Pakistan is dealing with multiple crises at the same time that General Asim Munir has assumed power.
After taking charge of Pakistan’s nuclear-armed military last week, General Asim Munir now holds what is probably the most powerful position in the country.
The country’s internal and external affairs can now be significantly influenced by the 57-year-old former spy chief.
At a time when Pakistan is facing multiple crises, Munir has assumed power: a fervent opposition calling for elections right away, a collapse in the economy, and historic floods this year that flooded one-third of the country.
Prior to beginning his tenure, Munir must complete the following five major tasks:
The chaos and instability that have engulfed politics since former Prime Minister Imran Khan was removed from office, according to analysts, is the primary obstacle that the new army chief must overcome.
In April of this year, Khan lost a confidence vote in parliament, which he claimed was orchestrated by the United States with the help of his political rivals and the powerful military.
Washington and Islamabad both repeatedly denied the allegations.
The leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party made a U-turn last month and stated that he no longer blamed the United States for his removal. He also stressed that if and when he comes back to power, he wants to have good relations with Washington.
Even though the cricketer-turned-politician continues to fiercely criticize the military for its involvement in politics, Khan has previously requested that elections be delayed until late 2023.
Majid Nizami, a political analyst based in Lahore, says that after what his predecessor Qamar Javed Bajwa said in his farewell speech last month, the term of Munir will be closely watched.
Bajwa stated to the top brass of the army that the military has decided not to interfere in political matters any longer because, in his opinion, such interventions would be against the constitution.
Nizami stated to Al Jazeera, “He (Munir) must first establish his credibility as a truly neutral army chief so that he is without question acceptable across the political spectrum.”
According to Islamabad-based Tabadlab’s Mosharraf Zaidi, the military’s control over the media and frequent meddling in politics should end.
He stated, “Under a new chief, the military must resist the temptation to use the vast extraconstitutional and illegal influence and power it has over the judiciary, the civilian administration across the country, and the news media.”
Image of the military
This brings us to Munir’s second greatest obstacle: the public perception of the military in Pakistan.
Over the course of Pakistan’s 75 years of independence, the army has been directly in charge for more than 30 of those years. The army is regarded as the primary arbiter in domestic matters, regardless of whether or not it is in power.
According to Omar Mahmood Hayat, a retired general in the army, Munir should make it a top priority to boost the morale of the military’s rank and file.
He stated to Al Jazeera, “We have seen in the past that with a professional approach, it doesn’t take long for the image to be corrected.”
The former defense secretary and retired army officer Asif Yasin Malik believes that Munir will face difficulties with “perception management.”
The first obstacle he faces is controlling public perceptions of the army’s political involvement. This is the principal thing he should pursue and redress. He stated, “This is affecting the army’s operational mindset.”
“They [soldiers] ought to be able to see what is happening in the world as well as what is being said on WhatsApp or social media, but their focus ought to be on their mission and professional orientation,” the author asserts.
Afghanistan and TTP danger
According to Abdul Syed, a specialist in Afghanistan and Pakistan, one of Munir’s main challenges would be to contain the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) armed group’s growing threat.
A ceasefire that had been reached in June with the Pakistani government and was mediated by Kabul was broken last week by the TTP, which is ideologically aligned with the Taliban that runs Afghanistan.
The TTP instructed its fighters to launch new attacks “in the entire country” in the statement announcing the end of the ceasefire. Two days later, during a polio immunization campaign in the southwest city of Quetta, the TTP claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that resulted in the deaths of three people, including a police officer.
The TTP has carried out more than 70 armed attacks this year alone, resulting in dozens of deaths, according to data compiled by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, a research organization with its headquarters in Islamabad.
Pakistan is requesting that Kabul take action against the TTP leadership, which Islamabad claims has sought safety in Afghanistan despite Taliban assurances that their territory will not be used for attacks against other nations.
It is abundantly clear that the Pakistani Taliban have fled to Afghanistan for safety. Syed stated, “Pakistan now has two options to resolve this issue: one is political, and the other is military.”
“If Pakistan decides to take military action, it will unavoidably damage relations with the government of the Afghan Taliban and hinder its strategic goals. Pakistan, on the other hand, can try to find a non-military solution to get the Afghan Taliban to control TTP and stop them from attacking Pakistan.
India has historically been Pakistan’s main rival, involving both nations’ militaries. Kashmir, a Himalayan region that is divided between the two nations but is fully claimed by both of them, has been the focus of two of the three full-scale wars that the two nuclear powers have fought.
Armed attacks on the territory of either nation are frequently attributed to the military intelligence of the other.
After India blamed Pakistan for a deadly attack in Indian-administered Kashmir and responded with an air raid across the border, they were on the verge of another war at the beginning of 2019.
After India’s Hindu nationalist government stripped Indian-administered Kashmir of its special status and initiated an unprecedented security clampdown in the valley that lasted for months, the relationship deteriorated and all diplomatic ties between them were suspended later that year.
The two nations continued to engage in frequent skirmishes along their Himalayan border until March 2021, when they decided to adhere to a 2003 ceasefire agreement.
Munir pledged to “defend every inch of our motherland” during a visit to Pakistan-administered Kashmir just a few days after taking over as army chief.
He stated, “The Indian state will never be able to achieve her evil designs.”
Balancing US-China relations
Pakistan has a long history of close ties with both the US and China, and many observers believe that one of Munir’s biggest challenges will be keeping close ties with the two global rivals.
However, Pakistan’s reliance on its northeastern neighbor has grown over the past decade, with China investing billions of dollars in projects throughout the country.
In the meantime, Islamabad’s relationship with Washington has been frosty, and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is working to rekindle the relationship that deteriorated under Khan.
In the final months of his tenure, former army chief Bajwa traveled to China and the United States.
China has never told us who to be friends with or who not to be friends with. However, Americans and Western nations appear to disagree with that, according to Malik, a former defense secretary, as reported by Al Jazeera.
Mohammed Faisal, a foreign policy analyst based in Islamabad, believes that Munir must balance “competing pressures” from Beijing and Washington.
He stated, “Pakistan must find a way to secure the necessary support from both the major lenders.” Pakistan needs military and economic support from both countries.
However, Zaidi of Tabadlab stated that the military should “resist the urge to lead or run the foreign policy themselves” and “fully support the government’s foreign policy engagements.”