As Pak­istan hur­tles to­wards a third con­sec­u­tive gen­eral elec­tion, the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful man, the avowedly apo­lit­i­cal army chief Gen­eral Qa­mar Javed Bajwa, is the one mak­ing the head­lines

India Today - - BIG STORY - By Wa­ja­hat S. Khan in Is­lam­abad

ON A HOT SUM­MER night in 2014 at Gen­eral Head­quar­ters in the can­ton­ment town of Rawalpindi, a crowd of fans sur­rounded Ra­heel Sharif, the mus­ta­chioed poster-boy Chief of Army Staff, Pak­istan’s 15th mil­i­tary com­man­der. It was De­fence Day. The army was just be­gin­ning to crawl out of the Mushar­raf-era shell of po­lit­i­cal awk­ward­ness, and the Kayani-era re­stric­tions of ter­ror threats. Af­ter more than a decade of a blan­ket stop­page, pub­lic pa­rades— where the cho­sen few could in­ter­act with the top brass—were be­ing rein­tro­duced.

A 40-minute drive away, in Is­lam­abad, op­po­si­tion leader Im­ran Khan was in the mid­dle of an ex­tended sit-in for elec­toral re­forms, which he hoped would at­tract thou­sands, trig­ger a Tahrir Square-like sit­u­a­tion, and cause the in­cum­bent premier, Nawaz Sharif, to buckle and re­sign.

GHQ’s top gen­er­als were di­vided about whether to side with a gov­ern­ment that ab­horred the mil­i­tary or sup­port the strug­gling op­po­si­tion, which many had sup­ported, but not voted in.

As the crowd around Ra­heel re­fused to thin out and the self­ies con­tin­ued, in the dis­tance, a tall, broad-shoul­dered man, who had made it a habit over the years to hunch down to lis­ten to the coun­sel of shorter sol­diers, stood alone. With one hand folded be­hind his back, the other one thump­ing a com­mand cane onto his leg, this was Lt Gen­eral Qa­mar Javed Bajwa, then com­man­der of Pak­istan’s largest mil­i­tary for­ma­tion, the X Corps.

The ‘Bajwa Doc­trine’ has been the sub­ject of a de­bate re­flec­tive of Pak­istan’s civil­ian ver­sus mil­i­tary rift. The de­bate comes at a time of clash between the ac­tivist ju­di­ciary and the in­cum­bent Sharif dy­nasty

Un­like al­most ev­ery­one else in the GHQ pa­rade ground, Bajwa wasn’t watch­ing the Ra­heel celebrity spec­ta­cle un­fold. In­stead, he was look­ing dead ahead, at the black gran­ite me­mo­rial of the mar­tyrs. Bajwa had rea­son to con­tem­plate and be aloof that night, and for months to come. He was one of the few in GHQ who would ad­vise the con­ti­nu­ity of democ­racy and sus­tain­ing an elected gov­ern­ment, keep­ing his leg­endary 111 Brigade’s weapons, and in­ten­tions, on safety, dur­ing the civil strife that was to fol­low in Is­lam­abad. Even though he would be side­lined af­ter the X Corps gig to an unas­sum­ing desk job evolv­ing train­ing doc­trines, he would make his dis­ap­proval for the celebrity star­dom at­tached to the chief’s sec­re­tar­iat be known to close friends and col­leagues. Even­tu­ally, his pro-democ­racy rep­u­ta­tion would help him earn his fourth star, key to the most pow­er­ful of­fice in the land.

Now, more than a year since hold­ing Pak­istan’s most pow­er­ful of­fice and care­fully nur­tur­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing apo­lit­i­cal, the coun­try’s top mil­i­tary com­man­der has stum­bled into the fray of po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy.

As the coun­try braces for a his­toric third gen­eral elec­tion without any mar­tial or ju­di­cial dis­rup­tion, even as ties with the US fal­ter af­ter freshly slammed sanc­tions, with more loom­ing, Gen­eral Qa­mar Javed Bajwa and his 600,000-strong army—widely per­ceived to be the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful or­gan­i­sa­tion—ap­pear to be on the back foot, but are piv­ot­ing fast to re­cover.

The ‘Bajwa Doc­trine’, a na­tional se­cu­rity plan ac­cred­ited to the 57-yearold in­fantry­man from the Baluch Reg­i­ment, has been the sub­ject of a vi­cious de­bate re­flec­tive of Pak­istan’s civil­ian ver­sus mil­i­tary rift.

The de­bate comes at a time of charged, par­ti­san pol­i­tics and a clash between the coun­try’s in­creas­ingly ac­tivist ju­di­ciary and the in­cum­bent—but anti-mil­i­tary—Sharif dy­nasty and its al­lies in the bu­reau­cracy and me­dia.

Last July’s ouster of former prime min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court was per­ceived as engi-

As Bajwa’s In­dia strat­egy—re­solv­ing Kash­mir not through ter­ror—was de­bated

and ap­pre­ci­ated, for the first time the mil­i­tary in­vited the In­dian de­fence at­taché to the Pak­istan Day pa­rade

neered by the mil­i­tary, a charge prop­a­gated by the Sharif camp, but one which the army—which has ruled Pak­istan di­rectly for three out of seven decades since in­de­pen­dence—ve­he­mently de­nies. But af­ter 16 months of avoid­ing the glare of a ram­bunc­tious Pak­istani me­dia, Bajwa broke new ground by hav­ing a mis­cued ‘off-the-record’ dis­cus­sion with jour­nal­ists in March. Nei­ther the ex­clu­siv­ity of the in­ter­ac­tion, nor its not-to-be-quoted con­tent, could be re­strained. Soon, one colum­nist af­ter another re­counted in de­tail what the out­spo­ken, and witty, four-star—whose pub­lic re­la­tions cam­paign has carved him out to be a po­lit­i­cally dis­in­ter­ested sol­dier more at home on the front­lines of the tribal belt than the par­lours of Is­lam­abad—had talked about.

