A hare-brained Pakistan Minister for Railways, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad of Kashmiri origin, has surprised his acolytes with the prediction that by October-November India will be facing a ‘final, decisive’ war, which, will see it wiped out and Pakistan surviving with not a scratch. He might well have added for effect that Allah has chosen Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to lead that Dooms Day attack and that is why it had become necessary to give him another three-year term as Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan.
Bajwa had many ‘qualifications’ which assured him an extension as Pakistan’s most powerful man. From his daily dose of bravado it can be surmised that he thinks he is the right man who can bleed India to death. That is one of the two tasks before him; the other is to see that a Pakistan-backed regime takes over in Kabul so that all vestiges of Indian influence in that war ravaged land locked country are removed.
Recently when Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Washington for talks with President Donald Trump he was discreetly chaperoned by Bajwa who held his own round of talks with US officials. Imran is not trusted enough by his military leaders to negotiate a favourable deal with the Americans. Moreover, after asking the proxy Taliban leaders to work out a peace deal with the Americans, Bajwa has to make sure that any agreement does not allow continuation of Indian footprint in Afghanistan.
Why the General could not wait for ninety days more to herald the ‘extension’ decision remains a Sudoku. Clearly he feared losing clout after the Kabul deal was in place since the Taliban is already distancing itself from the GHQ’s core concerns namely Kashmir theatre. This reality check made him to push Prime Minister Imran Khan to announce his second term a little early in the day without following the ‘due process of law’ in such appointments.
As the latest US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report also contends Khan owes his position to the Army, especially Bajwa who has overseen a successful drive against Opposition leaders particularly former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who, along with former President Asif Zardari, is now cooling his heels in jail. The charges of corruption against them were upheld by the courts with the doctrine of necessity at play. No surprise Imran Khan is called a ‘selected’ prime minister; the ‘selection’ having been made by Bajwa. A ‘selected’ prime minister has little role to play in the selection of army chief or deciding on extending the latter’s tenure.
Yet, Imran Khan keeps asserting, as if for the record, that for the first time after many years, he and his government are on the ‘same page’ with the Army on most matters. The truth is that Imran has understood that straying from the script prepared for him by the Army will cost him his job and a possible jail term or, maybe, exile.
Bajwa’s predecessor, Gen Raheel Sharif, had become the first four-star General not to have been given an extension when he retired. But if that was because some differences had cropped up between him and the civilian government of the day, headed by the now jailed Nawaz Sharif, he was quickly able to cock a snook at the civilians by taking over as the chief of an army raised by the Royals of Sunni Saudi government with allies as a means to counter threat from the Shia Iranians.
Raheel had not sought permission from the government before joining a new force in Riyadh. His move was an embarrassment for the Pakistani government because it threatened to breach the delicate balancing act Pakistan has to perform in dealing with two Islamic ‘brothers’—Saudi Arabia and Iran. That balance is bit of a hoax because Pakistan has been heavily dependent on the Saudis for its cash needs which include money for buying arms.
Bajwa’s extension, however, serves to ‘balance’ something else. An exasperated Pakistan and its Prime Minister have been finding it hard to ‘balance’ their defence forces between the eastern border with India and the western border with Afghanistan. Pakistan’s dream of establishing hegemony in the region has seen a worsening of its relations with its two neighbours. Defeating India is the dream of all Pakistani Generals and politicians, but the western border cannot be left unguarded.
The dream of defeating India militarily gladdens the patriotic hearts and titillates the average Pakistani who will now be reassured that the right man for ‘crushing’ India will remain at the helm of the ‘world’s best fauj’ for a period long enough to complete the ‘final, decisive’ war the Railway Minister Rashid Ahmad has spoken of.
Bajwa is described as an ‘expert’ on Kashmir by virtue of his experience as a commander of Pakistani forces in PoK. His credentials have looked better as he stepped up threats to India after New Delhi decided to delete Article 370, a provision of the Indian Constitution that gave temporarily special status to Jammu and Kashmir seventy years ago. Belligerence towards India comes naturally to all Pakistanis, the Generals in particular, but Bajwa has been louder than many of his predecessors.
That is a bit surprising because when he was appointed as the chief many in Pakistan said he was a ‘moderate’. There were also reports that he had informally sounded India for talks some two years ago.
Bajwa had superseded two or three Lt-Generals to become the COAS. His tenure saw punishment to almost 400 people of different ranks on charges that range from espionage to corruption. Two Generals were court martialed and sentenced for diverting Pakistan Rupees 4.3 bn of army- run National Logistic Cell (NCL) into stock market. A retired Lieutenant-General was awarded 14 years of rigorous imprisonment and two others handed death penalty after trial under the Pakistan Army Act as well as the Official Secrets Act by Field General Court Martial.
Expectedly, the Bajwa extension has created rumblings in the Army as the promotion prospects of many hopefuls stand marred. Both the GHQ and the Prime Minister’s office are seized of the threat that borders on an open rebellion. The army has some 177 generals in its fighting arms. Two are four- star generals, some 27 three-star generals, of whom corps commanders and principal staff officers are the key advisors to the chief.
Based on seniority, some of these able three-star generals were poised to take over as COAS and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC). Another 148 are two-star major generals, some of whom would have moved up a notch if the chief had retired on time. There is heartburning in their ranks as some 43 major generals have already been superseded, and they have to go home. At least twenty-three three-star generals also are now set to go home before the chief’s new term ends.
Against this harsh reality, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed was made to head the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to ward off any trouble; he had previously managed the opposition parties for Imran Khan during the general election. However, from what is in public domain, Hameed was unable to sell the idea to the stakeholders within army, and as the time of Bajwa’s retirement neared, the push-back from below got severe. The urgency for a fate accompli prompted the extension announcement in a press release issued from Prime Minister’s Office, pending a formal Presidential order.
A storm greeted Bajwa soon after he became the Army Chief as word went round that he was an Ahmedia and that one of his close relatives was an Ahmedia, a Muslim sect that Pakistan has declared ‘infidel’. The ‘selected Prime Minister spared him the ignominy of a boot out though he had lost no time in kicking out a world renowned economist from his newly constituted Economic Council after the hard-liners raised the issue of the man being an Ahmedia. Will luck favour the General for the second time, more so as he is dabbling in the country’s economic management as member of the Prime Minister’s newly minted National Council? Time for Rashid Ahmad to give another prediction!