General Syed Asim Munir Ahmed Shah, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, has spent the majority of his almost six months in office cleaning up the mess that General Qasim Javed Bajwa, his much-discussed predecessor, left behind.
Imran Khan, the former prime minister, was detained as part of this clearing-up effort. Since his incarceration, the army has absolved itself of any ties to its erstwhile protégé and the disastrous hybrid government experiment.
It’s too soon to declare it a win, however, since much will rely on Munir’s ability to restore some kind of order to the streets, comradery among the army’s top brass, and more responsible political leadership. Khan’s rescue by the Supreme Court has made the issue more challenging.
Ironically, all of these checklists demonstrate how Munir has broken his initial commitment to not engage in politics. Currently, General Munir is the de facto ruler of the unstable nation. In many ways, Pakistan has already had a coup d’état.
Munir has never previously needed to engage in aggressive core politics both within and outside of GHQ in order to survive as a head. Playing two games at once presents him with the most difficulty.
In addition to leaving behind a dysfunctional Pakistan, Munir’s old employer, Bajwa, also left behind a group of officers who were more committed to the purana army than the naya army that Munir wished to build and command. These officials, many of whom hold high positions, are apparently sowing doubts as well as open opposition inside GHQ. Since taking over as chief, Munir has taken action against these officers since he is aware of them. Given his limited experience at the GHQ, he is unlikely to be aware of the breadth of these doubters, but their presence at this crucial moment makes him uneasy.
Munir is also aware of the immense harm that a social media campaign against him may do. He could still remember how General Pervez Musharraf, a strong military ruler, fell to popular ridicule. People, largely young and emboldened by mobile phones and a false sense of history, have developed a universe of hatred and derision against the army thanks to PTI supporters and other anti-army groups. The army’s inability to stop such malicious activities on social media has further increased popular disdain for Pakistan’s most powerful institution.
As a result, the General may not be unconcerned by reports on social media that Lt. General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, may attempt to overthrow him and assume control of the army. Six months before, Mirza had been unable to succeed the Chief. The PTI social media brigade may have just been the source of the stories. However, these untrue rumors have the potential to sow disbelief and cast doubt on the army’s leadership—a factor that has been pursuing Munir since he assumed control in November of last year.
Due to the status of the nation and the increasing gulf between the civilian population and the army, Munir hasn’t had time to organize his home since he was compelled to go right away. Senior-level rumors circulated that Munir attended the Officer Training School in Mangla (OTS) rather than the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul.
Second, his alleged rupture with Imran Khan over accusations of corruption against the Prime Minister’s wife when he was the head of the ISI has had an unanticipated consequence: as the Army commander, he is seen to favor the Sharifs and Zardaris.
These could be folklore, but they affect the public’s mentality like viruses, warping reality and fostering a virtual conspiracy theory universe. Munir recently acknowledged this truth in his opening address at the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul. He promised that we would work to further strengthen the connection between people and forces.
The army commander accused covert opponents for undermining state and social cohesiveness and creating a rift between the populace and the armed forces in reference to the ongoing situation in Pakistan. However, given that these same individuals see the army as the enemy, General Munir may need to marshal all of his resources and allies in order to assist rebuild public confidence in the army. Munir is now in such a moment of truth, and how well he handles the situation will be a true measure of his character.