On 18 August, Imran Khan completed a year as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The very next day he announced that the tenure of Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa will be extended by three years. Earlier, he was set to retire on 29 November, but after the extension, he will now remain the army chief till 29 November 2022.
Why did Imran Khan give General Bajwa a three-year extension as army chief?
Convincing the General?
I remember when the government of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) gave a three-year extension to then Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in 2010, it was Imran Khan who had criticised then PM Yousaf Raza Gilani and said, “If you want to make Pakistan strong, you must make its institutions strong and institutions can only become strong when you don’t give preference to individuals over institutions”.
In several of his interviews, Imran Khan had said that even if a country is fighting a war, its army chief should not be given an extension.
But in the last one year, Imran Khan has made many U-turns – the latest was this Monday when General Bajwa was given an extension “in view of the regional security environment”.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi further mentioned the situation in Kashmir and Afghanistan as reasons for the decision on General Bajwa. He said, “A clear message was being conveyed to India that there was continuation and clarity in the political and military leadership in Pakistan.”
During recent briefings and meetings, General Bajwa had said more than once that he was not interested in an extension.
But a few weeks ago, some TV channels claimed that PM Imran Khan had decided to extend the tenure of General Bajwa, and he would make an announcement at an appropriate time. The prime minister’s office did not deny this, giving fuel to the speculation that Imran Khan was trying to convince the General to accept an extension in service tenure.
Bajwa and Sharif
The general impression in those days was that the military establishment was supporting Imran Khan against Nawaz Sharif. Bajwa emerged as one of the pro-democracy Generals who advised his boss General Raheel Sharif that army should not interfere in politics.
Raheel Sharif wanted not only an extension but also the title of Field Marshal. Then PM Nawaz Sharif refused to oblige him and appointed Qamar Javed Bajwa as the new army chief, who was not even the most senior in the service at that time.
Bajwa enjoyed excellent relations with Nawaz Sharif, but the situation changed in April 2016 when the Panama Papers scandal hit the Sharifs, finally leading to the Pakistan Supreme Court disqualifying Nawaz from holding public office in 2018.
Why Bajwa is important for PM
Imran Khan was one of the luckiest PMs of Pakistan in 2018. When he became Pakistan’s prime minister, both army and judiciary supported him. Yet, he was not able to bring a change in Pakistan’s policies or politics.
It is not just the ‘regional security situation’ that forced Imran Khan to give an extension to General Bajwa. Many in Pakistan believe that Imran Khan cannot survive without Bajwa. He has privately praised Bajwa many times. “I became Prime Minister because like me General Bajwa also believes in Naya Pakistan,” Imran Khan has said in the past.
Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan has failed to provide any economic relief to the common people of Pakistan. In April, the PM replaced finance minister Asad Umar with Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, who was the finance minister in the PPP government. Even this change yielded no positive results.
It was not the job of the army chief to run here and there, asking for economic aid, but still General Bajwa did it. It is widely believed that the General visited Saudi Arabia, UAE and China, and arranged for some loans, giving the Imran Khan government some breathing space.
But Imran Khan’s popularity has nosedived since then. Last month, opposition parties in Pakistan held rallies against the government, accusing it of destroying the economy and muzzling its critics.
Can Bajwa defend the government?
Just when things were getting difficult at home, the Narendra Modi government announced abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories. The India-Pakistan tension is a blessing in disguise for Imran Khan. It has helped him divert people’s attention from Pakistan’s economic woes to the threat of a war with India.
Imran Khan’s announcement regarding tenure extension of General Bajwa came on a day when opposition parties met in Islamabad and decided to launch a mass movement against ‘fascist’ Imran Khan. His government arrested Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam on 8 August when she was meeting her father in jail. Last week, Faryal Talpur, sister of PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, was shifted from hospital to jail against doctor’s advice.
Will General Bajwa rescue Imran Khan from a possible mass movement by the opposition?
An army chief can fight a foreign enemy, but it’s not easy to fight political opponents of a civilian government. It is expected that General Bajwa will be more careful in his second term by not getting involved in political battles inside Pakistan. His immediate challenge is to defuse the India-Pakistan tension and push Afghan Taliban for a peace agreement with Washington.
The political and military leadership are on the same page in terms of tackling the ‘regional security situation’. But the same security situation may force General Bajwa to defend only Pakistan, and not the government of Pakistan.
The author works for Geo TV and tweets @HamidMirPAK. Views are personal.