It was an unexpected bolt from the blue when the Supreme Court of Pakistan decided to meticulously investigate the extension given to Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Government. In fact, Imran had boisterously announced the extension on 19 August in a three-line note. In the short order issued in the dramatic case involving the extension in tenure to Bajwa, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa ruled that Gen Bajwa would remain COAS for another six months with immediate effect, “whereafter… new legislation shall determine his tenure and other terms and conditions of service.”
The SC had taken up the case and noted multiple flaws in the government’s original notification through which the sitting army chief was granted a fresh term of three years. Chaos arose in both political and legal circles after it was brought to light that the notification had been originally signed by the Prime Minister and not the president – as per rules – and that the subsequent cabinet approval for the decision did not appear to be solid. Following this, a new emergency meeting of the cabinet was called on Tuesday by Prime Minister Imran Khan. The sheer incompetence of the government and the mistakes it made, like racing through the original notification and appearing unclear about the provisions of the Army Act and Army Rules, did not help win it much credibility.
The issue might have been settled amicably if the Attorney General had admitted that the Imran government committed gross procedural errors and promised to remove them in line with the court’s observations. The AG however insisted that the government had made no mistake. When the court questioned him about provisions in the Army Act regarding extension, it was discovered that there was a legal void on the issue. What complicated the matter further were the amusing stands taken by the AG. At one stage the government’s chief law officer maintained that a General never retires till he hands over command to another General. Going a step further he claimed that even a General who retired years back could be reemployed as COAS.
The CJP advised the government to step back and assess the damage it is has already inflicted. The concern displayed by Pakistan’s Supreme Court for the office of the Chief of Army staff, was echoed throughout Pakistan. Citizens were left marvelling at a botched operation, the likes of which were seldom seen before. Confidence in the Imran government rightly stands at an all-time low, and if this episode displays the level of their competence, then their ability to understand matters of national security becomes precarious. Since Independence, the state of Pakistan has persisted by maintaining the threat perception about India that led the country to the path of becoming a security state Instead of choosing to be a welfare one.
Paranoia of a much larger and more resourceful neighbour – India – is not exclusive to Pakistan, nor is the existence of specific disputes. What sets Pakistan apart is the fallacious belief that India has not accepted Pakistan’s existence as a nation state and is constantly conspiring to invalidate its creation. This insecurity has been nourished throughout Pakistan’s history. In fact, it has now become the cornerstone of Pakistani nationalism. The huge defence budget which varied from 62 per cent in 1948 to almost 42 per cent in 2019 proves this. General Bajwa studied at Sir Syed high School and Gordon College Rawalpindi, and was commissioned on 24 October 1980 in 16 Baluch, the regiment commanded by his father.
As Major in 1992 he served in the 5th Northern Light Infantry Regiment in Kashmir. As Lieutenant-Colonel, he served in the X Corps, stationed in Rawalpindi. As Brigadier also he served as the Chief of Staff (COS) of this Corp before getting promoted as Major General and taking over as Force Commander Northern Areas (FCNA) at Gilgit. On 14 August 2013, he became a Lt. General and GOC of the X Corps and on 29 November 2016 he took over as Chief of Army Staff. Immediately after his take over, General Bajwa started showing his intentions to civilians, politicians and bureaucrats. He discreetly interfered in the day-to-day working of the Government and started having his way on different contentious and important issues.
Under his leadership, the Fouji Foundation of Pakistan – a welfare agency of the Pakistan Army – increased its activities and business by leaps and bounds, which extended from cereals, jams, eatables to vehicles and real estate with a turnover of almost US $4 billion. General Bajwa got annoyed with the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and he decided to remove him, his party Muslim League (Nawaz) and his family from power. The judicial trial in the Panama Leaks ase and NAB (National Accountability Bureau) corruption cases were only a destined corollary to the decisions of the General Bajwa-headed Establishment.
Ultimately with its dexterity, it brought Imran Khan to power in August 2018. The elections (observers say in 39 Parliamentary Constituencies) were rigged in favour of Imran. General Bajwa’s extension episode has shown that despite the tight control of the Establishment (Army and ISI) there is enough resentment against its iron-fisted grip over administration and politics. There are reports that seven Generals of the Pakistan Army joined hands with Supreme Court chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa to block the government’s move to grant a three-year extension to Pakistan Army chief General Bajwa.
The list of generals includes Corps Commander Multan, Lt Gen Sarfraz Sattar, who was on top of the seniority list for appointment as the Chief of Army Staff; Lt Gen Nadeem Raza, Lt Gen Humayun Aziz, Lt Gen Naeem Ashraf, Lt Gen Sher Afghan and Lt Gen Qazi Ikraam. How far did that impact the implacable grip of the Army and ISI in Pakistan needs to be seen in times to come but it is perspicacious that General Bajwa may not stay for a very long time.
(The writer is a Senior IAS officer of the Punjab Cadre)