Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has had an ominous relationship with all six Chiefs of Army Staff that he has tenured with, including the four that he “handpicked” by superseding senior officers. In 1993, his choice of Gen. Waheed Kakar was instrumental in pressuring Mr Sharif to resign as Prime Minister. The next chief in Nawaz’s tenure was the choice of the previous government, Gen. Jehangir Karamat, who was forced into premature resignation by Mr Sharif. The third was the “safe” mohajir, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who packed off Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia in a bloodless coup. Later, Nawaz Sharif, in his third innings as Prime Minister, had to deal with the outgoing dictator Pervez Musharraf’s choice, the highly unpredictable Gen. Pervez Kayani, who unilaterally extended his stay at the Army House. During his third stint as Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif had punted on Gen. Raheel Sharif, who ultimately turned out to be his own man and gave Nawaz Sharif sleepless nights with the rumours of a “takeover”, only to pick yet another supposedly “pro-democracy” and low key officer as his successor, Gen. Qamar Bajwa, who silently allowed Mr Sharif to get disqualified and has more recently upped the ante against Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) government.
From a Pervez Musharraf to a Raheel Sharif, it has typically taken just over a year for the incumbent Chief of Army Staff to run into an uncomfortable equation and power tussle with Nawaz Sharif. Given that Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa assumed office on November 29, 2016, his restiveness with the political establishment and the accompanying portents of the power struggle were overdue as per previous trends and traditions. The buildup to the fractious relationship normally assumes the pattern of the military establishment expressing concerns on matters that are beyond the domain of security — such as the economy, federalism, intra-party feuds, etc. The contours of expression were established by Gen. Ayub Khan in 1958, then Chief of the Pakistani Army, who noted: “I am receiving very depressing reports of economic distress and maladministration through political interference, frustration and complete lack of faith by the people in political leaders... The general belief is that none of these men have the honesty of purpose, integrity and patriotism to root out the evils of the country, which will require drastic action.” Much later, in 1999, Gen. Musharraf echoed the same line with: “There is despondency and hopelessness surrounding us with no light visible anywhere around... we have reached a stage where our economy has crumbled, our credibility is lost, state institutions lie demolished.”
The last six months have seen the relatively reclusive Gen. Qamar Bajwa asserting his institutional presence, defying governmental preferences and openly holding court with his holistic vision for Pakistan that has grandiosely been described as the “Bajwa Doctrine”. From stamping his own martial signature with his Operation Radd-ud-Fasaad (his predecessor had undertaken Operation Zarb-e-Azb), to ignoring government orders to disperse protesters and instead undermining the civilian government by mediating with Islamist protesters, to delivering his views on wholly civilian matters like the 18th Amendment of the Pakistan Constitution that devolves powers to the states, to becoming the first high-ranking foreign dignitary to visit the Maldives, has all the makings and optics of the Pakistani Army’s restless institutional overreach and thunderous grand-standing. Another crucial aspect attributed to the “Bajwa Doctrine” is the blunt counter to US President Donald Trump’s accusation that Pakistan’s track record on terror had, “given the United States nothing but lies and deceit” — the “Bajwa Doctrine” seeks to bluntly refute the US President’s perception, and instead posits an alternative assertion that suggests that the US needs to do more, and for Pakistan to not get intimidated by the US pressure. As part of its logical extension, it seeks to invest in a new set of replacement allies that host inherently anti-US governments — such as China, Russia, Iran and Turkey.
The sovereign humiliation accompanying the US military aid cuts to Pakistan is essentially getting repackaged and replayed back as a sign of national pride and dignity, as Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor insists: “Pakistan never fought for money but for peace.” Whether the “Bajwa Doctrine” is a hardbound set of fleshed-out policies and actions, or is a just a creative interpretation of the Pakistani military’s fidgetiness is still unclear — however, there are lurking signs of “military control” as the largest television channel, Geo TV, gets forced off the cable networks owing to its reportage of the Pakistani military machinations. Gen. Qamar Bajwa has also not shied away from sharing his opinion on civilian ministerial colleagues by commenting on former finance minister Ishaq Dar: “It is a shame that out of 210 million people, only 1.2 million pay taxes… He (Ishaq Dar) was a total disaster for this country.” In the cloak and dagger style of Pakistan’s intra-institutional intrigues, the Pakistani military has tactically joined hands with the judiciary to retain the pressure on the beleaguered and cornered civilian government by suggesting that “destabilising the judiciary or ridiculing its verdicts could land us in political disarray. Anyone who is indignant with the Supreme Court decisions (should) not be allowed to humiliate the judiciary or raise question marks on the integrity of the honourable judges”.
As Gen. Qamar Bajwa slowly but surely consolidates his power and legitimises his angst in the popular imagination, he continues paying lip service to the principle of civilian democracy — “salvation lies in protecting and preserving the integrity of all state institutions (Parliament, judiciary and military) as much as in upholding the rule of law on the way to free and fair elections”. With Pakistan’s general election due to be held in July this year, the emergence of the ghost of the “Bajwa Doctrine” has made the run-up and the possible outcomes more unpredictable. Sensing the direction of the wind, Opposition leader Imran Khan has unabashedly confessed: “I have more praise for Gen. Bajwa than Gen. Raheel Sharif”, signalling the importance of the Baloch Regiment officer who is expectedly stepping out of the shadows of the Rawalpindi barracks.