A similar future for Pak military despite change in leadership

by May 12, 2019 0 comments

Same legacy - different face

Though Gen Bajwa is likely to retire soon, the successors are expected to keep the water boiling, as peace delegitimize the edifice, rationale and scale of the Pak military

General-turned Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, never moved into the Aiwan-e-Sadr (official presidential palace) of Pakistan but chose to stay in the real centre of power in the Pakistani military establishment ie, the Army House at Rawalpindi. The current Army House was taken over by the Pakistani military after disposing of its previous resident in the form of its democratically elected Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Today, it remains the cynosure, epicenter and the final pit-stop for all significant approvals and substantial decision-making. The Army House of the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff (COAS) is practically the more important address as compared to the Chaklala residence of the nominally higher Pakistani Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC). Frequently, the occupants of the Army House have tended to overstay their mandated tenures. The Pakistani Army is under its 16th head (10th Chief of Army Staff and six previous Commander-in-Chiefs); whereas its genealogical other-half of the Indian Army is already under its 26th Chief of Army Staff (not counting the earlier four Commander-in-Chiefs). In the Pakistani narrative, the military chiefs who extended their tenures, like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf, too, appropriated the role of Presidents; whereas the more recent ones like Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Raheel Sharif preferred to pull the strings from behind the façade of a civilian and democratically-elected Government.

The current Pakistani Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, is seemingly following the footsteps of his predecessor, Gen Raheel Sharif, and has promised to “retire” on time at the end of his three-year tenure in November 2019. On November 28, 2016, the fourth in seniority, General Qamar Bajwa from the 16th Baloch Regiment, superseded two other officers to start his three-year tenure as the Chief of Army Staff. General Raheel Sharif, too, had superseded two senior officers — in both these cases their appointment was initiated by former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, ostensibly to get a “non-political” officer.

However, all five Pakistani COASs, who were sworn by Nawaz Sharif, gave him subsequent grief, including Gen Waheed Kakar (forced Sharif to resign), Gen Jehangir Karamat (forced him into premature retirement), Gen Pervez Musharraf (ousted him) and later Raheel Sharif and Qamar Bajwa, who bore no subsequent favour or loyalty to Sharif to bail him out politically. In fact, the unmistakable hand of the Pakistani Army under Gen Qamar Bajwa was omnipresent in ushering in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Government of Imran Khan. Earlier, murmurs of Pakistani Army’s handiwork in creating civic disturbances, then playing mediator and finally managing political perceptions were the hallmark of Bajwa’s looming, though silent shadow from Rawalpindi. Yet he  kept on reiterating that irrespective of the incumbent, the COAS — the institution of the Pakistani Army — remains independent, decisive and wholly non-interfering in non-military matters.

Like his immediate predecessor, Gen Bajwa, too, has maintained public reticence and only allowed his work to do the talking. In his tenure, there has been no realistic break from the past on the part of the Pakistani Army and its machinations in Afghanistan and India, much to the consternation of both the countries.

Pakistan’s continued patronage of the likes of JeM chief Masood Azhar remained intact till it became imperative to publicly disavow the terrorist in the face of pressure from the international community and multilateral agencies like the UN and the latest Achilles heel, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which threatens to “blacklist” Pakistan.

Now, Gen Bajwa is in the last leg of his mandated three-year tenure and would be in a “legacy mode” to leave a definitive imprint of his reign. If Gen Raheel Sharif could appropriate ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb’ as his legacy, Gen Bajwa could stake claim to the relative success of ‘Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad’ and to the whispered ‘Bajwa Doctrine’ that ostensibly counter-posits the Pakistani perspective in the Afghan-US-Pakistan triad.

Despite the recent embarrassment emanating from the Masood Azhar episode and the grovelling for international finances towards its empty coffers (done by the civilian Government), the Pakistani military is back in the saddle on the crucial Afghan front, with the US forced into co-opting the eager Pakistanis in the that nation’s future.

Gen Bajwa has also managed to keep the Chinese in good humour with a dedicated division of 15,000 soldiers to secure the various infrastructural elements of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Spin-doctoring the narrative to suit the Pakistani ears, the claimed “capture” of Indian commanding officer Kulbhushan Jadhav and Indian fighter pilot Abhinandan Varthaman has retained the halo for the “apolitical” and professional Pakistani Army.

Within its own “uniformed” fraternity, the budgets towards the Pakistani military and its expansive commercial activities remain as healthy as ever with the template of plausible-deniability readily available for any act of misdemeanour, for which the politicos carry the public can. The formula of fronting Islamabad (civil politicians), while retaining the essential levers in Rawalpindi (military headquarters) has been working flawlessly, post the Pervez Musharraf era of direct military takeover.

Lt General Sarfraz Sattar (Corps Commander, Multan) would be the senior most for the appointment as the next Pakistani COAS or CJCSC in November, though historically, seniority is no guarantee for the appointment and essentially Imran Khan will toe the advice of the Pakistani military. Like his predecessor and possibly his successor (whoever that is), Gen Bajwa personified the professional face of the Pakistani military with no supposed personal affiliation to overt politics or religiosity, whilst simultaneously pandering to the duplicitous instincts of retaining the “terror industry” that is outwardly facing towards India, Afghanistan and Iran. This posturing retained the relevance, credibility and emotions in the face of a tangible “enemy”, ie, India.

Gen Bajwa and his successor are expected to keep the waters boiling selectively as peace delegitimize the edifice, rationale and scale of the Pakistani military. The proverbial “bleed with thousand cuts” has been the successful formula as opposed to a full-on or even a “theatre -level” confrontation that could end up embarrassingly for the Pakistanis as did Kargil. Now, three Chiefs in a row would have walked a consistent pattern and as Gen Bajwa makes way for the 11th COAS, more of the same is expected, “Naya Pakistan” notwithstanding.

(The writer, a military veteran, is a former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)

Writer: Bhopinder Singh

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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