Gen Asim Munir runs Pakistan

NEW DELHI | Updated: 23 December, 2023 11:29 am IST
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The recent visit of Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Asim Munir, to Washington and his meetings with top US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, have raised eyebrows in India and elsewhere. The visit, which focused on counter-terrorism cooperation and defence collaboration, was seen as a sign of the growing influence and clout of the Pakistan Army in the country’s affairs, and a reminder of the fact that Pakistan remains a military dictatorship in all but name.

The Pakistan Army has been the most powerful and dominant institution in the country since its inception in 1947. It has directly ruled the country for more than half of its history and has indirectly controlled the civilian governments through various means, such as coups, assassinations, intimidation, and manipulation. The Army has also shaped the country’s foreign and security policies, especially vis-a-vis India and Afghanistan, and has maintained a tight grip on the nuclear arsenal and the intelligence agencies.

The Army’s role and influence did not diminish under the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power in 2018 with the Army’s backing and blessing. Khan, a former cricket star and a populist leader, has been widely seen as a puppet and a mouthpiece of the Army and has failed to assert his authority and autonomy on key issues. The Army has continued to call the shots on matters such as the relations with India, the peace talks with the Taliban, the crackdown on the opposition and the media, and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Army’s visit to Washington, therefore, was not a surprise, but a confirmation of the reality and the perception that the Army is the real power and the real partner in Pakistan. The US, which has a long and compact history of engagement with Pakistan, has also recognized and acknowledged this fact and has sought to maintain and enhance its ties with the Army, despite its reservations and criticisms of its policies and actions. The US, which considers Pakistan as a key ally in the region, especially in the context of the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, has also tried to balance its relations with India, which is a strategic partner and a rival of Pakistan.

The visit, however, has also raised concerns and questions about the implications and consequences of the Army’s role and influence in Pakistan and the region. India, which has been a victim of Pakistan’s support for terrorism and cross-border attacks, has expressed its concern over the visit and has hoped that other countries will treat counterterrorism seriously. India has also accused Pakistan of using terrorism as a state policy, and of harbouring and sponsoring various terrorist groups, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, and the Haqqani network, which have carried out deadly attacks in India and Afghanistan.

The visit has also highlighted the challenges and risks of the Army’s involvement and interference in the political and social spheres of Pakistan. The Army, which has often justified its role and influence as a guardian and a stabilizer of the country, has also been a source and a cause of instability and violence in the country. The Army has suppressed and violated the rights and freedoms of the people and has undermined and weakened the democratic institutions and processes of the country. The Army has also fostered and fueled a culture of intolerance and extremism in society and has alienated and antagonized ethnic and religious minorities and civil society.

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