· Raheel Sharif hands over the baton peacefully but Nagrota happens
BY JK Verma
New Delhi. Pakistani army chief is the most powerful person in Pakistan. There is a saying that most countries have an army but Pakistani Army has a country. There were speculations that General Raheel Sharif who formulated an image of a hardliner, anti India and a powerful Chief of Pakistani army would not step down without giving a befitting reply to India of its surgical strike of September 29.
Nonetheless General Sharif belied all assumptions and like a true soldier handed over charge to General Qamar Javed Bajwa on November 29 exactly two months after the surgical strike which damaged his macho image. General Sharif made history by being the first Chief of Army Staff in last 20 years, who retired without seeking any extension. But Nagrota happened!
Pakistan was carved out from India in 1947 but all the four provinces including Balochistan, Pakhtoon Khawa, Sindh and Punjab in West Pakistan had intense desire to become autonomous states. Secondly after the partition, the then leaders of Pakistan including Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah thought that Indian leaders have not accepted the partition of the country and they will attack and again merge the new born nation. Pakistan’s Western neighbour Afghanistan had also refused to accept the creation of a new country hence Jinnah and other leaders favoured a strong centre and a powerful army. Therefore Pakistani leadership spent limited resources of the country in strengthening the armed forces and with the passage of time army became very powerful and it had not allowed the civilian institutions to grow.
In past Nawaz Sharif preferred Raheel Sharif as his reputation was of a professional soldier who had an aversion towards politics but with the passage of time he started deciding Pakistan’s relations with most of the important countries like India, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and United States.
Raheel Sharif, against the wishes of Nawaz Sharif, started Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan and eradicated several terrorist outfits which were responsible for terrorist activities in Pakistan and considered as ‘bad terrorists’ by Inter Services Intelligence. Nawaz Sharif who promised before elections to negotiate with terrorist outfits was overruled.
Nawaz Sharif who is a businessman knows that both India and Pakistan can progress if they have friendly relations and in the beginning he wanted to have amiable relations with India but Pakistani Army which thrives on anti-India rhetoric countermanded him and despite best efforts of Prime Minister Modi, relations between India and Pakistan deteriorated.
Nawaz Sharif who selected several Army Chiefs knows well that Pakistani Army will remain supreme and the civilian administration cannot counter Army as an institution. Besides this the public image of army is far superior in comparison to the political leadership which is considered to be thoroughly corrupt. The names of family members of Nawaz Sharif already appeared in ‘Panama Papers” for having ‘offshore holdings’.
General Bajwa played a positive role towards democracy in 2014 when Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan were protesting against Nawaz Sharif government and were demanding his resignation. Analysts claim that General Bajwa’s pro-democracy image also helped him in becoming Chief of Pakistani army.
General Bajwa, superseded Lieutenant-General Syed Wajid Hussain, Lieutenant-General Najibullah Khan, Lieutenant-General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed including Lieutenant-General Javed Iqbal Ramday who had been posted in 10 Corps and has experience of Kashmir affairs which is a hot spot at this juncture.
General Zubair Mahmood Hayat was appointed as the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC). Although the post of CJCSC is senior to Army chief but Pakistan Army Chief is the most powerful person in the country. He took over as Chief after a tenure at the GHQ as the Inspector General of the Training and Evaluation from 2015 to 2016 and as the Corps Commander X Corps from 2013 to 2015 which is responsible for the area along the Line of Control. Bajwa also served as a peacekeeper in the UN mission in Congo as a brigade commander. Commissioned in 16 Baloch Regiment on 24 October 1980, in 1982, he was shifted to the Sindh Regiment.
Pakistani press and public feel that General Bajwa being apolitical and relaxed person would return back the power to the civilian government. The analysts mention that as Bajwa has a leaning towards democracy and is a low-profile general hence it will be easy for the civilian government to deal with him.
General Sharif lost his uncle in 1965 India Pakistan war while his real elder brother who was his mentor was also killed in 1971 war with India. Hence General Sharif had an inherent aversion towards India. It is anticipated that General Bajwa who has no repugnance towards India may be helpful in easing out the current tense atmosphere between both the countries.
However the strategic experts claim that ISI sponsored two terrorist attacks on at Nagrota in which seven army personnel including two majors were killed was a blunt message to General Bajwa that he should not meddle with low intensity war launched by ISI against India.
Pakistan watchers unanimously feel that Indian security forces should not expect any major change in Pakistani sponsored terrorist activities because of change of army chief.
Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told a Pakistani news channel that “The focus will remain on country’s eastern border and the armed forces backed by the nation will meet all challenges”. He further mentioned that “The legacy of General Raheel Sharif would continue in the light of the examples he set”.
General Bajwa would face problems at many fronts especially with its Eastern as well as Western neighbours. After surgical strike of India Pakistani forces enhanced shelling on Indo-Pak border and ISI is infiltrating terrorists at a large scale. The tension between both the nuclear countries is enhancing and General Bajwa may try to tone down the tension.
The terrorist incidents in Afghanistan are also enhanced and Afghan government alleges that ISI sponsored terrorist outfits are responsible for these terrorist acts. Pakistan should genuinely reduce its assistance to terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan so that relations between both the countries improve.
US administration under Donald Trump will be much more stringent against terrorism in comparison to his predecessor and Pakistani army and government have to work hard to inculcate friendly relations.
Pakistani masses are fed up with several terrorist activities in the country hence Bajwa had to be more stringent with the terrorist outfits. The Pakistan analysts mention that operation Zarb-e-Azb will continue with more vigour and strength not only in tribal areas and Karachi but it will also expand in other areas. General Bajwa should also try to control ISI which is sponsoring terrorism in India so that the relation with its eastern neighbour is improved.
Nonetheless the primary task of General Bajwa would be to inculcate cordial relations with the civilian government which is essential for the progress of the country as well as for a smooth foreign policy.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based former diplomat and strategic analyst. He was posted in Pakistan. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)