Different political projects were launched — the latest being the Imran Khan project — but none delivered while some, particularly the most recent one, backfired like never before. There was a lot to learn from these failures but it never happened. There have been tactical retreats in the past but the country never saw a sustained decision to keep the institution apolitical.
The outgoing Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa accepted to have made mistakes. Under him, it was the establishment’s political engineering of 2018 that led Imran Khan to come into power but it all ended up in a nightmarish manner for the establishment itself.
General Bajwa, however, is ending his tenure on a positive note. He himself recently announced that it was the institution’s decision taken in February last year to bring an end to its past practices of political interference, and the making and breaking of political parties and civilian governments.
During the recent months despite having been pressurised by Imran Khan and the PTI to force the present government to quit and hold early elections, the establishment under General Bajwa repeatedly insisted that it has become apolitical and in no way would repeat the past mistake.
Now much depends on General Asim Munir, who will take over the command on Nov 29. He has a three-year term as Army Chief and thus has the great opportunity to reinforce what has already been decided recently by the institution itself. Redeeming the respect of the institution, which is vital for the security and defence of the country, and saving it from unnecessary controversies is critically important. However, this is only possible by keeping the institution away from politics.
Generally, it is said that the military establishment’s direction changes with the change of the Army Chief. It makes politics and the entire system vulnerable. There may not be quick fixes for decades’ long ills but the Army Chief has an important role to play and help change the mindset of the military establishment.
Constitutional rule is the only way forward and it demands all the institutions, including the Army, to restrict themselves to their respective domains. The military establishment has always been very powerful because of the strength of the institution of Pakistan Army. This power in the past has made different Army Chiefs dither, leading to direct and indirect interventions — all of which met failures one after the other and today Pakistan is faced with serious challenges.
Pakistan armed forces and ISI are critically important for the security and defence of Pakistan. But these are subordinate departments to the civilian governments. And they should remain so. Being subservient, however, does not mean to follow any unlawful direction.
Political engineering whether being done on the whims and wishes of a sitting government or on the direction of the military establishment, both are harmful — not only for the system, institution and the constitutional rule but for the country as well. It’s high time not to repeat the past mistakes.