Monday July 22, 2024


By Saleem Safi
July 15, 2017

It is hard to understand Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s standards of likes and dislikes. No one knows exactly what qualities of Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa impressed the prime minister when he named him chief of army staff. Perhaps Bajwa’s commitment to democracy or his impartiality in the first dharna made him a good choice. Whatever the reason, the appointment of Gen Bajwa as COAS is perhaps the first and last best decision taken on merit by the prime minister.

Gen Bajwa has a unique personality. He is one of the few generals who truly believe in the supremacy of democracy. Prior to becoming the chief, he was against political adventures by the military or the role of the agencies in politics. He is neither a religious fundamentalist nor a liberal fascist, and is a moderate soldier who considers extremism and terrorism detrimental to the peace and stability of the country.

Gen Bajwa wishes to make Pakistan a safe, developed and prosperous country. He seems to be completely preoccupied with the task of ensuring the country’s defence and getting rid of the outdated conceptions of national security and foreign policy. Despite his strong position, Gen Bajwa’s personality is free from arrogance. Being a professional soldier, he believes in ensuring the country’s defence and, unlike his predecessors, he does not want to cash in on his endeavours or use his accomplishments for self-projection. However, he faces multiple challenges as well.

Gen Bajwa has become the army chief at a very crucial time. Externally, the US is embittered, Afghanistan is irritated, Iran is annoyed and India is in an adventurous mode against Pakistan. Like the US, Saudi Arabia has also started to dictate Islamabad using the mantra of ‘with us or against us’.

Internally, due to the precarious security situation, the army is engaged in a policing role and busy in military operations from Karachi to Fata and from Gilgit to Gwadar. The army chief’s task has been further complicated by the four crucial issues he inherited from Gen Raheel: the extraordinary glorification of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Dawn leaks, a divided media and the idea of a nexus between corruption and terrorism and the fight against both simultaneously.

On taking over, Gen Bajwa focused on weeding out these unnecessary but dangerous things. He took some bold steps which proved unpopular among the public and the army alike: giving relief to some PPP leaders, maintaining the army’s neutrality in the Panama issue, accepting the Supreme Court judgment and giving the message to Imran Khan and other politicians to follow suit. There was also the invitation to Jang Group journalists to the GHQ, letting the hype over the Dawn leaks calm down and the surrender of Ihsanullah Ihsan and other Taliban leaders.

But unfortunately, the prime minister failed to reciprocate by changing his old perceptions about the army. He did not forget the Musharraf regime or the Raheel tenure. Some critics believe that the PM tried to exploit the benign approach of Gen Bajwa.

For instance, after his appointment, the new chief visited the PM’s Office and made a smart salute to the prime minister either out of respect or habit. Instead of valuing the good gesture and reciprocating with humility, some of the members of the prime minister’s team attempted to satisfy their egos by leaking the picture of the COAS’ salute.

Similarly, a video was also released showing the COAS sitting, unprecedentedly, across the table from the prime minister. Gen Bajwa did not take both these immature and unnecessary steps seriously. But it indeed sent a very wrong message to the army which started believing it as an intentional act by the civilian government.

The newly appointed army chief accepted the PM’s narrative of the Dawn leaks. However, as the issue was already being assumed to be detrimental to the army’s image and prestige, Gen Bajwa made it clear that it could not be forgotten. Hence, it was mutually agreed that action would be taken against Tariq Fatemi and Rao Tahsin along with Pervaiz Rasheed.

The government, though, unnecessarily dragged the matter and delayed it for one month. A notification was issued after the Panama judgment in the Supreme Court. The army assumed the delay as an attempt by the government to use the matter as a bargaining chip on the Panama issue. In addition, the notification was not what the government had promised the military leadership.

And so, being offended and enraged, the army issued the infamous tweet on social media — rejecting the government’s notification. The words of the tweet were indeed inappropriate and a mistake that should not have happened. However, once it happened, it should not be made an issue of life and death. The matter could be resolved and middle way could be sorted out by mutual understanding. But the prime minister took the matter very serious and a situation was created which ultimately led to the army withdrawing the tweet.

The withdrawal of the tweet did not go well in the rank and file of the army in the already complicated post-Panama judgment situation — a situation in which the PTI’s social media campaign had created the impression that Gen Bajwa had saved the prime minister, and Aitezaz Ahsan was raising questions against the DG ISI. Gen Bajwa himself called the withdrawal of the tweet a right but unpopular decision.        

Gen Bajwa strives hard to defend the country from internal and external enemies. However, at the same time, he is also supposed to live up to the expectations of his own institution. Currently, he seems to be moving in that direction.

Let’s see whether the PM continues to remain stubborn or undoes his previous mistakes for the sake of his government and democracy.


The writer works for Geo TV.