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Editorial: Legacy of Generals

From Zia to Munir, Pakistan’s Army chiefs have kept the country teetering between pragmatism and ideology

by Editorial

Gen. Bajwa hands over baton of command to Gen. Asim Munir

Pakistan’s history has seen more generals in power than civilian prime ministers, who are often ousted from office by the same “patriots.” Of all our military dictators, Gen. Ziaul Haq was the most “ideological,” and thus left a mark deeper than most Pakistanis realize, moving the state away from the legacy of Muhammad Ali Jinnah forever. In the intervening decades, some generals have “deviated” from this legacy and become more pragmatic than the civilian leadership; as evidenced under Gen. (retd.) Qamar Javed Bajwa, whose public interactions sought to project realistic “corrections” compared to the ideology offered by Imran Khan. These “corrections”—i.e. political meddling—widened schisms within the armed forces, triggering a governance crisis that no one seems to have any way out of.

In the current milieu, Khan is playing the part of the “old” generals, offering ideology as policy. This was nurtured and facilitated by the “pragmatic” Bajwa, who favored the PTI chief and was in turn hailed as Pakistan’s “most democratic” Army chief by Khan. The PTI further repaid Bajwa’s largesse with a three-year extension to his tenure, but the bonhomie did not prove sustainable as the general’s “pragmatism” proved incompatible with his prime minister’s “heroic isolation.” The inevitable fall out might have become public over Khan’s refusal to let go of spymaster Lt. Gen. (retd.) Faiz Hameed, but its roots lay in Bajwa advocating statesmanship—particularly in ties with the U.S. and China—against the PTI chief’s desire for “real independence.”

Bajwa’s unrestrained support for Khan in his first spell as Army chief paved way for incumbent Gen. Asim Munir, widely perceived as a “realist” officer who has little patience for “ideology.” He has publicly declared a hands-off policy over Pakistan’s political conflict, encouraging the use of mob power to achieve desired results; a dangerous prospect for the country’s future. At the same time, he has sought to make up with foreign states alienated by Khan, particularly China, and reportedly played an important role in achieving the recent peace deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia that could usher in a new political dynamic for the region.

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