Quick Take

Intriguing moves in Pakistan establishment

| Updated on November 29, 2019

File photo of Pakistan's Army Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa

Some pretty obvious behind the scenes friction is playing itself out between the pro-India and anti-India camps within the Pak army

The Pakistan Army has always been beyond the reach of the law. So, it was an earth-shaking event when the country's Supreme Court questioned the extension given to Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa. According to Pakistan's rules of the game, this shouldn't have happened. What was worse is that the court perused the Army Act and declared that there were no provisions in it for giving any officer an extension. This discovery came a bit late in the day, because in the last 20 years, every army chief except one has been given or has taken an extension. Gen Bajwa has now been given a six-month extension, which gives the government a chance to get legislation on the statute books to make his position legal.


In Pakistan, the Army has always been above all laws and challenges, and there are muttered rumours that the moves against Bajwa could not have taken place without a nod and a wink from a powerful coterie of generals who are said to oppose him. Against this is the fact that Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa has always had an impeccable reputation (incidentally, his brother Tariq Khosa headed Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency and conducted a meticulous investigation into 26/11, much of which was then used by our own investigators). Could the Chief Justice have been signalling that even the Army was not beyond the reach of the law? Very possibly, but that would be a new narrative in Pakistan.


Nevertheless, the Supreme Court challenge has set the rumour mills working overtime. Leading political commentator Cyril Almeida commented on Twitter: “In terms of raw power politics, the Bajwa/IK (Imran Khan) combine has alienated a formidable array of powerful constituencies in Pak”

Crucially, it’s said that Bajwa is facing hard-line generals who believe he is soft on India. Certainly, during his tenure there have been no major jihadi attacks here, except Pulwama. This could have been unpopular with one section of the Army, which believes that the attacks are an important weapon in their arsenal against us. Bajwa was also a very visible presence at the launch of the Kartarpur Corridor, which signalled that the army was backing the project. Earlier, the moment when he hugged Indian politician and cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu went viral on social media. There’s also been speculation that a hard-line army faction had backed the recent Azadi March led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the Jamat Ulema-e-Islam (JUIF) which held a two-week dharna in Islamabad. A similar protest by Imran Khan when Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister was said to have been openly backed by the Army. The fact is that Bajwa has never had an iron grip on the Pakistan Army, like other chiefs before him. When he was first appointed there were press reports that one of his relatives belonged to the Ahmadi sect, which has been ruled to be non-Muslim under Pakistan’s constitution. In Pakistan, non-Muslims can’t be made army chiefs. The sudden transfer in June of Asim Munir, the chief of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, after only eight months also triggered whispers that a powerful faction was working against Bajwa. Indeed, there are now questions whether he can continue, after the embarrassment faced in the Supreme Court. For India, it might be better if he does. Peace isn’t around the corner, but a lessening of hostilities is always to be welcomed. 

Published on November 29, 2019

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