khan met COAS Bajwa and asked him to remove the DGISI Asim Munir with immediate affect because as per Khan, Munir was crossing the line. And that led to the de-notification of Lt. General Asim Munir as DGISI, issued on a Sunday and notified to Munir on a Sunday night.
Now, with General Asim Munir appointed as the Army Chief, coupled with his background of being DG Military Intelligence, DG ISI and Commander Corps Gujranwala; It is certainly not going to be an easy road ahead for Imran Khan and his desperate desire of having the military establishment on his side to bring him back into power.
On the other side, the new Army Chief may also not be a very supportive influencer for the current government of PM Shehbaz Sharif. However, they will certainly be having an easier breathe that new chief will not side with Imran Khan and oust the current government.
Sources maintain that the new army chief’s first priority will be to re-establish the damaged credibility of the military establishment, which has been badly affected by former premier Imran Khan’s and his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s constant public statements, social media campaigns and name callings on the institution, accusing them of being traitors, animals and party to the conspiracy of regime change.
Hamza Ameer is an Islamabad-based journalist. These are the writer's views.