The army chief’s extension
Ever since the creation of Pakistan, the army has played a major role in national affairs. For nearly half of the country’s life, it has ruled directly and exercised considerable influence on foreign, defense and security policies even during the time of political administrations. Nearly one-third of the national budget is allocated to defense.
The enduring hostility with India, the protracted civil war in Afghanistan and problems related to smuggling, drug and human trafficking across the borders, especially on the Pakistan-Iran frontier, have further enhanced the role of security forces.
In matters associated with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Chinese work closely with the military. The army leadership enjoys a close and cooperative relationship with all major Middle Eastern countries. The nuclear assets and policies are all under the control of the army that has further expanded its responsibilities and power base.
Prime Minister Imran Khan leans heavily on Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa for advice and political support. The personal rapport and mutual trust have become crucial for the PM in view of his highly antagonistic relations with the major opposition parties. In this context, the extension or reappointment of General Bajwa on completion of his tenure was considered imperative by the government. The PM did not want to risk promoting a new army chief who could be totally apolitical or lean toward the opposition. The security situation with India too has been very tense, especially since the Pulwama attack that led to the death of several Indian soldiers. The Afghan civil war and the uncertainty of its outcome were in all probability added considerations for the three-year extension.
The honorable chief justice and other judges on the bench raised fundamental questions pertaining to the extension of the army chief’s tenure. This has generated a very healthy debate in the country and is likely to strengthen democracy in the future.
The opposition parties allege that Imran Khan and his political faction, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have the support of the army leadership that brought them to power. The current agitation and movement, led by the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam (JUI-F) leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and fully supported by the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), is a serious challenge for Imran Khan. The extent of polarization between the PTI and the opposition parties has reached a stage where PM Khan feels he can function better and gain political leverage if he has the full backing of the military. For him, having a close relationship with the military leadership is crucial.
Whereas there is no doubt that Pakistan’s democracy, which was already anemic, has further suffered as a consequence of the PM’s neglect of parliament and tense relations with the opposition, Khan will have to give in and show flexibility on his approach toward the opposition if he wants to succeed as a PM.
General Bajwa enjoys an excellent reputation for his professional ability, dedication and dynamism. His contribution in dealing with insurgency and countering terrorism are for everyone to see. The role he played in putting across Pakistan’s viewpoint in major global and regional capitals is also well recognized.
However, there is a downside to giving extension to the army chief since it blocks the promotion of several officers down the chain of command. It is also true that those in line for a promotion to be four-star generals have distinguished service records and, if given an opportunity, will rise to the expectations of the nation.
-Talat Masood is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues.
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