Pakistan Army Chief Extension: How Far Will ‘Khaki’ Go For Bajwa?
Will Bajwa go with grace? What are the chances that Pakistan army will resort to its time tested tactics?
Strange are the ways of Pakistan. An ‘appointed Prime Minister’ in a so called democracy extends the Army Chief’s tenure by three years, as much a period as his original tenure, and fails to follow up with procedural formalities to give it legal sanctity. Advocate Riaz Hanif, a habitual legal petitioner and perceived trouble creator for the Pakistan Government, petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf of the Jurists Foundation against the extension order of the government.
The Supreme Court took this seriously enough and although it is learnt that Riaz Hanif was persuaded to withdraw the petition it is the Supreme Court itself which decided to examine the issue suo moto.
Midnight Musings Over Pak Army Chief’s Fate
A three judge bench led by Chief Justice Asif Khosa has set aside the government notification. Legal injunctions by the highest court are not rare in Pakistan and can be contested legally but the challenge this time is a little different. There is only today, Nov 28 2019, which is available to fight legally and obtain an endorsement for the extension order.
General Qamar Bajwa the Pakistan Army Chief retires on the hour of midnight tonight.
It makes the calculation easy enough; there are just today’s working hours to convince the court of quite a few things to make the government notification legal again, otherwise Pakistan’s strong man will no longer be the Army Chief.
It has been clarified that once he retires he cannot be re-appointed the Army Chief; it’s only an extension that the government can grant not a re-appointment. Of course, it’s a different issue that in Pakistan all kinds of things can happen which is why the Pakistan Cabinet was in a huddle at midnight with General Bajwa himself attending the meeting that was taking stock of the Supreme Court’s action.
What is also known is that the Supreme Court does not seem to be in any hurry to give a decision.
Bungled Case of Bajwa’s Extension
There is a host of complexity involved here; the Pakistan Government’s blunder of not giving procedural aspects sufficient focus is just one of them which have helped open a Pandora’s Box. Interesting is the fact that the Pakistan President Arif Alvi who is the approving authority can’t recall when he signed the approval order or whether it was before the Prime Minister or after.
The court has apparently overlooked all that and has instead concentrated now on the very need for such an extension and that too for three years. What was taken as something guaranteed knowing the power of the Army Chief and the fear of the army in general has now become a raging subject for the thus far cowering media, to throw up in glee.
The government seems to be justifying the extension with the argument that an emergency situation is prevailing in the environment of national security after the Indian air attack at Balakot on 27 Feb 2019 and the decisions on the constitutional status of J&K on 5 Aug 2019.
The primary question that the Supreme Court seems to be asking is whether the prevailing conditions in the security environment are of the nature of an emergency and whether there are no others in the hierarchy of the Pakistan Army who can assume such responsibility.
Pakistan Army May Not be Too Happy About Extension
Of course General Bajwa’s larger role in military and economic diplomacy will be used to justify the decision but factually the Pakistan Army takes sufficient pains to strategically orientate its leadership and there will be sufficient talent existing to assume the mantle.
Lt Gen Nadeem Raza, the current Chief of the General Staff (CGS) and already cleared to be the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) a week ago is also a former GOC of the strategic Rawalpindi based 10 Corps which looks after POK and is known to be professionally competent; there are several others too.
It’s actually a question of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s comfort level with Generals other than General Bajwa.
It will mean a re-establishment of bonds of similar trust depending on which political dispensation a particular General is inclined towards; that is something never easy to determine in Pakistan’s murky politics.
There is of course the whole issue of judicial activism in Pakistan. The Supreme Court does have a history of taking on the executive, earlier displayed to the fore by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry against the then strongman General Parvez Musharraf. It was responsible for the political oblivion in which former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finds himself in today.
However, this time the return to another round of activism appears to be provoked by something which has been only perfunctorily reported, the apparent resentment against the extension displayed by General Bajwa’s nine Corps Commanders in a recent meeting.
How Far Will Pakistan Army Go?
Loyalties within the army hierarchy are fine but up to a point. The three year extension, for no apparent justifiable reason, effectively seals the possible chances of three calendar batches of the Pakistan Army throwing up an Army Chief. The so called Bajwa Doctrine, a euphemism for General Bajwa’s concept of response to alleged Indian threats, is being touted by some Pakistani media circles as justification for his extension of tenure.
The actual implementers of the doctrine are obviously the ones who are up in arms. There is every possibility that the soft coup being generated through the Supreme Court has the stamp of initiation and support of a group of Corps Commanders. General Nadeem Raza the designate Chairman of the JCSC has yet to assume his appointment and legally will still be eligible for the appointment of the Army Chief if the Supreme Court does not take a decision today.
With all eyes on the Pakistan Supreme Court today, even if the Imran Khan Government has its way and General Bajwa is extended in his tenure the seeds of dissent are well and truly sowed. In his next potential avatar General Bajwa will need to secure his flanks more effectively as the long knives seem to be out for him.
To ensure his extension two time tested ways exist; one the possibility of whispered threats to the Supreme Court judges by the Bajwa lobby; and two, the subtle moves of the infamous 111 Infantry Brigade located at Rawalpindi, also known as the Coup Brigade.
Both actions can prove dangerous depending which is the stronger lobby.
The power struggle within the Pakistan Army will manifest in the weakening of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s position and some irrational decisions (not unknown to take place in Pakistan) may ensue. The one way of papering this over will be the projection of enhanced security threats from India.
That could lead to something awkward once again in the matrix of India Pakistan relations, instigated by the deep state within Pakistan. India needs to remain warned especially in view of impending changes in the Indian military hierarchy in the near future.
(The writer, a former GOC of the Army’s 15 Corps, is now the Chancellor of Kashmir University. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. 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.)
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