Both India’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat and his Pakistani counterpart Gen. Bajwa are the post-1971 generation in service, yet they inherit the ethos, DNA and instincts of their institutional culture.
The year 1971 was a landmark in the India-Pakistan realm that left an indelible imprint in the psyche of the militaries on both sides of the Line of Control. While India celebrated the professional preparedness of Gen. S.H.F.J. “Sam” Manekshaw (later Field Marshal) and the combat genius of Lt. Gen. Sagat Singh and Maj. Gen. F.J.R. Jacob (later Lt. Gen.) — the Pakistani military top brass witnessed a parallel fall from grace as the President and commander-in-chief, Gen. Yahya Khan, and the Eastern Army commander who surrendered in Dhaka, Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi, were banished and dismissed from service respectively. Victory in 1971 was in quick succession to 1965, and it reconfirmed the need for even more professionalism and apolitical moorings for the Indian armed forces, whereas it triggered a paranoia for the defeated Pakistani military to try and control the levers of governance in Pakistan. Even though the War Enquiry Commission chaired by Justice Hamoodur Rahman was bitterly critical of the Pakistani military’s interference in politics, the findings were soon forgotten and by 1978, a military coup led by Gen. Zia-ul Haq perpetuated the Pakistani tryst with military generals. Officially or behind the veneer of civilian governments, the generals at the Rawalpindi GHQ have held sway over the civilian leaders in Islamabad. For the similarly structured militaries of India and Pakistan that both adopted British traditions, since 1971 the Indian Army has seen 20 Chiefs of Army Staff, whereas Pakistan is only on its 10th Chief. This signifies the phenomenon of “extensions”, or formal usurpation of even civilian posts, by Pakistani generals — a legacy that has continued with incumbent Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa’s extension.
Both India’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat and his Pakistani counterpart Gen. Bajwa are the post-1971 generation in service, yet they inherit the ethos, DNA and instincts of their institutional culture. While both are also second-generation soldiers who joined and commanded the infantry units that their respective fathers had commanded (5/11 Gorkha Rifles and 16th Balouch) — Gen. Bajwa’s “professional” and supposedly apolitical credentials notwithstanding, the reality of generals controlling the destiny of Pakistan is as it was in the previous tenures of generals like Raheel Sharif, Ashfaq Kayani, Pervez Musharraf, etc. Like Gen. Kayani earlier, Gen. Bajwa too has managed a three-year extension and the reasons professed are eerily the same — “continuity in difficult times”! If it was the “fight against terrorism” in the Swat valley during Gen. Kayani’s time, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office posited the latest decision “in view of the regional security environment”. However, unlike the brazen “takeover” by Gen. Pervez Musharaf in a coup in 1999, the template of all subsequent Pakistani military chiefs has been decidedly more reclusive and behind-the-glare that still ensures that the real power flows from Army House, whilst maintaining the charade of democracy, through a pliant civilian government. This arrangement also insulates the Pakistani military from any negativity, as the civilian government carries the can of public responsibility.
All foreign nations recognise this unique arrangement, and therefore the Army House becomes the mandatory pit-stop for any delegation that visits Pakistan. The Chinese know that the safety and protection of their $60 billion punt on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is guaranteed by the Pakistani military, which has no qualms in raising a dedicated division of 15,000 soldiers to exclusively guard CPEC facilities; the Arab sheikdoms recognise that Pakistanis can provide the requisite military wherewithal at the most optimum cost (former Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif is now leading the Saudi-led 39-nation Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition). Even the White House acquiesces to the Pakistani narrative by co-hosting Prime Minister Imran Khan with the looming shadow of Gen. Bajwa and the ISI chief in uniformed splendour in tow. Now the institutional interests of the Pakistan Army are so well protected and entrenched that there is no need for public military-civilian spats that required the generals to shed their fatigues for shalwar suits, as was done by Gen. Zia-ul Haq and Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Today the generals are able to manipulate and calibrate the situation to suit their agenda seamlessly. The role of the Pakistani military in “managing” the political landscape during the elections or in the midst of crippling “sit-ins” by the Opposition parties or religious organisations is the worst-kept secret of Pakistani politics. Both the leaderships of the Opposition PML-N and PPP had alluded to the invisible-though-invaluable hand of the Pakistani military under Gen. Bajwa to usher in Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf into power.
While Gen. Bajwa’s tenure has seen multiple political interventions, deliberations and manipulations — unlike Gen. Zia, he cannot be accused of religious bigotry or puritanical preferences personally. He has played the copybook style and ensured the requisite “heat” in the environment by continuing to interfere in India, Afghanistan and Iran, as nothing delegitimises the Pakistani military as much as peace! The Pakistani military is the ultimate driver and impactor of peace or otherwise in the region, therefore as the principal architect of the regional environment — to legitimise their own extension owing to the prevailing “regional security environment” — lends itself to obvious portents of being stage-managed.
For India, Gen. Bajwa’s continuation makes no fundamental difference, for better or for worse. He is bound by the larger impulses and necessities of his institutional requirements and therefore the “Deep State” remains the status quo. There could be circumstantial evolution owing to the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan with the American pullout and the ongoing tensions on the Line of Control, though the same changes would have been managed by a next-in-line Lt. Gen. Sarfraz Sattar or Nadeem Raza — yet the urge to “individualise” relevance over the institution has prevailed and a cult-like phenomenon that militates against professionalism is perpetuated. Gen. Bajwa’s extension has formally clarified as to who is the real McCoy in Pakistan, and yet again the foreboding sense of sameness blows in “Naya Pakistan”. Neighbouring countries as well as internal stakeholders must take note that the unsettled past and its reasons are here to stay.
By Bhopinder Singh
The writer is former lieutenant-governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry