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PM Sharif’s Gen Bajwa Option: A Glimmer of Hope for Indo-Pak Ties?

Will a new army chief in Pakistan make any immediate difference to the current level of violence across the LoC?

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
PM Sharif’s Gen Bajwa Option: A Glimmer of Hope for Indo-Pak Ties?

Rarely does the appointment of a new army chief elicit as much notice and attention as it does in the case of Pakistan – and this is due to the distinctively dominant status that the ‘fauj’ has in that country.

While the global thumb-rule is that nations have armies, in the case of Pakistan it is a case of the army having subverted the nation. This is the proverbial tail wags dog syndrome – but alas, with corrosively malignant consequences for the citizens of that hapless country.

The Army with its GHQ in Rawalpindi has ruled the country for more than half its existence since the birth of Pakistan in August 1947. The better known Army rulers are Field Marshal Ayub Khan and Generals Yahya Khan, Zia ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf.

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General Raheel Sharif, the current Pak Army Chief demits office on 29 November on completion of his tenure and there was considerable speculation that he may not step down.  The domestic quip was about which Sharif would prevail – reference being to a beleaguered Prime Minister Nawaz and the hugely popular Army Chief Raheel.

However, it is evident that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has prevailed. On 26 November it was announced that the “dark horse” among the contenders – Lt General Qamar Javed Bajwa will be the 16th Army Chief of Pakistan. He will assume office on 29 November along with Lt Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat who has been appointed as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC).

Lt. General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the next Chief was serving as the Inspector General of Training and Evaluation — the position held by Gen Raheel Sharif before being appointed Army Chief in November 2013. Earlier, Gen Bajwa commanded 10 Corps, the Pak army’s biggest op formation, which is responsible for the area along the Line of Control (LoC).

Lt. Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa attends a military exercise in Khairpur Tamiwali, Pakistan, November 2016. (Photo: AP)

An infantry officer, he is the fourth Pak COAS (chief of army staff) from the Baloch regiment; the other three being Generals Yahya Khan, Aslam Beg, and Pervez Kayani. His professional appointments include command of a brigade in a UN Mission, where he was part of a division commanded by Major General Bikram Singh – who later became the Indian Army Chief.

Snapshot
  • Lt General Qamar Javed Bajwa will be the 16th Army Chief of Pakistan.
  • Pakistani army with its GHQ in Rawalpindi has ruled the country for more than half its existence.
  • This is the fifth occasion when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been able to appoint a general of his choice as the army chief.
  • Sharif’s decision is indicative of  Islamabad regaining tenuous control over Rawalpindi.
  • General Bajwa is said to consider jihadi terror in Pakistan a bigger threat than India.
  • General Bajwa will need a few months to demonstrate that he is firmly in the saddle.
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Will Pakistan Stop Supporting Terror Now?

It is instructive that Pakistan has named a new army chief on the 8th anniversary of the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai and this is more coincidence than design.

Yet the symbolism is significant and is embedded in the question: “Will a new army chief in Pakistan make any immediate difference to the current level of violence across the LoC and support to terror groups?” The short answer is no – for the deeply entrenched anti-India mindset and orientation of the Pak military is an institutional position and the tactical situation cannot be changed radically by a new COAS.

It has its genesis in the ignominy of 1971 and the birth of Bangladesh and the institutional memory cleaves to this inflexible hostility and the need to seek retribution if not revenge. Post the Uri attack and the Indian ‘surgical strike’, the local commanders are committed to a lethal  exchange of ordnance by both sides.

However, the appointment of General Bajwa offers a glimmer of hope for improvement in the India-Pakistan bilateral that must be explored earnestly by Delhi. The fact that Nawaz Sharif has prevailed must be welcomed, for it is indicative of  Islamabad regaining tenuous control over Rawalpindi. Ironically, this is the fifth occasion when Nawaz Sharif has been able to appoint a general of his choice as the Army Chief – though his Musharraf choice had a very unhappy trajectory.

More discerning and objective opinion in Pakistan concede the reality that Prime Minister Narendra Modi went the extra mile in not only inviting Prime Minister Sharif to  Delhi for his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014 and that the unexpected Lahore visit of December 2015 was in the same spirit. Yet, this was followed by the Pathankot terror attack of January 2016 and the post-Uri sequence of events is part of recent memory.

General Bajwa, the new COAS in Pakistan will need a few months to demonstrate that he is firmly in the saddle and his choice of key appointments will be instructive. It is understood that he has identified the domestic jihadi terror threat as the bigger challenge to Pakistan than that posed by India – but he will be tested by his deeds than by words.

The nature of the relationship between Prime Minister Sharif and Gen Bajwa, both personal and institutional will be the key to the contour of the bi-lateral. Can Rawalpindi rein in Muridke – the  node of  the terror groups that include the perpetrators of Mumbai in November 2008?  And will the Sharif-Bajwa combination be able to persuade their domestic interlocutors that returning to the spirit of the January 2004 agreement, wherein Pakistan had committed to desist from supporting terror, is a worthy objective and in Pakistan’s own interests?

The Modi government must review the current window – and despite numerous disappointments and the perfidy associated with Rawalpindi – seek to strengthen the political dispensation in Pakistan.

(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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