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India-Pakistan Relations: Can Gen Bajwa Finally Herald a New Era?

PM Narendra Modi has persisted in trying to normalise relations with Pakistan. Can Gen Bajwa show same perseverance?

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa
i

(This is Part-II of a three-part series by (retd) Additional Secretary and strategic affairs expert S Ramesh to mark the resuming of India-Pakistan dialogue. You can access Part 1 here.)

The two main players in the rapprochement process in India and Pakistan are Prime Minister Narendra Modi and General Qamar Javed Bajwa (QJB). Despite the stark differences in political systems and reality, they are the ones calling the shots.

The question uppermost is whether QJB enjoys the support for his move from his Corps Commanders or is there any credibility to stray reports of resentment within the ranks over his extension. His tenure was first extended for 3 years on 19 August, 2019; he then overcame an objection from the Supreme Court and now has legislative backing to continue till 29 November, 2022.

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Pakistan Army Leadership at a Glance

A perusal of the Pakistan Army officer’s list from open sources suggests that 11 of the current senior-most Lieutenant Generals shall retire by September 2022.

  • At No. 12, is the current Chief of General Staff, Sahir Shamshad Mirza,
  • 13 is Azhar Abbas, Commander, X Corps, Rawalpindi,
  • 14 is Nauman Mehmood, Commander, XI Corps, Peshawar, and
  • 15 is Faiz Hameed, Director General, ISI.
(L to R) Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, Lt Gen Nauman Mahmood, Lt Gen Azhar Abbas and Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza
(L to R) Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, Lt Gen Nauman Mahmood, Lt Gen Azhar Abbas and Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza
Image Courtesy: ISPR

These four retire in April 2023. Significantly, however, the latter three are from the Baloch Regiment, to which QJB belongs. It can be reasonably assumed that he commands their loyalty.

Lt Gen Hameed was publically named by Nawaz Sharif of orchestrating his judicial ouster but was still selected by QJB to be his DG ISI. He is said to be ambitious and may have to compromise his reported hawkish attitudes if he wants to succeed QJB as the next Pakistan Army COAS and continue this ‘geo-economic’ vision.

Of course, if the present political dispensation survives, Imran Khan could grant QJB another extension, which is now legally permissible till age 64, which means he could in office till November 2024.

Now Pakistan Army Wants Peace With India

Politically one can expect that both Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to have no problem with any peace overture with India. They have initiated such moves in the past only to be stymied by the Army. Now, the overture is coming from the Army.

There is an element of risk that QJB’s efforts will meet the same fate as that of one his predecessors, but Gen Pervez Musharraf’s problems did not come because of the four-point formula. It went into cold storage due to other problems Musharraf faced domestically and he was forced to resign on 18 August, 2008. We can, therefore, reasonably assume of QJB’s continuation for the best part of the next 18 months, probably more.

Both India and Pakistan have two-front problems. Pakistan’s problem is that the future trajectory of the Afghan settlement is as yet unclear. Reports have appeared that one of the proposals on the table is the prospect of putting a multinational peacekeeping force, possibly under the United Nations flag, to guarantee any new agreement.

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Pakistan Has an Afghanistan Issue

The last thing QJB wants is Indian military presence in Afghanistan in any form. Possibly the strategic view from Rawalpindi is that in return for India’s cooperation in Afghanistan, ‘Kashmir issue’ will no longer be hostage to normalising ties with India. This again is not a new vision and has been articulated before but has gathered some urgency now.

Linked, as per the above assessment, is what the Director General (DG) of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Babar Iftikhar told foreign journalists in Rawalpindi on 25 February. He said that “it’s impossible for the Taliban to recapture Kabul and that Pakistan would support them. It isn’t going to happen”. Stressing that Pakistan would support whomsoever the people of Afghanistan chose, he made it clear that there should be no void. Answering a question, DG ISPR added “Afghanistan now is not what it was in 1990s and the state infrastructure cannot be trounced easily, and Pakistan also has changed".

PM Modi Has Done His Best, Can Gen Bajwa Do the Same?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of course, is looking towards 2024 and beyond. He is well into his second tenure secure in the fact he is unchallenged as a leader, enjoys a commanding majority in Parliament, fanatical adulation of his followers and deep political acumen to deliver on this legacy issue.

The picture that emerges is that despite repeatedly being rebuffed through the Pathankot, Uri, and Pulwama terrorist attacks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has persisted in trying to normalise relations with Pakistan ever since he invited his then counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to the swearing in ceremony in May 2014. National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval’s meetings (2015 and 2017) with his counterpart Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua in Bangkok are testimony to this persistence as again the back-channels that have obviously continued off and on since 2018 till date.

(S Ramesh served as Additional Secretary in cabinet secretariat. He can be reached at @shanramesh1459. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(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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