For better or for worse, Pakistan’s army chief holds insurmountable power which often exceeds that of the prime minister of the country. While the PM remains the appointing authority of the chief, once in power, the army chief can by no means be considered a “subordinate” to the Prime Minister in the Pakistani context.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa was appointed as the Chief of Army Staff on 29 November 2016 by the then prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif who superseded two generals to give Gen Bajwa the top job. At the time, it was argued that General Bajwa was a professional soldier who was committed to democracy.
It is reasonable to assume that every prime minister seeks to appoint an army chief who they think has the minimal probability of a coup later on, which the chief can orchestrate rather easily by a single instruction to relevant corps commanders and the 111 Brigade in Islamabad.
While General Bajwa did not orchestrate a military coup, he was granted an extension (with the tacit support of all political parties) unlike his predecessor, General Raheel Sharif. Hushed snarls from a few senior generals who missed out on their promotions were not enough to disrupt the rise of General Bajwa, who can easily be described as the most influential individual in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
But with power comes responsibility, and according to diverse voices in the opposition, General Bajwa was responsible for installing Imran Khan as prime minister in 2018. Almost three years down the road, Imran Khan has failed to deliver on any of his major promises, whether it was bringing back billions of dollars in looted wealth, 5 million homes or 10 million jobs.
Imran Khan’s rhetoric has remained the same even after assuming power. Instead of chalking out a roadmap to ensure Pakistan’s progress, Prime Minister Khan has found it wise to continue the systematic blame game on opposition leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari.
While this narrative gained popularity when Khan was in opposition, it is starting to lose its value when Khan is PM, especially with rising inflation and growing political instability. The results of the recent by-elections and Islamabad’s Senate elections shows that Imran Khan is losing popularity rather quickly and remains dependent on Rawalpindi’s support in order to continue as prime minister.
In this context, General Bajwa made a speech at the Islamabad Security Dialogue which has the potential to forever etch his name as a visionary in the history of Pakistan.
“Dear Participants! Stable Indo-Pak relation is a key to unlock the untapped potential of South and Central Asia by ensuring connectivity between East and West Asia. This potential, however, has forever remained hostage to disputes and issues between two nuclear neighbours,” General Bajwa stated, signalling a new strategic direction not only for the Pakistani army but also the country as a whole.
He continued: “However, we feel that it is time to bury the past and move forward.”
Echoing a similar narrative voiced by Nawaz Sharif which ultimately became centre stage in the Dawn Leaks controversy, General Bajwa said: “Pakistan has been working towards all four aspects with unity of purpose and synchronisation within the various components of national security. We had realised that unless our own house is in order, nothing good could be expected from outside.”
General Bajwa’s speech reflected a statesman who was firmly committed to the peace, progress and prosperity of Pakistan, the region and the world at large.
Even the biggest critics of the establishment would find it difficult to disagree with the spirit of the speech made by General Bajwa, since it showed a refreshing outlook on Pakistan where this country would be free from the shackles of unnecessary conflicts and would rise to the path of progress.
A peace gesture to India at this time is being considered as a masterstroke by General Bajwa in Washington and London circles who are inclined to believe that Pakistan is becoming a more responsible member of the global community, while India, despite it’s economic strength has lost diplomatic sway over it’s actions in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
The global community realises that Pakistan’s aspirations for peace do not stem from weakness but a deeper understanding of national security. Pakistan’s response to India’s aggression and the subsequent capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan in 2019 prove that in the event of any conflict, Pakistan is more than prepared for any Indian misadventure.
But General Bajwa has given peace a chance in his latest speech, signalling a shift from a decades old strategy in which even conversations about peace with India were considered a taboo in Pakistan.
Contrary to Imran Khan’s rhetoric of hatred, anger and blame game, General Bajwa has shown maturity, wisdom and a strategic vision which can set the tone of progress not only in Pakistan but the entire region.
Concluding his remarks, Gen Bajwa said: “And finally, it is time that we in South Asia create synergy through connectivity, peaceful co-existence and resource sharing to fight hunger, illiteracy and disease instead of fighting each other.”
Ideally, these words should have come from the Prime Minister, however, while Imran Khan is busy hating on the opposition and praising himself, an unlikely statesman is emerging in the shape of General Bajwa.