The army has dominated Pakistan since its independence in 1947 to the extent that the selection of the army chief is often of more consequence than who is the prime minister or which political party is in power. For every civilian government therefore the principal consideration in selecting the army chief is to maximise their chances of survival.
As an editorial in Dawn notes, “How could it be otherwise in a country where the military has ruled directly for many years of its existence, and — with the establishment’s machinations — spent much of the remainder manipulating the political landscape, including through the once-powerful presidency, to ensure its preeminence?”
Yet, this time round the ‘sound and fury’ over who will be Pakistan’s next army chief has a lot to do with the fulminations of former prime minister Imran Khan. Ever since he was voted out of power earlier this year, Khan has directed his ire at the army and especially current chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa. Khan alleges that his government fell because the establishment chose a ‘neutral’ stance, implying that the army should have sided with him, not with the other politicians.
As is common with ‘U-turn Khan’ sometimes Imran claims that Bajwa should be allowed an extension and at other times that since the army chief must be selected based on ‘merit’ hence the current government – who are ‘thieves’ in Imran Khan’s view – should not be allowed to undertake the task.
Who will be the next army chief is still to be seen. However, one hopes that the ‘Imran Khan episode’ taught the military establishment a lesson — that this is what happens when you repeatedly overstep constitutional boundaries. Maybe it is time to back off and leave governance to those elected by the people.