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Pakistan To Get New Army Chief: What Does This Mean for Ties with India?

The incumbent army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, is scheduled to retire on 29 November.

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Pakistan To Get New Army Chief: What Does This Mean for Ties with India?
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There has been much speculation over the last few weeks over who will take over the coveted position of Pakistan's next all-powerful Chief of Army Staff.

The six-year-tenure of the current chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, is scheduled to come to an end on 29 November. However, an extension has not yet been ruled out, despite the reported reluctance of Bajwa to continue.

India is bound to be closely watching the developments in this regard, as the appointment of the next chief will determine the direction that the relations between the neighbouring countries take – at least over the next few years.

In this article, we try to understand – with the help of Indian Army veterans and experts – the implications of the Pakistan Army chief's appointment on India, how much of a sway the army holds over the government, and what General Bajwa's term has meant for relations with India.

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But first, let us understand how the next chief will be appointed.

The New Chief's Appointment & the Backdrop It Comes In

As per the precedent, the outgoing chief, General Bajwa, will hand over a list of five senior generals to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, out of which the latter will choose one to succeed the former.

The chief serves for a period of three years, but his term can be extended – just as Bajwa's was.

The appointment will come in the backdrop of the defence ministry seeking a greater role in appointments within the military through amendments in the Army Act of 1952.

However, Lt General AK Singh of the Indian Army told The Quint that the Pakistani government will probably not change the selection process, especially at a time when its own legitimacy is still "disputed" in the country.

"There is a difference between saying and doing," he said.

How Much Sway Does the Pak Army Have Over the Govt? 

In an established democracy, the military and all its heads are supposed to take orders from the civilian establishment. Hence, the appointment of an army chief is routine procedure, and does not have any serious ramifications unless the government in power, which takes all policy decisions, changes.

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However, this is not the case with Pakistan, where the military is said to be the final authority over defence and certain foreign policy issues, and has immense sway over decision-making within the government.

"The Pakistani Army rules the roost, no matter who wins the election," Lt General Kamal Davar (retd), a veteran of the 1965 and 1971 wars, told The Quint.

"Pakistan is actually ruled by the 'deep state'. The deep state is the unholy trinity of the Pakistani Army, its intelligence agencies – primarily the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) – and many terror groups."
Lt General Kamal Davar (retd)

He further said that these terror groups are not non-state actors, but actually state actors – who are trained, funded, and inspired by the Pakistani Army.

Since Pakistan became a country in 1947, the military has seized power of the government as many as three times and been in direct control of decision-making for over 30 years of its 75 years in existence, and in indirect control over arguably the rest of the time in its history.

Highlighting the "elitist" status that Pakistani Army generals are accorded, Lt General Davar said:

"If I am a three-star general in the Indian Army, I will continue to live on my pension after retirement. But if I were a general in Pakistan, I would have been given something like a Chanakyapuri two-kanal or four-kanal plot, or 50 acres of land."

Hence, he said, the Army will never let the power they are enjoying go to any elected government.

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Implications for India

The appointment of the next Army chief in Pakistan is bound to have serious ramifications for India, particularly with regard to the peace in Jammu and Kashmir, border conflicts, the sustainability of the 2021 ceasefire agreement, and the continuance of terror modules operating in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

"Whether it is General Bajwa or any other chief, the importance of the Pakistani military is on an anti-India stand. So they have to continue playing the anti-India card, no matter who the Army chief is," Lt General Satish Dua (retd) told The Quint.

Speaking along similar lines, Lt General AK Singh said that except for very brief periods, the military has held a "vice-like grip" on Pakistan's security and foreign policy with regards to India and other neighbourhood countries, and important powers like the United States and China.

Hence, any and all decisions Pakistan takes with regard to India is sure to have an imprint of the next army chief.

Michael Kugelman, the Director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, highlighted that regardless of who is in charge of the Pakistani Army, the Kashmir issue will remain a constant in the country's discourse with India.

"Even when Bajwa was calling for better relations with India, he did emphasise several times that the Kashmir issue has to be resolved in order to have better relations with India," he said, while speaking to The Quint.

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What Has Bajwa's Term Meant for Relations with India? 

Bajwa, 61, was appointed as the country's Army chief in 2016, and received an extension in 2019. His tenure saw a number of escalation points with India, including the Uri and Pulwama terror incidents, and air skirmishes between the two countries in 2019.

Speaking on ties between India and Pakistan during Bajwa's tenure, Kugelman said that the incumbent chief had intended to manage tensions with India to ensure that they do not get worse – particularly over the last period of his term when Pakistan's political stability had come into question.

"We can see this through some of the statement and public messages that he (Bajwa) made in the last year, in which he called for more regional cooperation," Kugelman said.

He also shed light on the handling of some intense moments between the two countries, particularly when an Indian missile accidentally ended up in Pakistani territory in March this year.

"There was no escalation from the Pakistani side; in fact, there were efforts to minimise the impact of what had happened," Kugelman said.

Bajwa's term also saw the signing of a ceasefire agreement in February 2021 – the first since 2003 between India and Pakistan – which has so far been successful, barring a few sporadic incidents.

On the other hand, Lt General Singh viewed Bajwa's term in more pessimistic terms with regard to India.

"General Bajwa has been no different to his predecessors. In the initial period, there were hints that he may follow a more realistic policy, especially towards India. But soon enough, he started taking the oft-repeated hawkish stance vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir."
Lt General AK Singh
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However, Bajwa was also saddled with internal organisational strain and faced "trust issues" from the military hierarchy, Lt General Singh adds.

"Though Bajwa was keen to normalise relations with India, hardline radical elements within the army did not allow him to take a more reconciliatory approach," he said.

A Press Conference India Takes With a Pinch of Salt

The timing of the next chief's appointment is also essential, as it will come just weeks after the Pakistani Army said at a press conference in late October that while it has meddled in domestic politics in the past, it will not to do so in the future.

While some have viewed this statement as a beacon of a new Pakistan where lines are clearly drawn between the army and the civilian establishment, others have taken it with a pinch of salt.

"Such statements are made periodically to tide over a difficult situation internally, or may be directed at a prominent power like the US. In reality, the threat of a military takeover directly or through a puppet politician is omnipresent and a reality of Pakistan's polity," Lt General Singh said.

On the other hand, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor Happymon Jacob, while speaking to The Quint, said that perhaps what the statement meant was that the Army will no longer take over the government in Pakistan – something which they have repeatedly done in the past.

"But they don’t have to take over power," he said, adding that the army's role in the scheme of things is so "deeply entrenched" that they don't require the formal takeover of power to be in control of decison-making.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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