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New army chief can end political crisis in Pakistan: US scholar

New army chief can end political crisis in Pakistan: US scholar

WASHINGTON: The new army chief could broker a compromise agreement in Pakistan, setting a date for holding national elections, says Marvin Weinbaum, a senior US scholar who has written several books on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In a piece published by the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), another US scholar, Andrew Gordan, urges the Biden administration to increase aid to Pakistan.

“Under a new army chief, the chances may improve that the military will broker a compromise agreement, setting a date for holding national elections,” says Mr Weinbaum in a piece he wrote for the Middle East Institute (MEI), Washington.

By increasing aid to Pakistan, “the United States will propel forward its own strategic interests and fulfil humanitarian obligations while simultaneously helping this South Asian nation avert crisis,” Mr Gordan writes.

Biden administration urged to increase aid to Islamabad

While the CFR article deals with the larger question of US-Pakistan relations, the MEI paper focuses on the appointment of a new army chief in Pakistan.

Mr Weinbaum notes that while the current Pakistani government would “prefer to name a new chief believed likely to protect the interests of the governing coalition, the prime minister is hemmed in by a military establishment anxious for the selection to be seen as based solely on seniority and merit”.

Another US scholar of Pakistani origin, Shuja Nawaz, whose books on Pakistan Army are taught at universities in the US and Pakistan, tackles another issue — the retirement of one of the six possible candidates for the top slot on Nov 27, two days before the current chief.

He says that elevating one of the candidates before Nov 27 to deal with the retirement issue “may provoke legal challenges as we cannot have two chiefs simultaneously”.

Prof Hassan Abbas of the US National Defence University says the most likely scenario would be choosing “the two senior most generals” as the chief and the chairman joint chiefs of staff, while the third “may come out as a compromise candidate”.

Mr Weinbaum notes that the army’s top brass “appears determined to avoid taking sides in the brewing political showdown” as Imran Khan’s long march descends on Islamabad. “With much of the officer corps sympathetic to the former prime minister, the army is currently leaving the maintenance of order to the local police, the federal paramilitary Rangers, and the country’s tribal constabulary,” he adds.

Mr Weinbaum, however, says Mr Khan “must make peace with the military establishment if he hopes to again clear a path to taking power and holding it”.

For its part, “the military has come to appreciate that Mr Khan has succeeded in mobilising a popular movement that, if not accommodated, could threaten the military’s long-exalted special relationship with the people of Pakistan,” he adds.

Mr Weinbaum sees Imran Khan “emerging from new elections with a massive ego-boosting mandate,” but says that “it will take a steady, skillful new army chief to lead to a reestablishment of the civilian-military governing condominium with the former prime minister that had existed until last April”.

In the meantime, he suggests maintaining “cool heads on all sides to avoid the violence that could destabilise an economically struggling Pakistan”.

Mr Gordan warns that “Pakistan’s economy has reached a breaking point and political unrest threatens to throw the nation into further disarray”.

He notes that as of Nov 2022, the US has delivered $97 million in aid to Pakistan, but “this figure barely registers on the scale of Pakistan’s recovery requirements, estimated at $40 billion”.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2022

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