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EditorialPro-democracy, apolitical army

Pro-democracy, apolitical army

A new chief of the army staff has been appointed by the prime minister. General Asim Munir Ahmad Shah will soon take over the command of the strongest institution in the country from General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Moreover, Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza has been named as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. After much speculation, the announcement comes as a relief for the country, as the best of the best have been chosen to lead the armed forces. Also, President Arif Alvi has signed the summary, ending the last hope of those who wanted to create confusion in the situation. Though PTI Chairman Imran Khan has not issued any statement so far, it is hoped he will welcome the new army chief. It should be hoped that the new army chief remains as apolitical as his predecessor did in the last year of his service to the nation. It is imperative to carry on the legacy of remaining apolitical left by General Bajwa.

General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s term finally comes to an end after a three-year official tenure and a three-year extension. The tenth Chief of the Army Staff bid farewell to the nation at his last public address at the Defense and Martyrs Day ceremony held at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi. In this address, the army chief stated that the army is apolitical and will remain so in the future. He also stated that for the past 70 years, the institution had meddled in politics, but in February 2021, it decided to stay away from politics.

This acknowledgement of the institution of the army having a role in the political situation of the country sets an unprecedented record. Before General Bajwa’s admission, there was always an eerie silence with regard to this issue. Of course, Pakistan has seen decades of military rule, which meant that politics became the military’s domain. However, during civil governments, the institution did not hold back from giving its opinions. Now, the army is to remain apolitical and not meddle in the politics of the country, no matter what kind of circus the political parties set up.

In the true essence of democracy, this is how it should be. The military’s role is to protect the nation and its citizens from any outside threat. In most formerly colonized developing countries, the army plays a major role in politics. In Pakistan, the root of this problem goes back to independence. At the time, the only organized institution in the infant state was the military. There were a few political leaders who had a vision for the country, but they left the world too soon. The civil service was not as established as it was in India, and not many were educated enough to participate in or understand politics. Hence, the onus of getting the infant to stand on its own fell upon the institution of the military. However, this was a short-term solution and not a tradition that should have been carried on until 2021. Very early in Pakistani history, the military should have taken the decision it took last year.

On the political front, as General Bajwa mentioned in his speech, many have been heavily criticizing the armed forces for hatching alleged conspiracies. These people have used harsh and oftentimes inappropriate language for the esteemed institution. General Bajwa refuted all such claims and reiterated that the armed forces have always looked out for the state against all threats from within and outside. Therefore, such allegations are baseless and must not be publicized, as they only demean the esteemed institution of the armed forces. However, along with this, he said that it is the right of citizens and politicians to constructively criticize any and all institutions that may make mistakes. This shows the army’s commitment to the country and its ability to be flexible and open to constructive criticism from all sectors.

Well, the army’s resolve to remain apolitical is welcome but whenever politicians themselves cause disorder, a breakdown in law and order, and economic stagnation, in these cases, the army must intervene (on government’s orders) to restore order. In addition to what Pakistanis observed in the past when massive corruption made the nation weak, there is a lack of funding in every ministry. The pressure is designed to elicit Army involvement. Let the army prepare to handle extraordinary civil unrest circumstances in a new social system. In times of both security and unrest, Pakistan needs its army, and our Constitution demands more.

General Bajwa leaves behind a legacy of taking the most historic decision of keeping the armed forces within the confines of its constitutional role. Moreover, when the whole country expected martial law to take over earlier in April during the political crisis, the army chief remained apolitical and allowed the civilians to decide their fate themselves. Such decisions not only strengthen democracy but also put due pressure on the civilian government to do better in terms of the economic and social situation in the country. Now there will not be anyone they can run to whenever things turn sour. This is how democracy will prevail in Pakistan.

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