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Pakistanis turn against the army


The malacca cane undoubtedly symbolizes the highest power in Pakistan. On November 29, the cane, the ceremonial baton of command, changed hands for the first time in six years when General Qamar Javed Bajwa handed it over to General Asim Munir, appointing him chief of the army.

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General Munir, who headed Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, Isi, will now head the country’s most powerful institution and the self-appointed arbiter of Pakistan’s democracy. Army chiefs are hired by the Prime Minister. They often reciprocate by filing their proxy. This is the main reason why none of Pakistan’s 22 prime ministers have completed their term, and no one knows this better than incumbent President Shehbaz Sharif. His older brother Nawaz, a three-time former prime minister, appointed Pervez Musharraf army chief in 1998, then was overthrown by him in a coup. In 2016, Nawaz appointed General Bajwa and, allegedly at the behest of army chiefs, was duly removed from office by the Supreme Court and banned from politics for life.

If Shehbaz Sharif fares better at the hands of General Munirs, it may be thanks to his predecessor, Imran Khan. A former army favorite (who was helped to power by General Bajwa), Mr Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April which once again bore the fingerprints of army chiefs everywhere. A charismatic rioter and conspiracy theorist, Mr Khan was quick to accuse General Bajwa of plotting with America against him. After that accusation helped his party win a handful of by-elections, he upped the ante. Mr Khan accuses a senior army officer, Mr Sharif and Home Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan, of orchestrating an assassination attempt that injured him last month.

General Bajwa tried to put Mr Khan in his place by inciting the current ISI boss and other bigwigs to denounce him. On the contrary, it has increased the popularity of Mr. Khans, which extends to the base of the army. The former prime minister is perhaps the biggest national challenge Pakistani generals have faced. Tens of thousands of people flocked to hear him at a rally at the main army garrison in Rawalpindi last week. I’m more worried about Pakistan’s freedom than my life, he thundered, seated from his gunshot wounds.

General Munir must be worried. Yet his best hope of outmaneuvering Mr Khan, suggests General Bajwas, is to sit still. Mr. Khan wants elections and is threatening to dissolve the assemblies of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which his party controls, in an attempt to force one. But dissolving parliament is Mr Sharifs’ prerogative, and he has pledged to continue until his term ends in August. The head of the army should support this constitutional process.

He has his own duties. The Pakistani Taliban have abandoned a ceasefire. Relations with the Afghan Taliban are bad. And the economy, hit by pandemic shocks, political unrest and floods, cannot afford any additional stress.

Pakistan has enough foreign currency reserves to cover just one month of imports. The risk of default on the bond market has soared. Former army leaders might have considered that such dire circumstances justified military intervention. General Munir would distinguish himself by totally disdaining such nonsense.




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