Normally, in a democracy, the government is the most powerful organ of governance. But in Pakistan, which is anything but a normal democracy, things are different. The Army that has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its 75-year history still calls the shots. And has an overbearing say in the country’s foreign policy affairs. Needless to say, the Army Chief remains the most powerful person in Pakistan (exemplified by the intense national and media discourse in the run-up to Gen Bajwa’s retirement in November last year).
Bajwa, who had a particularly bad year given his run-ins with Imran Khan, explained his decision to make the army “apolitical” so that it can be shielded from the “vagaries of politics”. He said that the army often faced criticism at home because of its “interference in politics” in various ways for 70 years. Quite an admission from the army chief despite the fact that what he said is public knowledge. The Pakistani army’s interference in politics has ranged from dislodging civilian governments through coups to indirectly controlling weak dispensations or even installing “puppet” PMs.
Bajwa even sought to twist the humiliating surrender of Pakistani troops in the 1971 war with India, the darkest chapter in Pakistan’s military history. “I want to correct the record. First of all, the fall of East Pakistan was not a military but a political failure. The number of fighting soldiers was not 92,000, it was rather only 34,000, the rest were from various government departments”. He said these 34,000 people fought 250,000 Indian army soldiers, and 200,000 trained Mukti Bahini fighters but still, they fought valiantly. White lies, yet barely a discordant voice was heard.
Bajwa is just an addendum to the long list of Pakistani generals who over the years have conveniently manipulated the political system for personal gains. Retired officers too have had their pound of the corruption kitty. Everyone, including the political class, is aware of it, yet the brazen malpractices continue.
There’s also the political-military nexus. In 2018, when Imran Khan became PM, he was widely seen as an army “prop”. Things went fine for a while but relations between the two began souring when Captain Khan tried to do things his own way as he used to on the cricket field. The ISI chief’s appointment set the churn in motion. Gen. Bajwa wanted to replace Lt Gen. Faiz Hameed (considered a Khan loyalist) with Lt Gen. Nadeem Anjum. Imran wanted his man retained but ultimately had to give in. It was a free-for-all after Imran lost the confidence vote last year, the first Pakistani PM to be booted out that way. Imran openly trained his guns at the army chief, calling him names and accusing him of favouring the “corrupt” (read the Sharifs and Zardari). Attempting damage control, the army, in an unprecedented press conference, fielded the ISI chief to defend the institution’s honour. Counter-allegations were levelled against Imran Khan: he had “approached Gen Bajwa to help arrange the numbers for the confidence vote in lieu of another extension but Gen Bajwa refused”.
The General had his way and the Captain found himself at the wrong end of the political pitch. As we said, that’s the way things work in Islamabad, Rawalpindi rather!