Pakistan’s Military Takes the Helm Amidst Political Preparations for Elections
In the lead-up to Pakistan’s forthcoming elections, the nation’s military, led by General Asim Munir, has assumed a prominent role in the realm of governance, notably in the management of a beleaguered economy. This unfolding narrative follows a trajectory established in the post-Pervez Musharraf era, wherein decision-making on critical matters has shifted towards proxy actors, while legislative bodies continue to deliberate and legislate. This strategic maneuver, it appears, maintains the veneer of democracy while serving as a contingency plan should anything go awry.
Over the years, successive Chiefs of the Pakistani Army have been active in securing loans, orchestrating projects, and garnering investments in ‘friendly’ foreign capitals. They have also engaged directly with the domestic business community, often shrouded in rumors and speculations. However, the recent meetings held by General Munir on September 3 in Karachi and Lahore have confirmed the military’s perception of political ineptitude within the political class.
Members of the business community who met with the army chief reported his disapproval of nearly every political party, with Irfan Sheikh, Chief of FPCCI, noting that General Munir had mentioned several politicians who once traveled on motorcycles and now reside abroad. The concerns voiced during these meetings extended to the nation’s economy, leaving the impression that political figures may soon face legal scrutiny.
An editorial in the Daily Pakistan (September 14) expressed optimism regarding General Asim Munir’s vision for the future, emphasizing the necessity for political leaders to put aside their differences and wholeheartedly support these projects.
Amidst a caretaker government’s tenure and ongoing speculation regarding election dates, public discourse has intensified around the intricate relationship between the political and military spheres. Umer Farooq, writing in The Friday Times, criticizes what he deems the “anti-military melodrama” within Pakistan’s political landscape. He contends that since political leaders rely on military support to govern effectively, adopting an anti-military posture only serves to strain their relationships with the establishment, thereby complicating the governance process.
Farooq also points out that Pakistan has witnessed vehement criticism of its army and Chiefs in recent years, notably from figures like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. Sharif, previously in exile in London, launched attacks against the military, while Khan, currently in custody on graft charges, accused General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Munir’s predecessor, of conspiring against him.
Farooq underscores the symbiotic relationship between politicians and the military, emphasizing that the rise of anti-military sentiment coincides with the military’s ascent as a dominant player in Pakistan’s power dynamics, indicative of a limited political discourse.
Analysts have highlighted instances where both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan received support from the military at different junctures. Farooq references “confirmation of conspiracy theories,” such as one involving General Bajwa’s alleged role in securing a graft case conviction against Sharif to favor Khan, showcasing the military’s influence behind closed doors.
In the eyes of many Pakistani and foreign analysts, the military’s influence permeates every facet of governance. Farooq observes that Army chiefs have not only played pivotal roles in decisions related to the use of force against militant and terror groups but have also acted as de facto diplomats. Moreover, during this period, the military’s dominance over the state’s coercive machinery has become increasingly evident, leaving no doubt as to its far-reaching influence.