CONTINUING WITH BAJWA EXPECTED: WHAT NEXT?

8/31/2019

Manzoor Ahmed

Pakistan Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa getting three more years in office was the most obvious thing Prime Minister Imran Khan could do. The question is: could he have done otherwise?
The extension of his present term that ends in November was expected on the day India moved to make changes in the constitutional, legal and political nomenclature of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh angering Pakistan, or even earlier, the clash over Balakot. There were reports and even posters had appeared ‘appealing’ to the prime minister that he should consider a fresh term to Bajwa.
It needs reminding that post-Balakot, Bajwa was known to put pressures on the civilian leadership that he should be given a fresh term. Khan responded by first agreeing to his ‘parallel’ visit to the United States where the general met the American civil and military brass. Khan was straining to tell the world, and assure audiences at home, that the civil and military leadership of Pakistan were “on the same page.”
Bajwa got as much listening from the Americans who have always recognized, at times with subtlety and at times, obviously, that they have to, and are, doing business with the army chief who calls all the shots in Pakistan.
Additionally, the Americans needed Bajwa’s fullest presence and cooperation to help them leave Afghanistan and before that, get the Afghan Taliban to cooperate in making the “peace process” a success.
It was hardly surprising that Khan and Bajwa were one in self-praise on their perceived success in meeting with President Donald Trump. With the two “on the same page”, the people of Pakistan, at least, were convinced that the visit had been a great success and Khan’s waving “V” for victory was justified ---- till India turned the tables on everyone by making the Kashmir move.
Pakistan has many powerful chiefs, each more powerful than the other and each one has made his presence felt, depending upon the geo-political situation prevailing.
However, only General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has got a second term for which he was able to convince Nawaz Sharif. Although Kayani was hand-picked by Musharraf who hated Nawaz, the latter was happy that Musharraf was not openly favoured by Kayani and was made to be in a house-arrest and even appear before the court.
Gwen. Raheel Sharif’s gambit to get a second term failed because, despite strenuous effort, Nawaz proved to be politically more astute. Nawaz also had an attractive lollipop for Raheel in th form of chuief of the Islamic Army that was being raised by funded by Saudi Arabian royalty that held Nawaz in high regard.
In announcing a fresh term for Bajwa, Imran khan has seemingly placed himself in a safe position vis a vis the military. The developments on the Afghan front and with India in Jammu and Kashmir have given impetus to Khan’s move and he has not dilly-dallied (assuming he could) and made the announcement a good three months before Bajwa’s scheduled retirement.
It is significant that Dawn newspaper while carrying the report of Bajwa’s second term commented: “Prime Minister Imran's first year in office has been characterised by a rare harmony in the traditionally fraught relationship between the country's civilian and military leaderships, with Gen Bajwa last month defending the tough econo¬mic measures taken by the PTI government as "difficult but extremely essential.”
Just as the military has overlooked Khan’s gaffes, Khan has also had to overlook the obvious failures on Bajwa’s part in handling the Afghan front. While hosting or visiting Kabul leadership himself, with a few visits by Bajwa as well, Khan has sought to keep the Afghan pot boiling.
Khan cannot but help overlooking the fact that under Bajwa, Army has witnessed a series of failure from the action against Retired army General. The handling of both Kashmir and Afghanistan has been clumsy. But Khan would like to keep himself safe from the army’s over-reach and not do anything to annoy the military.
Khan needs Bajwa and the two seem to have worked out the killing of Hafeezx Ahmadullah, brother of Afghan Taliban chief Harbatullah Akhundzada. The terror attack at Khculak madrassah outside Quetta took place despite the place being under high security. It was clumsily handled – enough give the Afghan Taliban and all concerned room to suspet that this was ‘punishment’ to the Afghan Taliban chief for not playing the ball with Islamabad.
The fact of the matter is that Pakistan wants to decide the pace of talks for the “peace process” in Afghanistan by keeping the Taliban leaders under its control but the latter have their own priorities and perceptions and would be ready to play ball with the Americans if it suits them.
Now that Bajwa’s position is reinforced, this reinforces Khan’s position as well. Given the tense situation with Afghanistan and India, the media and analysts too have reacted ‘positively’ to this development that does not allow room for ego clashes and misunderstandings.