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Why is Gen Bajwa so much in the news?

Under these circumstances, we see a wide divergence of differing views between the Army establishment and the civilian government leading to the exit of the Prime Minister.

SHANTANU MUKHARJI |

In the 75 years of its existence, Pakistan has always been hitting the headlines for the domination of its Generals. Within eleven years of its founding, the country was rocked by a military coup staged by Gen (Later Field Marshal) Ayub Khan, who ruled uninterruptedly for 11 years with an iron hand. Ayub Khan’s long spell destroyed the democratic institutions that the country’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had dreamt of. Sadly, for the tenets of democracy, they failed to strengthen roots and the foundation laid by Jinnah was weakened by Khaki and the cantonment. Under the Ayub military regime, India faced unprovoked military aggression in 1965 which had far-reaching implications. After Ayub Khan set the tone of military rule in Pakistan, the trend unfortunately caught on and saw in subsequent years the military rule of Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Zia Ul Haq, (coincidently, again 11 years) and of Gen Pervez Musharraf. All these spells took Pakistan into a remarkable retrogradation. It again saw a war with India in 1971.

Crucially, Pakistan suffered a humiliating defeat, which was so costly that it lost its entire eastern part, and a new vibrant Bangladesh came into being. This brief preface is necessary and relevant as after the exit of Gen Musharraf, there was a lull and popularly elected governments ran the country, although they were patronised by the Army which was always behind “civilian rule”. Prime Minister Imran Khan was eased out much before expiry of his term. It is speculated that he fell out with his Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa apparently over the choice of the appointment of the Chief of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Under these circumstances, we see a wide divergence of differing views between the Army establishment and the civilian government leading to the exit of the Prime Minister. This surely establishes that the Army and the civil government are still strange bedfellows and are craving for power so much so that the Army – being more powerful – nudges out the civilians r by displaying either subtle might or by influencing public opinion. Now the question is why has Gen Bajwa been in the news in the recent past and that too in such a prolific manner? Gen Bajwa, in an extraordinary political initiative with obvious blessings of the political leadership, undertook a visit to the US where beyond his charter of duties, he called upon the IMF and those concerned for funding financial packages to salvage the economic turmoil that Pakistan is going through. He held meetings with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and discussed the regional security situation.

The visit is seen as an effort to help build up US-Pakistan relations and his own legacy as he nears retirement. Bajwa has on many occasions during his long stint as the army chief, facilitated mending of ties with Washington. Here, it may be iterated that the Biden government has stepped up attempts to repair ties with Pakistan. It would also seem that Bajwa has been able to revitalize the defense partnership between the two countries, an area that also interests Washington due to its security needs in the region. After meeting Gen Bajwa, Defense Secretary Austin said that his talks with the Pakistan army chief focused on the long-standing partnership between them. Importantly, the visit reflects the renewed push by the two countries to reset their troubled relations.

Diplomatic sources state that Gen Bajwa may be retiring in a couple of weeks but the relations between the two militaries is institutionalized and hence it does not matter if he remains or not. Americans have praised Gen Bajwa’s policies for regional security. They particularly believe that he has addressed the major concerns of the US about different militant groups in Pakistan. It was indeed intriguing why the US accorded so much importance to Bajwa’s visit when the General retires on November 29, and he himself says he does not want an extension. Notwithstanding Gen Bajwa’s declaration recently that the armed forces have distanced themselves from politics, the security establishment remains the most powerful political force in the country.

Its stepping back from power politics appears to be a tactical move and doesn’t signify a complete abdication. It is more a matter of changing alignment. With the ongoing political confrontation and increasing polarisation in the country, the balance of power remains with the military. This is aptly articulated by wellknown Pakistani political columnist Zahid Hussain in the Dawn newspaper. He says it is no secret that the security establishment not only determines national security and foreign policy but also continues to play the role of an arbiter in domestic politics, despite its weakening control over fast-changing political events. Further, Gen Bajwa’s recent high-profile visits to Washington testify to the establishment’s continuing predominance in the country’s power structure. The protocol was not what another country’s army chief would have received. His remarks at a luncheon meeting in Washington attended by officials of various think tanks were political in essence.

Hussain further reckons that the military leadership may have distanced itself from the kind of overt political role it was alleged to have played in the hybrid political rule with Imran Khan as Prime Minister. However, political analysts feel that it is merely an illusion that the establishment has moved away from politics. For all those reasons, Gen Bajwa is under the lens and in just a month we will know what the army is up to and what is up Gen Bajwa’s sleeve. On its part, US may not be just a passive watcher. Amid these developments, what was the provocation for President Biden to call Pakistan a dangerous country whose nuclear stockpile is without any cohesion? Still, the US is ready to supply F-16 fighter jet equipment to Pakistan