Choice By Default
The recent change of government in Pakistan led to an unexpected casualty in form of crisis of faith in the Army leadership. It was a known fact, that result of 2018 general election in Pakistan was all but fair; that PM face was handpicked by the Army and Imran Khan didn’t enjoyed the popular support. People following Pakistani politics knew well that Pakistan is being led by a selected and not the elected PM. The charade was suitably executed by then ISI Chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed on very clear directions from his GHQ. Contrary to popular belief, fact was, the PTI’s government was always a minority government. Out of 342 members National Assembly of Pakistan a simple majority required to form a government is 172 seats, whereas, PTI could win only 149 seats. It was a last minute coalition supported by nine independents and minor parties like PML (Q) and AML which was stitched together more by active nudging from Rawalpindi than any ideology. No doubt that stakes for Pakistan Army and importantly for its chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, at that time in his first tenure, was very high for the choice of political leadership. The options were among prominent three, Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N), Benazir Bhutto’s PPP and Imran’s PTI. With Nawaz Sharief getting disqualified and assassination of Benazir Bhotto, Imran Khan became a choice by default. That’s not an unusual role for Pakistan Army, as they have been in the business of picking ‘suitable’ PM for Pakistan. Utility and capability of Pakistani PM at that time was never beyond November 2019 when a political approval would have been required for General Bajwa’s extension. General Bajwa’s aspirations were very clear and he wanted a yes man for himself more than a PM who can lead Pakistan. You finally get what you strongly desire and Pakistan was ‘blessed’ with Imran Khan Niazi as their 22nd PM.
Liability On Society
In Pakistan army is everywhere they are an omnipresent entity; they have a larger than life role in the affairs of the state. Pakistan Army holds multi layered business interests as an organization while their senior hierarchy is free to indulge in overseas commercial ventures, not officially though, but then who cares. A large number of key civil appointments are held by retired Generals who have the connections to plan their resettlement while still in service. So you have Army running sugar mills, restaurant, insurance, CNG, shoe & woollen manufacturing, an offshore LNG project and multiple such ventures under their Fauji foundation, Shaheen foundation, Defence Housing Authority, Army Welfare Trust and Bahria foundation. One can find commercial ventures of their senior ranking officers like Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa who was overseeing CPEC project and was found to have heavily invested in Papa Jones Pizza franchise in US and UAE. In Pakistan it’s a common practice for retired Generals to head civil or public sector enterprises like PIA, SUPARCO, Pakistan Steel mills, Cricket board, railways, finance and the list goes endless. One can simply confuse the Pakistan Army with a corporate behemoth considering it’s multi-million cumulative turnover! Multiple instances of personal business deals, drugs, narcotics and Swiss bank accounts of Pakistani Generals whether retired or serving only showcases this naked personal greed on display with an accountability to No one. Such conduct is though unthinkable in modern professional militaries in the world but there’s nothing out of bound for Pakistan Army. This dubious trait of Pakistani Generals makes Western powers comfortable to deal with them as the charter often follows blueprint for business deals where mutual requirements are well understood.
The Epic Divide
Pakistan Army is a curious case of split character and probably unique one at that. While they are an organization running in an extremely professional manner their Generals can be found skin deep in self-indulgence. There is a clear leadership divide that exists within ranks, while day to day security challenges are being addressed by levels upto Brigade Commanders, their Generalship comes with a great desire to harness political, business and personal interests besides of course their profession which not necessarily be on top in the priority list. However, kudos to a carefully crafted image of Pakistan Army as ultimate saviours of their nation, by equally dubious agencies like ISI and ISPR, who have successfully swirled it off to be in the greatest interest of Pakistan. What Pakistan Army can be truly credited to have achieved is a successful PR campaign, something which even North Korean leaders would be very proud of. It’s a PR after all far removed from facts, so don’t mind if reality appears at complete odds. It’s the same ultimate saviour Army which lost them half their nation by a self-appointed field marshal, same proud men in uniform which surrendered to their enemy in thousands, same outstanding leaders which turned their ranks into a mercenary force to join, fight and die with Afghan Mujahedeen for stash of American Dollars and same Generals which sold the dream to entire country of getting them Kashmir from India and retracted with shame from Kargil. But one is better off not making noises about such issues if he has to survive in Pakistan.
Different This Time?
Howsoever, implausible it might appear but Pakistani Generals doesn’t really worry on such minor issues as ethics and probity. So Generals can proceed on an honourable retirement even after multi million scandals like CPEC and Pizza Jones without even a basic fact finding enquiry against them. Pakistan Army has the full control of the system and they know the power levers well. Things fly in Pakistan at the speed of thought in GHQ, Rawalpindi. But the narrative of being last bastion went awry this time. In his rhetoric to carry a rebel image Imran Khan didn’t play the ball with the powerful military. Soon conflict points emerged and more Imran Khan, gave a push back more and more dirty linen were seen by public. Imran Khan knew his fate, he simply wanted to bite as much as he could before getting dumped. Imran surprised many with his stubborn approach and didn’t hesitated to take the battle to General Bajwa’s court. It was a No mean standoff, at the stake were premiership and the position of COAS. Imran Khan’s indulgence with previous ISI Chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed offering to make him next COAS was a last ditch effort to take the wind out of General Bajwa’s sail. End state of Imran losing his beloved chair and General Qamar Javed Bajwa still at the helm is just superficial. Fact of the matter is Imran Khan succeeded in creating a rift within military hierarchy. There’s massive goodwill lost for General Bajwa as Chief within Army. The dissatisfactions came to fore when distasteful tweets were directed against Army and General Bajwa ostensibly attributed to retired officers. The powerful body of Corps Commanders also appeared to have shown disapproval to the prospect of General Bajwa seeking a third term, which infact was actually the original plan and exactly what Imran Khan went down ranting against. This clear split led to sort of opening and never before seen political mud-slinging targeted towards military leadership. This was something unheard of in Pakistan, although politically motivated, but questioning establishment and military leadership sent a wave of cold jitters to Corps Commanders who squarely put this public loss of faith to mishandling by present COAS. This will amplify why General Bajwa recently started to appear more as a statesman than an Army Chief. His last few addresses have been an attempt to please Americans while trying to talk peace with India in a bid to appear a reasonable man. How much of it succeed time will only tell, but No denying that General Qamar Javed Bajwa is already in a thick soup with his celebrated organization facing public humiliation from all over.
–By Ravi Srivastava