WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s new army chief will face two immediate tasks, rebuilding the country’s ailing economy and restoring public trust in the military establishment, says The New York Times.

The Times and The Washington Post have published two stories each on Pakistan since early Thursday: first when Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif sent a short list of six senior generals to President Arif Alvi, and the second when the president approved Gen Asim Munir’s appointment as Pakistan’s new army chief.

Other US media outlets — including TV channels and news sites — also showed a keen interest in the news and regularly updated their stories. Generally, the US media hardly ever reports the appointment of an army chief in another country and also shows little interest in such appointments within the United States either.

The Times noted that “many consider” this change of guard as “crucial to Pakistani affairs as civilian political cycles” and that it “comes at a moment of fierce debate over the military’s power in politics”. The report pointed out that the military has ruled for over half of Pakistan’s 75-year history and, even under civilian governments, military leaders are seen as the invisible hand guiding Pakistani politics.

“That political meddling, however, has come under fierce scrutiny this year, after Imran Khan was ousted by a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April that he said was aided by the Pakistani military, the United States, and his political rivals,” the report added.

The Times claimed that Mr Khan’s “relentless criticism of the military has resonated deeply among Pakistanis and seriously damaged the military’s reputation within the country”.

The US newspaper also claimed that the political turmoil “has caused schisms within the military, with many lower-ranking officers quietly supporting the ousted leader while its top brass has lost patience with his accusations”.

The Times noted that the army chief in Pakistan also “influences the foreign policy direction of the country” and the new chief inherits the position at “an exceedingly challenging moment” for Pakistan.

The Washington Post, while explaining why President Alvi endorsed the new appointment, noted that Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan said on Thursday that the prime minister had promoted Mr Munir to the rank of four-star general and that he would not have retired this week even if Mr Alvi had delayed the endorsement.

The BBC also ran a report on this change in Pakistan that said the new army chief will also direct future relations with nuclear-armed rival India on one side, and the new Taliban government in Afghanistan on the other.

Almost all media outlets pointed out that this week the departing chief acknowledged the military’s role in politics over the last 70 years.

Voice of America (VOA) noted that the new military chief takes charge “amid an intensified debate over the even deepening interference of the institution in political affairs”.

Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s “leadership, in particular, has exposed the powerful military to severe public criticism lately, led by the former prime minister”.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2022

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