General Bajwa’s term extension is not a political debate, but a strategic choice
Objective political debate is the sign of a vibrant democratic society. Conversely, subjective political propaganda and rumors cause both apathy and melancholy in communities.
In Pakistan’s case, the polity is so politically engaged that the public usually chooses to politicize every decision of the government.
This week, the extension in the tenure of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa for another term of three years, is likely to dominate all political and drawing room conversation. The extension of any civil and military officer is an administrative subject, but activists, workers and leaders are analyzing Bajwa’s continuation as a political issue. This is largely because the extension or appointment of an army chief in Pakistan is viewed as a delicate matter due to the decisive role of the army in the country’s politics.
According to a notification issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, General Bajwa has been appointed army chief for another term of three years from the date of completion of his current tenure. This means he will remain at the helm of the Pakistan Army until November 26, 2022.
“The decision has been taken in view of the regional security environment,” the PM office statement said. The brief reasoning of the extension seems logical, with a volatile situation prevailing at both Pakistan’s eastern and western borders.
Pakistan has been encountering both internal and external security challenges. Since the Pulwama incident in February, its armed forces have been on high alert and this month, the situation further deteriorated with the Modi government’s unconstitutional revocation of Article 370 which granted special legal status to Jammu and Kashmir. Despite this, the Kashmiris are determined to continue their seven decade-old struggle for the right to self-determination.
Currently, Pakistan’s political ruling elite and military establishment are on the same page about the country’s national security issues, which is imperative for political stability, economic prosperity, and military security.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
The failure of Indian armed forces to restore government writ in Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan’s continuous moral, diplomatic and political support to the Kashmiris enraged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his political and military cohorts. They are not only threatening to use force against Pakistan, but have already intensified artillery fire at the Line of Control — the de facto border between the two countries. Indeed, in such a volatile and complex military situation, a new army chief would not have been a pragmatic decision.
The situation in Afghanistan is equally troubling. Protracted asymmetrical warfare in the country has severe repercussions for Pakistan's internal security. The Pakistan army has been systematically restoring the writ of the state in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, managing the Afghanistan-Pakistan 2,650 km porous border, and destroying transnational terrorist groups' networks and sanctuaries. General Bajwa is successfully leading Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad to disarm and eliminate militant sleeper cells across Pakistan.
Currently, Pakistan’s political ruling elite and military establishment are on the same page about the country’s national security issues, which is imperative for political stability, economic prosperity, and military security. Prime Minister Khan reiterated at various occasions that he enjoys the full support of the strategic community on both internal and external matters. And the convergence of opinion between Khan and army chief Bajwa is not in the best interests of groups determined to de-stabilize the government due to his accountability drive, or other reasons best known to them.
Trends in the current internal and external environment of the country also make the extension of General Bajwa’s tenure crucial. But instead of critically examining the causes of the extension, critics are merely disseminating maligning propaganda. The fact remains that the appointment of a new, or the extension of a serving COAS’s term, is the prerogative of Pakistan’s elected Prime Minister.
Indeed, the extension of General Bajwa’s tenure is not a novel development in the military history of Pakistan. Other generals and army chiefs have received extensions in the past. Pakistan People’s Party extended the tenure of COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani for three years in November 2010. Pakistan’s civilian governments granted Lt. General Khalid Kidwai extension after extension, allowing him to continue as head of the Strategic Plans Division and secretary of National Command Authority beyond his formal retirement in 2007.
It is safe to conclude, on the matter of General Bajwa’s term extension, that he will prefer the status quo and refrain from any political adventurism. Domestic political dynamics, especially the serious rift among political parties and an amateur political culture in the country at this time, will not lead him to defy his mandate. Externally, he will continue supporting and facilitating the current peace process in Afghanistan and check India’s aggressive designs with befitting restraint and military strategy.
To needlessly politicize the extension, without considering the logic of an increasingly complex strategic security environment, does not fall within national interests.