Nor­mal­is­ing ties with In­dia, not suc­cumb­ing to US pres­sure about Afghanistan, main­stream­ing ji­hadists into elec­toral pol­i­tics, the state of the fal­ter­ing econ­omy, the gaps in the con­sti­tu­tion, the plight of the Sharif fam­ily, nods of ap­provals for cer­tain cab­i­net mem­bers, and the mil­i­tary’s hard-nosed sup­port for the ju­di­ciary—all po­lit­i­cally in­cen­di­ary top­ics in a Pak­istan where ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions are at dag­gers drawn—were weighed upon in part and widely cited as the ‘Bajwa Doc­trine’.

Then came the fall­out; ed­i­to­ri­als screamed dis­ap­proval. So­cial me­dia erupted. Army crit­ics from Pak­istan’s left jumped into ac­tion. Bajwa was framed as in­ap­pro­pri­ately par­ti­san and slammed for step­ping be­yond his am­bit. But in a coun­try where the army is used to en­joy­ing pop­u­lar sup­port (ap­proval rat­ings for the mil­i­tary touched 79 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 Gallup poll) when Bajwa’s In­dia strat­egy—re­solv­ing Kash­mir, not through hate, ter­ror or war—was de­bated and ap­pre­ci­ated, al­most on cue, the mil­i­tary in­vited the In­dian de­fence at­taché and other South Block­ers to the Pak­istan Day pa­rade on March 23, a first for an army that has fought three wars with In­dia.

“The chief has a deep un­der­stand­ing of re­alpoli­tik,” ex­plains Ma­jor Gen­eral Is­fandi­yar Pataudi, a re­tired di­rec­tor gen­eral of the In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI) Direc­torate, who has served with Bajwa for decades. “And he has ap­plied it well in his fo­cus on the im­por­tance of re­gional strat­egy and build­ing bridges with neigh­bours rather than with part­ners that are ex­tra-re­gional.”

Ex­traor­di­nar­ily, soon af­ter the un­veil­ing of the ‘doc­trine’, lib­eral el­e­ments in the me­dia—lead­ing among them the Jang Group, whose news­pa­pers and tele­vi­sion sta­tions have been banned from cir­cu­la­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion in mil­i­tary run-can­ton­ments, a move Bajwa has de­fended— praised the gen­eral. Colum­nist So­hail War­raich thanked Bajwa for ditch­ing “70 years of ex­treme chau­vin­ism” and lead­ing Pak­istan into “the doc­trine of re­al­ism which fo­cuses on peace­ful co­ex­is­tence with the neigh­bour­ing coun­tries”.

How­ever, not ev­ery­one was con­vinced. So­cial me­dia, led by the an­cil­lary left, took a tough po­si­tion about Bajwa’s ‘main­stream­ing’ the­ory—bring­ing heav­ily-armed, well-trained ex­trem­ist rad­i­cal el­e­ments back from the edge, be­fore they are forced to go un­der­ground, or at war with a state that is crack­ing down on them. “Main­stream­ing of rad­i­cals is not to be mis­un­der­stood as al­low­ing ter­ror­ists po­lit­i­cal space,” says Pataudi. “It’s nec­es­sary to al­low po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion to those with rad­i­cal views, which if stymied, might tip over to the vi­o­lent side of ex­pres­sion of views.”

Given Pak­istan’s track record for mil­i­tary rule, some had cause for con­cern about the army’s in­ten­tions. “It felt like we were meet­ing the new king,” says a TV an­chor in­vited to the meet-and­greet event at Gen­eral Head­quar­ters. “From his body lan­guage and con­fi­dence, it felt like the king, who is very in­ter­ested in im­por­tant re­forms, may stay a while, be­yond his re­tire­ment date.”

How­ever, Bajwa’s ma­chine re­it­er­ates his rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing an apo­lit­i­cal sol­dier, and the army keeps giv­ing re­as­sur­ances that the gen­eral elec­tion, ex­pected in the late sum­mer, will be on time. Though he was one of the few lieu­tenant gen­er­als who held his ground and ad­vised his pre­de­ces­sor against a mil­i­tary takeover dur­ing the ex­tended spate of civil un­rest in 2014, the fragility of the coun­try’s demo­cratic process, and the un­veil­ing of the mil­i­tary chief’s doc­trine at such a po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive time, caused news­pa­per Dawn to be par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal in a re­cent ed­i­to­rial: “The tran­si­tion to democ­racy is headed to­wards a third con­sec­u­tive on-time elec­tion, but the demo­cratic project is ob­vi­ously in some kind of dan­ger. In an en­vi­ron­ment of such un­cer­tainty, it does not help for an army chief to have re­marks at­trib­uted to him that can be per­ceived in demo­cratic quar­ters as ques­tion­ing the le­git­i­macy and sub­stance of democ­racy here.”

Since the con­tro­versy spilled over, the mil­i­tary has re­sponded with dis­claimers: That the ‘Bajwa Doc­trine’ is se­cu­rity-re­lated and not po­lit­i­cal at all. Pataudi is dis­mis­sive about the crit­i­cism com­ing Bajwa’s way. “He is ma­ture in his con­duct of ad­vice to pol­icy-mak­ers, and doesn’t seek self-ag­gran­dis­e­ment or per­sonal pro­jec­tion,” says Pataudi. “Pak­istan is be­set with many prob­lems, and some­one needs to ask the dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Gen­eral Bajwa is ask­ing those ques­tions.”


APO­LIT­I­CAL GEN­ERAL His pro-democ­racy rep­u­ta­tion helped Bajwa earn his fourth star

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