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August 21, 2019

Retaining Gen Bajwa’s leadership — outcome of geopolitical undercurrents


August 21, 2019

Prime Minister Imran Khan at last brought an end to all speculations if he would grant extension to Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for the next three years. By issuing a formal notification through PM Office, he cited regional security environment as main reason for this decision.

Unlike in the past, civil-military ties in Pakistan are in excellent shape. Lucky man is Prime Minister Imran Khan to have Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa at the helms as army chief, for he (Imran Khan) is enjoying the absolute backing of the Army whether it is on the issue of opening up to India or a crackdown against TLP or carving out Pakistan’s new visa regime, or round the clock operation on Pak-Afghan border at Torkham crossing (with huge security implications), for example.

After all, harmonious civil-military convergence is a prerequisite for any civilian leader to deliver on issues of critical importance to the nation and that is what the prime minister is getting under Gen Bajwa’s watch. This is why Imran Khan is going to be judged mainly on governance, first generation reforms, poverty alleviation and relief to common man/ woman. Against this background, the PM must have thought not to let Gen Bajwa go home when his term expires at the end of 2019.

Retaining Gen Bajwa as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) for the next three years, will likely provide continuity in internal and external geo-strategic and defence policies, on one hand, and will allow the government to cash in on his leadership, capabilities and knowhow acquired during a very tumultuous period Pakistan went through regionally and internationally, on the other.

Here is how Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa steered the course of the country’s strategic polices through maze of various challenges proving himself to be a man of special circumstances.

A leader of different genre, Gen Qamar Bajwa is instrumental in strengthening the national power in the domain of security, economy and foreign policy presiding over a paradigm shift from a national security state to a development oriented, confident nation and society.

Commanding many successes in enhancing Pakistan’s role in the region which was undermined by wars, terrorism, extremism, polarisation and corruption, Gen Bajwa offered a new leadership to help navigate through myriad problems stemming from the troika of instability—Afghanistan, India and Central Asia.

1. Starting with foreign policy, Gen Bajwa has become the most relevant military leader, ever produced in this part of the world. To address imminent security threats at soft and hard levels, he projected power in the region. The latest US-Afghan strategy (I.e. exiting Afghanistan with honour through reconciliation and conflict resolution) is the function of Gen Bajwa’s robust role in bringing the Taliban to the table and assuring to implement final settlement with the US in order to prevent Afghanistan becoming jihadi headquarters in the post-US-withdrawal scenario—at a time when Washington is gradually shifting its national security priorities from counter-terrorism to what it believes state threats like assertive Russia and rising China.

2. Gen Bajwa’s tough call was to remove the veneer between the Taliban/ Haqqanis, and the US, killing all myths widely held in Washington and quietly propagated by external info war attacks of expatriate Indians at the helms of Western media (both online social and media houses—i.e. the likes of Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google) that Pakistan’s army is playing duplicitous role on Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation and is least interested to contribute to region’s stability.

3. No leader in Pakistan other than Gen Bajwa would have this ability to get things done at strategic level. Managing a huge hostile neighbour like India has always been a challenge but post-Balakot humiliation was delivered to Delhi under his watch: PAF’s giving bloody nose on February 27 to India will be taught in history’s war courses. Amending Pakistan’s India policy, he checkmated Delhi through string of measures, with his behind-the-scene diplomacy focusing on talks on Kashmir and calming the Line of Control (LoC).

But the most upsetting development for the Indian policy makers was his master stroke: the launch of Kartarpur Corridor which sent India into a tailspin; after initial confusion and bewilderment, Delhi agreed to an official delegation to the inauguration ceremony of Kartarpur and forced to acknowledge this smart manoeuvre by the army chief.

4. However, it is on Afghan calculus that Gen Bajwa ate India’s cunning and guile for breakfast (as the British would put it) by convincing the US, like an astute strategist, that there is no role for India in Afghanistan to play. Having no Plan B, has the India security establishment scrambling amid despair sensing all its investment likely to be evaporated in the thin air.

