Pakistan is a country of consequences and consequently, the army chief of the world’s only Muslim nuclear power is a consequential man – to say the least.
Chatter at home suggests that it is this office, the Chief of Army Staff which holds ultimate and final power, even more than the one which makes this appointment, the PM Office.
Some would go as far as saying that when a Prime Minister appoints a Chief of Army Staff, he is in effect selecting his boss for at least the next 3 years.
Such are the civil-military dynamics which hound the land of the pure, where the power balance has always tilted towards Rawalpindi rather than Islamabad, even during civilian governments.
The Pakistani military, once loved, feared and respected is now openly mocked, hated and abused by a large number of Pakistanis who have been motivated by a political leader and just aren’t afraid anymore.
Even a simple act as tweeting has become a source of discomfort for the military’s public relations wing, the ISPR which receives a multitude of abusive comments underneath every tweet.
What was claimed by the Baloch, Pathans and East Pakistanis once upon a time was repeated in Punjab, twice, by two former prime ministers who both held that the outgoing chief, General Bajwa was behind the political crisis in Pakistan.
In fact, both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, with opposite ideologies and political dynamics have lashed out at General Bajwa for interfering in politics beyond the military’s constitutional role.
Six years ago, when General Raheel Sharif handed over command to General Bajwa, the military evoked much different emotions than it does now.
The intelligence agencies have also lost a lot of respect in the last six years, something which the incoming chief, General Asim Munir who served as both DGI and DGMI might appreciate.
The DG-C at the ISI was once a shadowy figure not many knew about but today, even children refer to the incumbent on this seat as ‘Dirty Harry’.
Whether such a title is warranted or not can be debated but what is absolutely certain that not only the office of the COAS has receded respect but also the ISI, the DGC and the DGI have lost massive ground, throwing them on the back foot.
Imagine the seriousness of the circumstances which would compel Pakistan’s spymaster, Gen Nadeem, the man who had strictly forbidden the media to show his picture to come in a room full of journalists and defend his institution after the murder of a popular journalist who was critical of the incumbent chief, General Bajwa.
Whilst many commented on the dark circles surrounding Gen Nadeem’s eyes, others wondered how deep the game would go and how much damage had already been caused to the institution for the DGI himself to become one of two spokespersons, the other being the man designated for the role, the DG ISPR.
And blood, innocent blood has a power of its own, it makes men rise, if not physically, then at least mentally.
Arshad Sharif’s brutal murder, the assassination attempt of Imran Khan, the torture and harassment campaign on Azam Swati, the sexual torture of Shahbaz Gill and many other incidents may have temporarily halted Imran Khan’s battle against the incumbent chief but it has instilled an unprecedented hatred for the armed forces amongst many people in Pakistan who just a while ago, held a most favourable view.
General Asim is inheriting an army that has not only lost the love of the people but also faces divisions from within, divisions which could have resulted in a civil war.
Many analysts believe that the tussle between Imran Khan and the current government was actually a conflict between two generals, with politicians acting as willing proxies.
The two generals are Gen Bajwa, and his once close subordinate, Gen Faiz Hameed.
Mentioning this story whilst taking names is considered unwise due to fear of violence, harassment and other coercive tactics.
That the military has to protect its internal squabbles using violence and intimidation tactics reveals the deep rot within the mighty institution which still, for all intents and purposes, rules Pakistan.
An extension for the incumbent in 2019 also drew severe criticism not only from within the institution’s senior most generals who faced forced retirement but also amongst the population who perhaps felt that an individual was chosen over the institution.
Whilst fear and the threat of violence may seem like appropriate tools to stifle dissent, one must also consider the impact of using such stratagems to save grace.
Once all-powerful, outgoing chief General Bajwa may find it difficult to now attend weddings in Pakistan due to fear of abuse, sloganeering and insults.
How many people can be killed, kidnapped, assaulted and blackmailed in order to extort respect for the institution?
General Asim must decide whether he wants the Pakistani people to love the army or fear it.
While Machiavelli recommends ruling through fear, we live in times where every citizen with a phone and internet is a broadcasting machine.
With experience in leading both Inter-Services Intelligence as well as Military Intelligence, General Asim Munir is well-equipped to understand the real job of intelligence services beyond their political role.
Given the global seismic changes, the incoming Number One would be wise to ensure that Pakistan capitalises on evolving dynamics and does not miss out on lost opportunities.
The new COAS should also put aside any differences with any previous political leadership since the army chief has to act neutrally amongst political stakeholders to ensure his role as the ultimate arbitrator of disputes.
Primarily, what is expected of the new chief is simple, but it is not always so.
General Asim can gain the respect of the institution as well as the people if he just stays within his constitutional role and becomes a pillar for civilian supremacy to emerge in Pakistan.
If only a soldier fulfils his oath, we will see a far more stable Pakistan.
A new dawn awaits.