Pakistan Army Chief General Asim Munir’s first public interaction as known openly occurred on March 07.
Multiple media sources reported that General Asim Munir had invited 10 select businessmen of Pakistan, 10 each from Lahore and Karachi for interaction. An invitee is reported to have told the News Pakistan that the meeting was at the request of the business community. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar who some believed was planning to resign for inability to manage the economy was also present.
The Director General Inter Services Public Relations [DGISPR] mouthpiece of the Pakistan Armed Forces and public voice of the Army Chief was not expected to issue any release on this meeting which was seen beyond the military domain.
As per a report in the News Pakistan quoting unnamed sources, the Army Chief seemed confident that the tough times of the economy are over as there Pakistan will not default, a fear that was expressed in some quarters for weeks now. Interestingly Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has also been stating from time to time that Pakistan economy will not default.
Importantly as per the News General Asim “repeatedly referred to Islamic teachings to assure his audience that Pakistan will successfully overcome the present testing times”.
On the International Monetary Fund [IMF] the Army Chief and the Finance Minister spoke in one voice and indicated that the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) was likely to be released within days.
Just as in the case of Sri Lanka, the IMF is seeking guarantees from friendly countries as China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for example of contribution to the foreign exchange reserves which had been obtained. “Investments in agriculture, mining and IT,’ sectors were reported to have been secured.
Quite naturally the Army Chief was asked about efforts to defuse the political polarization in the country which has been rampant in the past few months with Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) chief and deposed former Prime Minister Imran Khan launching waves of targeted attacks on his political opponents as well as the former Army Chief General Qamar Jawed Bajwa.
A call was also made by the business community that the army should not allow the polarization to deepen and were told that the Army was playing its role to bring the political class together but there was, “only one hurdle,” in reaching the much-needed unanimity which was possibly unstated. This could possibly be holding early national elections a demand by Mr Khan or the querulous PTI chief’s resistance for dialogue with other political leaders who he has called vile names in the past.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Asim Munir is said to have adopted a relatively low key profile in the public domain after he took over the high office. Unlike his predecessor General Qamar Jawed Bajwa who has been accused of firstly bringing in Mr Imran Khan in power through “election manipulation,” in 2018 and then easing him out in 2021 due to poor performance, Asim Munir has not been making any public statements and meeting with the businessmen has been the first in his tenure of interface with non military entities.
Former Prime Minister of Pakistan and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan had indicated that he is ready to talk to Army Chief General Munir but military is said to have responded that meeting politicians did not fall in his charter.
At the same time the rising popularity of Mr Imran Khan as indicated by a recent Gallup polls would not have gone unnoticed by the military and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) cell which deals with internal politics of the country. Khan was rated at positively by 61pc of the population while only 37pc rated him negatively even as the other leaders hovered with a rating around 30 percent. What more just in case the PTI does not get a majority in these provinces in an election, Mr Khan will reject the results and launch another agitation claiming that these elections are rigged.
Many analysts believe that it may difficult for the military to support the political forces opposing Imran Khan despite having irked the Army with his accusations against the forces particularly the former Army Chief General Bajwa and the days of the Army’s role in politics in Pakistan may be over, but this hypothesis may be too early in the day.
For the Army allowing Mr Khan to return to power may be against a default option.
More over Khan’s record in governance has also been poor and thus he may not be the ideal choice for Pakistan’s key provinces Punjab an economic and political powerhouse and Khyber Pakhtoonwa where the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan [TTP] is continuing to attack the security forces mainly the police in the past few months. The TTP has even launched an attack on the police HQ in Karachi the commercial capital in a province where it does not have notable presence.
Mr Khan knows that the Army has a deciding say in politics in the country even though General Asim Munir has not been seen in the public as much as his predecessor and has thus been an enigma for those who were expecting him to play a mediator in the politics of the country.