5. Expanding Pakistan’s influence in the region, the soldier general rushed to Iran to calm jittery nerves. Residing in an ordinary three start hotel, Gen Bajwa singularly removed the concerns of Tehran on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan-Saudi relations and putting in place robust mechanisms in the aftermath of rock bottom Pak-Tehran ties under Gen Raheel Sharif’s watch. One may recall here that during the visit of President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, the then Army Chief, Gen Raheel Sharif complained of Kulbhushan Jadhav network being operated from Chahbahar ignoring all diplomatic niceties, as many observed, of when and where to raise core concerns hence embarrassing the visiting state guest.

6. Pakistan’s strong presence in the Middle East was underpinned by unrestrained role of Gen Bajwa who managed to re-set Islamabad’s relations with GCC countries particularly with the UAE. The once broken-ties with the UAE following Pakistan’s refusal to send troops in Yemen, suddenly flourished after behind the scene diplomacy of Gen Bajwa. It was his efforts that paved way for successful visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to the UAE and subsequent agreements of billions of dollars in loans and deferred oil payments facility. The hallmark of his efforts was the successful visit of UAE Crown Prince and visionary leader of the GCC bloc Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan to Islamabad after almost eleven years.

7. His hard-won accomplishment though was the new height witnessed in the bilateral relations of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the field of defence, foreign policy and investment: the KSA has agreed to put in coveted $14 billion of record investment in Pakistan culminating in high-profile visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in February 2019. Interestingly, the more, the US abandons its GCC allies, the more Saudi Arabia—a regional power—relies on the strategic guarantees of Pakistan, extended under his leadership.

8. Gen Bajwa also enhanced Pakistan’s defence cooperation with Russia strengthening further security, economic and political relations to achieve Islamabad’s interests as connecting point between Indian Ocean nations and Euro-Asian region.

9. Under his watch, Gen Bajwa managed a breakthrough with another very important regional heavy weight—Turkey. It is the third country Pakistan enjoys closed friendship after China and Saudi Arabia.

10. His very eventful visits to Egypt, Qatar and China underscored the fact that Pakistan is growing its clout as connectivity hub and is leveraging its strategic place between Gulf, South Asia, Central Asia, and Mediterranean regions.

11. Domestically, adherence to a value (i.e. rule of law) and commitment of making Pakistan a secure, stable and prosperous nation, is mainly born out of Gen Bajwa’s efforts aimed to counter terrorism, insurgency, and corruption. It was his public undertaking to stand behind civil institutions which led to an extended accountability process, and a muscular NAB to arrest powerful figure likes three-times Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, two-times Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, ex-President Asif Ali Zardari after an invigorated probe into his fake account scandal.

12. His leadership is sought for redressal of grievances by concerned citizens from business community, father of Naqeebllah Mahsood, to employees of Steel Mill and PIA. Yet, Gen Bajwa does operate outside the spotlight.

14. Yet, still, Gen Bajwa’s leadership is the product of broader geo-politics of the world which needed a strong military leader to battle extremist forces, and terrorist groups stemming from the region and further accentuated when the US recalibrated its policy in South/ West Asia e.g. replacing military solution for facilitation in conflict resolution; therefore, comes the world in pursuit of his contribution for the cause of greater international stability and security and consolidation of the gains against al-Qaeda, ISIS and the likes .

One must give credit where credit is due: Gen Bajwa’s leadership has put Pakistan on the international stage, at times when Euro-Asia is rising in clout. His continued role is going to be an integral part of Pakistan’s success trajectory in the time to come. Therefore, Prime Minister Imran Khan has done a great service to himself, the country and region to retain Gen Bajwa as the next army chief. The writer is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and ex-adviser to the Balochistan government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of Centre for Geo-Politics & Balochistan