Pakistan politics: Extension to Gen Bajwa and game of charades

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By Brig N K Bhatia (Retd.)

Last week saw the game of charades being played out in Pakistan when it’s Supreme Court led by the Chief Justice Asif Sayeed Khan Khosa intervened to question a three-year extension to Pakistan Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Jawed Bajwa and instead asked Pakistan Parliament and the Federal Government to" clearly specify the terms and conditions of service of the COAS through an Act of Parliament and to clarify the scope of Article 243 of the Constitution in this regard".

The unfolding of events and the Supreme Court's intervention is being played out as a moral victory by different pillars of state establishment. Should it be seen as a moral victory and assertion by the judiciary or is it to act to help the Pakistan government legitimise an illegal action? This would only be clear in the coming days.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's tweet after the short intervention by that country's Supreme Court played on the sensibilities of all when he averred that a "clash of institutions was averted which must be of special disappointment to our external enemies and mafias within – Mafias who have stashed their loot abroad and seek to protect this loot by destabilising the country"; thereby blaming everyone else except himself for an act lacking legal propriety and sanctity of law.

The intentions of Prime Minister Imran Khan to extend the tenure of the Pakistan Army Chief were revealed in a statement on August 19, 2019 when he had stated that Gen Bajwa would serve another three years as COAS. This had met with criticism and seen as an act to curry favour of COAS to remain in power.

Imran Khan had probably followed an earlier precedent of 2010 when Pakistan People's Party had granted a three-year extension to General Parvez Kayani. That decision was challenged in Islamabad High Court but dismissed as 'non-maintainable'.

It is widely believed that not everyone was happy with the grant of a three-year extension to General Qamar Bajwa, both within the government and security establishment. Having committed to grant an extension to General Bajwa, Prime Minister Imran Khan had no other option but to honour his words. Most importantly, as brought out by Pakistan's Supreme Court in its judgement, there is no provision in the country's Constitution, or in their Army Act, Rules or Regulations regarding the tenure of the army chief, or whether he can get an extension or reappointment. So probably the action of Pakistan Supreme Court gives a way out to Prime Minister Khan to manoeuvre his way through with all pillars of the establishment being on board.

The judgement of the Supreme Court has also granted a six-month window of opportunity to Pakistan Federal government to legitimise its actions. Whether the Federal Government will be able to pass the required amendments to the relevant acts would be tested in the coming days.

General Bajwa has been credited for the "Bajwa Doctrine" revealed in March 2018, which gave an insight into his thinking and his idea of reshaping Pakistan's polity by working closely with the political class to take the country forward. He advocated for the need to review and reshape policies for peaceful coexistence with its neighbours, and improvement of relations specifically with India. He also advocated for setting up fencing along the Durand line, still underway. His "Doctrine" was primed for both domestic as well international community to take Pakistan out of scrutiny especially the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Gen Bajwa is credited for launch of Op Raad- ul- Fasaad (RUF)-(Elimination of Discord) that began in February 2017 to take on terrorists within Pakistan and still ongoing. As per ISPR statistics 47 major operations, over 1 lakh intelligence-based operations, recovery of over 64000 weapons and over 5.1 million rounds of ammunition had been recovered till May 2019.

Gen Bajwa's extension apparently met Chinese approval especially in the progress of CPEC. His news of being granted three-year extension in August 2019 was welcomed by Chinese, a rare statement to comment on a government functionary of a friendly country. Gen Bajwa has made numerous trips to China alone or with Prime Minister Imran Khan or the Foreign Minister. He has had interactions at the senior-most levels of the PLA, Gen Han Weiguo, Vice Chairman of CMC, Gen Xu Qiliang and has also had a one on one with the Chinese President, Xi Jinping in Sept 2018. In all such meetings, General Bajwa had reiterated the Army’s commitment to secure CPEC and Chinese citizens.

From all accounts, Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared to be his political and democratic face to take forward his "Doctrine". This was reflected in the first statement of Prime Minister Imran Khan after assuming office in August 2018 wherein he desired for peace and improvement in relations with India. This could not have been without the explicit approval of General Bajwa. However the collective failure of both and a setback to General Bajwa's "Doctrine" has been their inability to rein and control the Jihadi elements which led to the Pulwama massacre and deterioration of security situation leading to Indian actions on terrorist camps in Pakistan. The opening of Kartarpur Corridor has been the only positive move during Prime Minister Imran Khan's tenure. This couldn't have happened without the explicit approval of General Bajwa.

The moot challenge before the Pakistan establishment today is whether General Qamar Jawed Bajwa is indispensable to Pakistan. Being in firm control of the establishment and in control of implementing his ideas and doctrine through remote control of democratic institutions, it may be difficult to remove him in the near future.

(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal.)