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Not just a Bajwa protege

 


Outgoing Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa hands over command to new army chief General Asim Munir (L) during a ceremony at army headquarters in Rawalpindi , in Pakistan, on November 29, 2022 | ISPR/Document via Reuters

During the tenure of General Qamar Javed Bajwas, Pakistan largely adopted a non-combative policy towards India. The key question is whether the new army chief, General Asim Munir, will change that.

THE appointment of General Asim Munir as the new head of the Pakistani army generated a lot of media buzz in South Asia. And that’s understandable. His appointment follows a controversial term by his predecessor, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, which saw the ousting of Imran Khan as Pakistan’s prime minister in his final year. General Munir inherited a country that seems at war with itself, with Imran Khan leading a national protest. Moreover, Khan is now at the height of his popularity and his party is expected to sweep the general election, whether it is held in the near future or when it is scheduled for October next year.

An army chief is seen as the sole ruler in the political structure of Pakistan, so General Munir holds the power to settle the ongoing unrest in the country. But how he would seek to achieve this has become the subject of intense media and political speculation. Even more, when General Munir is suspected of resenting Khan: he would have been dismissed by the latter from his post as Director General of the ISI after a short stint of eight months.

So there are two scenarios that can play out. First, General Munir would endeavor to organize new elections which could put an end to the current political instability in Pakistan. And secondly, the elections are held on time, which would mean a continuation of the current turmoil for a little longer, because in March the country would already be in electoral mode. This may be the reason why Khan gave up on the demand for elections and instead sought to resign from all assemblies in a bid to force early polls. For now, Khan’s priority appears to be keeping his vast support base mobilized.

In any case, the current unrest in Pakistan has an expiration date. This may, however, be prolonged if the elections are not considered free and fair by Khan and his party is denied power. Much of how the situation develops depends on how General Munir handles it in the context of his internal challenges.

Externally, it would be interesting to see how the new army chief deals with India, especially with regard to Kashmir. During Bajwas’ tenure, Pakistan largely adopted a non-combative policy towards India. This is despite his tenure witnessing the 2019 Pulwama attack which killed more than 40 security personnel, leading to the first dogfight between the two neighbors in 48 years. Earlier in 2016, Pakistan failed to respond when India carried out a surgical strike across the Line of Control.

Moreover, Pakistan was reluctant to escalate the situation militarily when in August 2019, New Delhi revoked Article 370 which granted J&K self-governing status under India’s constitution – although it raised diplomatic issues that , in turn, gave nothing. Nor has Pakistan stepped up militancy in Kashmir, as many analysts had warned. Instead, a year after Kashmir’s merger with India, Pakistan engaged in indirect dialogue with India, and in February 2021, the two countries reaffirmed the ceasefire agreement. 2003 fire along the Line of Control.

There was suddenly a brief period of bonhomie between the two countries. Pakistani Prime Minister at the time, Khan, and General Bajwa both called for dialogue and peaceful resolution of Kashmir. Bajwa even offered the two countries to bury the past and move on. He also called for geoeconomics to replace geopolitics as Pakistan’s worldview to ensure peace and prosperity in the region. India, however, has remained cold to these overtures.

Would General Munir revise the internal and external policies of his predecessors? He could very well do it. It remains to be seen whether he will take steps to resolve the current crisis in Pakistan and order elections before their due date, as Khan wants. But given that he was removed from his position as DG ISI by Khan, it seems unlikely that he will take Khan’s side in the ongoing political struggle in the country. And that’s also why he would have been chosen by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif in the first place. In such a situation, the current instability in Pakistan is likely to persist.

General Munirs’ approach to India will be closely watched. There is some apprehension in New Delhi that he might reverse General Bajwas’ policy. But given the difficult geopolitical and economic situation in which Pakistan finds itself, it seems unlikely that the country will revert to its earlier belligerent approach towards India. But the Pakistani military is known in India for being traditionally unpredictable and adventurous, so General Munirs’ movements will be closely watched, particularly in the weeks and months to come.

The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the editorial position of Kashmir Observer

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Riaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the political editor of Kashmir Observer

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