Hard reset

Published November 25, 2022

IT is done. What should have been a routine matter in simpler times had this year become a vortex that seemingly sucked up the entire nation in intrigue. It is a matter of great relief that we can now move on from it without further ado.

Gen Asim Munir will be Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s replacement as chief of army staff, while Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza will succeed Gen Nadeem Raza as chairman joint chiefs of staff committee. By all accounts, both officers are highly competent and well-regarded, and each carries a record of distinguished service.

It is expected that they will prove themselves capable and deserving of the responsibilities that come with their respective offices under the laws of our land. Though their appointment had always been the prime minister’s prerogative, PTI chairman Imran Khan also needed to be mollified.

A token visit from the president secured Mr Khan’s symbolic approval. With this bipartisan agreement over the appointments, there is now realistic hope for a hard reset in civil-military ties.

The two officers take over at an unenviable time. Deep polarisation has fractured the polity. The bills for years of economic mismanagement and incompetence have become due and threaten to push the country under. There will be many temptations to intervene — to “go beyond the mandate”, as the outgoing chief put it a day earlier — but the armed forces must resist those temptations.

Even well-meaning interventions can quickly turn into nightmares, as experiences from recent years show. The armed forces would be wise to focus on keeping Pakistan internally and externally secure.

They should leave it to the judiciary, the executive, the legislature and, most of all, the people to chart Pakistan’s future. Gen Bajwa has made a promise that his institution will stay apolitical.

Those who have interacted in the past with Gen Munir speak of restraint and maturity in his approach. We expect him to make good on his predecessor’s promise without regard to any pressure from any of the political players currently in the fray.

It seems fitting to conclude with an excerpt from Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s address to army officers at Staff College, Quetta, in June 1948. “I should like you to study the Constitution, which is in force in Pakistan at present, and understand its true constitutional and legal implications when you say that you will be faithful to the Constitution of the Dominion […] I want you to remember […] that the executive authority flows from the Head of the Government of Pakistan […] and, therefore, any command or orders that may come to you cannot come without the sanction of the Executive Head.”

We hope that both Generals Munir and Mirza will remember these words of the country’s founding father when they assume command of the armed forces of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2022

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