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  Opinion   Columnists  16 May 2023  Bhopinder Singh | Target Imran: Gen. Munir a true soldier of Pak Deep State

Bhopinder Singh | Target Imran: Gen. Munir a true soldier of Pak Deep State

The writer is former lieutenant-governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry
Published : May 17, 2023, 12:00 am IST
Updated : May 17, 2023, 12:00 am IST

As Imran’s bête noire, Gen. Munir had to endure the former PM’s reciprocal indignity of supposed corruption charges

Gen. Syed Asim Munir. (Photo: Wikipedia)
 Gen. Syed Asim Munir. (Photo: Wikipedia)

When the relatively unknown and perceptibly dour Gen. Syed Asim Munir took over as Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff from the barrel-chested and garrulous Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa on November 29, 2022, it seemed like a change of sensibilities and perhaps even narrative. Gen. Bajwa’s initial “selection” (2018 elections) and later “ejection” (2022 no-trust vote) of Imran Khan was completed. Gen. Bajwa hung up his boots while the vainglorious Imran was given the boot! But it wasn’t the end as Imran kept ranting, provoking and getting under the Pakistan Army’s skin. Beyond Gen. Bajwa and the current ISI chief (Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum), Imran called out the ISI number two (Maj. Gen. Faisal Naseer, “Dirty Harry”) to shame the “establishment”. It was a pressure test for Gen. Munir. Imran baited, Gen. Munir bit hard. Ultimately, no change of narrative resulted.

In hindsight, Gen. Munir was always the establishment’s “chosen one” — meaning of Gen. Bajwa. The reasons are clearer now. Gen. Munir had tellingly overcome the technicality of getting “selected” for COAS despite his then retirement date as a lieutenant-general falling on November 27, while Gen. Bajwa was to doff his uniform only by November 29, yet Gen. Munir defied the odds of required adjustment. The farce of Schedule V-A of Pakistan’s Rule of Business says: “The appointment of, and above the rank of, lieutenant-general in the Army and equivalent ranks in the other defence services will be made by the Prime Minister in consultation with the President”. The real McCoy for passing the COAS’ Malacca cane was singularly Gen. Bajwa, representing the establishment. Incidentally, the sitting Pakistan President, Arif-ur-Rehman Alvi, is a founder member of Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI): he couldn’t possibly have been allowed to exercise his mandated choice, not in the circumstances then prevailing.

As a rare Shia COAS, Gen. Munir faces the onerous task of exhibiting his fidelity to the “establishment” and steely resolve to the nation, just as it drove the only two other Shia COAS — Gen. Muhammad Musa and Gen. Yahya Khan — to wars with India in 1965 and 1971. Gen. Munir carries the unsaid burden of proving himself in a deeply sectarian society. He was ISI D-G when the Pulwama attack took place on February 14, 2019. Not responding or succumbing to Imran’s accusations about Pakistan’s Army was not an option.

Lo and behold, on May 9, 2023, Imran was bumped into a personnel carrier of the Punjab Rangers and whisked away rather unceremoniously for a former Prime Minister. It was reminiscent of the arrests of Iskander Mirza in 1958 (Ayub Khan’s coup), Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1978 (Zia-ul Haq’s coup) and Nawaz Sharif in 1999 (Pervez Musharraf’s coup). Gen. Munir moved against a man who seemed to be unsettling the Deep State even more than the ruling civilian government.

Gen. Munir earned his place at the top with the critical “one crescent, one star and three crowns” on his epaulettes (as a brigadier), directly under then X Corps commander Gen. Bajwa. Clearly not wet behind his ears in terms of societal posturing, Gen. Munir is a Hafiz-e-Quran (one who has memorised the complete Quran). Unlike many flamboyant colleagues, he served “under the radar” and seemed “safe” (as was ironically, and wrongly, assumed for Ayub Khan, Zia-ul Haq and Pervez Musahrraf). Well-versed with the intrigues of Pakistan, Gen. Munir is the only COAS to have worn the dual hats of director-general of military intelligence and also director-general of ISI.

With the shortest tenure as the ISI D-G, due to his unusual questioning of the corruption trail leading to the wife of then PM Imran Khan, Gen. Munir has his unhealed personal history with him. As Imran’s bête noire, Gen. Munir had to endure the former PM’s reciprocal indignity of supposed corruption charges, while posted as XXX Corps commander. However, as ISI D-G, he would have been wise enough to know the consequences of pointing fingers at the PM’s wife, so presumably he would have only been doing Gen. Bajwa’s bidding to send out a message to Imran to adhere to the establishment’s playbook. But Imran didn’t confine himself to the establishment’s red lines. While Gen. Munir was to be the sacrificial lamb in 2019, he romped home in 2022 as the dark horse who became the all-powerful COAS.

If ever there was any doubt about Gen. Munir as Gen. Bajwa’s acolyte, it was put to rest with his “taking stock” of the situation, as Pakistan’s generals tend to do historically, whenever they or their institution stand to get besmirched. Whether Imran Khan has tripped Gen. Munir into making him an ever-bigger hero in the public eye, or, has bitten more than he can chew, will depend on how the emotions get manufactured and controlled in the days and weeks to come. But the “establishment” has moved decisively, and committed itself to a point of no return — at least for the next two and a half years of Gen. Munir’s tenure. Imran stands to be politically neutralised (not physically, as he melodramatically claimed, as that would irreversibly turn the public tide against the Army).

So, brace yourself for sneaky leaks, sleazy exposés and corruption charges against “Taliban Khan” (as the world increasingly sees him), that will be gleefully and dutifully supported by the discredited ruling side and scared judiciary. Whenever the “establishment” decides to do something, they usually get it, legitimately or illegitimately. Gen. Munir has turned out to be a chip of the old block!

Tags: imran khan, pakistan army, judiciary, corruption