Pakistan's Change of Guard: Army Remains in Control
NEW DELHI: Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif has kept his word. He is retiring as per schedule with the Pakistan government having named his successor Lt. General Qamar Javed Bajwa, a general now the world is rushing to find more about. Lt General Zubair Hayat, also amongst those being considred for the top post at one point, has been appointed Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee and these two officers will now run the Pakistan army, and through it the country.
A Pakistani commentator in Dawn was perhaps spot on when he advised the new incumbent to keep his television off. And in South Asia where perceptions created by television often overtake the truth, as in India and Pakistan, it is necessary to remember that the Pakistan Army top brass works in close coordination, and while the public face might remain that of the Chief, the decisions are taken by the top command that works in tandem on all important issues, such as counter insurgency operations within Pakistan, Afghanistan and of course relations with India.
It is well known that the Pakistan military determines relations with India. And that the collapse of the civilian structure, in a directly proportional relationship within Pakistan, increases the strength of the military at all levels within. The civilian leadership, to survive, knows it has to take over command over relations with New Delhi and invariably every new Prime Minister in Islamabad begins by stretching out to touch the Indian hand. Even a powerful President such as the former Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf went out of his way to shake the then very hostile hand of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in a gesture at the Saarc summit in Nepal, in the hope it would yeild dividends at home.
So the speculation whether the new Pakistan COAS will be hostile to India, or whether he is for or against extremists is futile as it is based on a certain ignorance of what determines military strategy in Pakistan. There is nothing in his record to suggest that General Bajwa has ever been opposed to, or even mildly distant, from decisions taken by the Pakistan top brass that includes himself of course. And like General Shareef who led the operations against homegrown extremists, he is as part of the relatively new Pakistan Army understanding and strategy towards the same. There is no shift, as whether India likes to accept it or not, the Pakistan Army has been particularly aggressive in ridding parts of its country of homegrown terrorists, such as those in Balochistan and others responsible for sectarian hits in Karachi.
The results have made Sharif very popular amongst sections of the population deeply affected by increasing terror attacks within Pakistan, even as he has drawn the ire of human rights activists for crossing limits, and arming the Army with more laws and powers in the process. Significantly, the army top brass that includes the top 2 generals now, have worked as a homegenous unit under General Sharif with the succession unlikely to make any serious difference to relations with India to begin with.
Civilian dispensations in Islamabad---Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif amongst these--- have always sought to impress on Delhi the need for peace while their governments are in power. The argument has been that improved relations between the two neighbours will go a long way to strengthen the civilian political processes in Pakistan as hostility between the two strengthens the military. This is a fact, and even in the current context it is evident that the rise of the military in Pakistan under General Shareef has directly coincided with deteriorating relations between the two South Asian neighbours.
General Bajwa can be safely predicted to follow the strategic path set out by the Pakistan Army. The strategy devised under General Shareef to deal firmly with terrorism within Pakistan will continue, as will the policy on India and Kashmir. The only difference being perhaps, that while General Raheel Sharif took office with a seemingly stronger civilian dispensation in power, General Bajwa is taking over with the Army in control with the Sharif ‘experiment’ in tatters.