Will Pakistan Army Chief’s Extension ‘Save’ PM Imran Khan’s Govt?

Has PM Khan given General Bajwa an extension of tenure, or has the Army Chief given the PM an extension?

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Image of Pakistan PM Imran Khan (L) and Army Chief General Bajwa (R) used for representational purposes.
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Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced an extension in the tenure of the Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa, for another three years. General Bajwa, who was to retire in November this year, will now stay on as army chief until November 2022.

The notification issued by the PM’s office, signed by Khan himself, states that “the decision has been taken in view of the regional security environment.”

PM Imran Khan’s decision has come as a surprise to many, given Khan’s vehement opposition in the past to extending tenures of Pakistan army chiefs.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister, in an interview to local media, said that the extension was necessary due to the developments in Kashmir and Afghanistan, referring to the Indian government's revocation of Article 370 in the Valley, and the peace process with the Taliban that Pakistan is facilitating. General Bajwa will be the second army chief to get such an extension in the last ten years. In 2010, the then army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, was also given a three-year extension.

PM Khan’s Earlier Stance On Army Chiefs’ Extensions

Even though, constitutionally, the Pakistani PM has the authority to take such a step, this latest move has come as a surprise to many, given Khan's vehement opposition in the past to extending tenures of Pakistan army chiefs.

When General Kayani was given the extension in 2010, Khan had criticised the move. Later in 2016, Khan had also hailed the decision by the previous army chief General Raheel Sharif for not seeking an extension. (Although it is widely believed that the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had refused to give the previous army chief an extension).

What Made PM Khan Take U-Turn On Army Chief Extension?

So, what made Khan take a u-turn? Is it actually the regional situation, or more of domestic politics?

If one looks at the recent past, the regional situation under General Bajwa has actually deteriorated.

Amidst the Afghan peace talks facilitated by Pakistan between the United States and the Afghan Taliban, there has been a massive spike in terror activity inside Afghanistan. Moreover, until recently, the Kashmir-focused militants based out of Pakistan, were continuing to stoke terrorism in the Valley.

The groups went dormant only when it became evident to Pakistan that it may be blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watch-dog that monitors terror financing and money laundering, over the country's lack of action against militants collecting funds. Given Pakistan's financial woes, it cannot afford such sanctions.

It is not likely that the regional situation will become any better under General Bajwa.

However, even now, the Kashmiri militant groups have not been dismantled completely, and the actions taken against them are cosmetic. One of the main leaders of one such militant movement, Hafiz Saeed, has been booked under some vague charges of terror-financing, and it is unlikely that he will be punished. Also, the main accusation against him has been that of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai attacks. However, in that terror case, he and his group continue to enjoy impunity.

So, it is not likely that the regional situation will become any better under General Bajwa.

General Bajwa has promised that Pakistan’s economy will turn around, and he perhaps thinks he needs more time, and hence, his extension.

Did PM Khan Give An Extension To Army Chief Bajwa Or Vice-Versa?

So, did Khan give the general an extension for domestic reasons? It is quite possible, and perhaps Khan did not even have much choice in the matter, given the multiple crises he faces domestically, and the control the military has had over this government from day one.

Khan is currently grappling with a failing economy, and the public is getting impatient with how things are panning out under the new government, with inflation at 9.41 percent, a five-year high. The PM recently changed the finance minister, but as of now, the economic turmoil seems to be continuing unabated. The biggest problem: Pakistan is unable to generate enough revenue to pay its expenses, pushing the country into a debt trap, and forcing it to repeatedly borrow internationally.

PM Khan has managed to silence the opposition only because he knows the military is on board with him.

But Army Chief General Bajwa, in recent months, has promised that the country's economy will turn around, and he perhaps thinks he needs more time, and hence his extension.

However, the financial turmoil has also given an opportunity to the political opposition in the country to organise themselves against PM Khan. His government has responded by silencing them through a corruption witch-hunt, and has jailed two former prime ministers and the former president, who are part of the mainstream political parties opposing Khan. But the PM has managed to do so only because he knows the military is on board with him.

Will Army Chief Bajwa Be Able To ‘Save’ Imran Khan?

There is no guarantee that the next army chief will continue to help Khan in managing domestic political affairs, and so, Bajwa is Khan's safest bet, given their past ‘collusion’. Moreover, under Bajwa, there has been a serious erosion of free speech and independent press, and any dissenting views have been shut out completely, which has also helped Khan's government.

General Bajwa and Imran Khan have gotten another three years to deliver.

So, will Bajwa be able to save Khan? As someone remarked after the extension announcement – it’s not Khan who has given an extension to Bajwa, but Bajwa who has given an extension to Khan. But as stated in Khan's own words before he came to power, the decision to extend tenures of army chiefs weaken the military institution and in turn the country.

Pak Army Chief Bajwa’s Tenure Extension: A Positive Outcome Is Unlikely

It is also likely to create tensions within the military top brass, as the move is going to upset some generals, especially those who were in line for becoming the next army chief. And we do know that in the past, whenever chiefs have overstayed their tenures, the other generals have conspired against them, which has ended up weakening the country, as we saw through General Musharraf's fall from power in 2007. Will we see a repeat of Musharraf's disgraceful exit when Bajwa's tenure comes to an end in 2022?

For now, Bajwa and Khan have gotten another three years to deliver. But given that the structures and systems of the military are being manipulated by Khan's government to give preference to favourable personalities rather than those who deserve it due to their seniority and merit, it is unlikely that there will be any positive outcomes of this extension.

(Taha Siddiqui is an award-winning Pakistani journalist living in exile in Paris since February 2018 and is currently writing a book about Pakistan. He teaches journalism at SciencesPo and runs a digital platform called safenewsrooms.org, which documents censorship in the media. He tweets at @TahaSSiddiqui. 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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