Pakistan’s New Magician – Lt Gen Asim Munir | The Financial Express

Pakistan’s New Magician – Lt Gen Asim Munir

Prevailing discussions in Pakistan suggest an eager lookout towards the new Army Chief with the hope that he will fix everything that is wrong with the country. Does he really have the power to do the needful or a magic wand?

Pakistan’s New Magician – Lt Gen Asim Munir
Lieutenant-General Asim Munir (File/Ap)

By Aadi Achint

The appointment of the New Army Chief in Pakistan came as a surprise for quite a few, as he was probably the last man that people thought would be selected for the job. Inching towards his potential retirement the Lt General was commanding the Quartermaster Core for the Pakistani army. He being the senior most of the lot of six that were proposed and has been given the big job of being the de-facto ruler of Pakistan.

Asim Munir hails from a small family within the garrison town of Rawalpindi and joined the army directly through the officers training academy rather than the Pakistan Military Academy, the equivalent of the Indian NDA. The General has spent time across the Indian border apart from being the head of the military intelligence wing for two years and also has the dubious honour of being the shortest serving ISI chief in Pakistan’s history. He was also the head of the agency when the Pulwama bombings took place and the subsequent attack on sites by the Indian Air Force on Jaba Top. It is rumoured that the Indian NSA had a conversation with him for the release of Wing Commander (now Gp Capt) Abhinandan as well. The General has come to power at a time in Pakistan where pretty much all institutions within the country are on the brink due to economic or sociopolitical factors.

The interesting politics being played behind the scenes suggests a difference of opinion between the civilian leadership and the incumbent chief, Gen Bajwa. This can be established by looking at the recent visit of General Bajwa to the US with Lt Gen. Azhar Abbas, who is rumoured to be his personal choice for his successor. With this in mind some questions do arise on the change in stand. It is being said that the recent revelations about accumulation of wealth by General Bajwa’s and his family was used as leverage for him to agree to the change. This incident brings to light a clear example of a division within the ISI as the news of the said personal accounts could not have been released to the media without the collusion of someone in this shady organisation. The division also seems pretty evident with the recent press conference done by the incumbent ISI chief publicly showcasing his support for General Bajwa. The question that arises with this situation is for us to understand is the level of damage that Imran Khan and his antics have caused to this organisation and does the appointment of a General who is said to be against Imran Khan showcase the future? It is also understood that the elder brother of the current prime minister, sitting in London, was inclined towards having the senior most person takeover this coveted position.

The factor of Imran Khan needs to be studied in a little detail due to the history between both and the two major reported disagreements that occurred. In one case a tile merchant named Sheikh Mahmood Iqbal had blamed the General, who was at the time the ISI chief, for demanding almost $5.6 million as a protection fee to ensure a cover-up of alleged smuggling of tiles to Central Asia. This merchant had written a letter to the then Prime Minister Imran Khan complaining about this incident. In a second case as the ISI chief he had approached Imran Khan with the details of corruption being carried out by the family of Imran Khan’s own wife. This led to Imran Khan pressuring General Bajwa to remove him from the position of the ISI chief almost immediately. What would be the factor of revenge, if any, that the new army chief would consider while dealing with Imran Khan and does Imran Khan have a backing still available for his protection?

The new army chief presides over a force which probably is divided within itself due to the endless political turmoil ensuing within the country. If one analyses what he would need to do, the biggest factor would be to work towards getting the Pakistani nation and its people to place their trust back within the army of the country. He would also need to change the perception of being against the national interest as propagated by Imran Khan along with trying to see whether she could consolidate his power amongst the corps commanders, some of them being known Khan supporters. This apart from the economic turmoil as well as instability prevailing in Pakistan and the list of lenders that need to be managed to ensure survival. His first steps within his job would showcase his way forward and the way he would deal with the situation within the country. The first hints came out with the early retirement of Gen Azar Abbas, the same one who accompanied Bajwa to the US.

The dire economic situation within the country requires the establishment led by the Army chief to be able to ensure their foreign relations are kept intact especially with the major stakeholders United States, Saudi Arabia and China. As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned the new army chief earned his coveted title Hafiz e Quran during his tenure as a colonel in the country. The same is not the case with the US or even the UK where normally senior officers from the Pakistani forces are sent for training thereby resulting in the establishment of contacts and connections. Looking at the president where the previous Army chief had to interfere in order to push the IMF deal forward especially with the USA a similar deep relation seemingly lacks under this new General.

For the past few weeks the entire discourse in the country has been towards the selection of the new Army Chief. This showcased a thought process wherein one could see the existence of a belief that a new person would be able to resolve all the problems. They inherit recognition by most Pakistanis about a strong man who would come and get them out of the problems they face and stabilize them. How far this belief would become reality is something that all of us can easily predict as the new Army chief would need no less than a magic wand to relieve Pakistan of its troubles.

One must also say that General Munir might have his issues with Imran Khan but that does not imply collusion with the Sharif family as, for now the army wants to be neutral. Will this neutrality be a reality, resulting in complete civilian control over the management and budgets of the Pakistani armed forces or will this be another expected hybrid regime where the army chief remains the de-facto head of state of Pakistan. General Asif Muneer takes over a Pakistan deeply divided, close to default and isolated as far as diplomatic reach is concerned. He either has planned what he wants to implement or he would be just another addition in the line of top generals within the Pakistani establishment only serving to further their personal and economic interests.

Author is the owner of a platform called DEF Talks by Aadi on YouTube. You can listen to him or read his works at www.thedeftalks.com.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.

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First published on: 26-11-2022 at 17:15 IST