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This is General Bajwa’s dilemma after Modi govt’s Article 370 move in Kashmir

Would Pakistan Army chief Bajwa want to be seen as compromising as Musharraf was to the Americans after 9/11?

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Just back from a seemingly successful US trip, the biggest issue for Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, is to what degree can he resist not responding to a crisis in Kashmir.

The Narendra Modi government has effectively scrapped Article 370, which assures special status to the state.

Bajwa and his team returned home from the US feeling elated: they managed almost-unforeseen tactical gains in the American capital. The military trio that went to the US separately, and not with Prime Minister Imran Khan, on a special flight had hoped to start a conversation with the Americans.

What they got was much more: a 21-gun salute, and meetings with US President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, retired US General Jack Keane, and other important people in the American administration. All this was organised courtesy Britain and Senator Lindsey Graham, termed by journalist Wajid Ali Syed as a newer version of Charlie Wilson.

Sources say that even the IMF and World Bank officials were asked to meet General Bajwa after his meeting at the White House although they had already met Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Also read: Imran Khan’s US visit is for home audience. Bajwa’s Army will do the real talking

Strategic calculations

Besides the fact that the tactical success happened in a space ridden with rising economic tension between Delhi and Washington, Pakistan’s military thought it was playing well on American tactical needs – driven by demands of the forthcoming elections to settle the Afghanistan issue, Washington was ready to engage with Pakistan.

Apparently, Trump flattered the Pakistani general at length. For Bajwa and his men, Afghanistan proved to be a door-opener. There was hope that the relationship could be built upon further by giving the US administration the confidence that Pakistan would divert from China to the West and not allow Beijing strategic access to Gwadar.

What’s next for Pakistan

Trump did more than making the Pakistani visitors happy. Responding to a question by a Pakistani journalist, the US president showed his inclination to mediate between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue. This was probably interpreted as Washington’s willingness to put pressure on India to solve the Kashmir issue. The military trio was probably so overawed by Trump’s charm offensive vis-à-vis General Bajwa that they did not think about a situation in which Delhi would go on an offensive in Kashmir.

So, in reality, not only did the ‘successful’ visit not materialise in any cash in the pocket, the Pakistani visitors ended up committing abandonment of a major part of the military’s strategy – the jihadi proxies. The fact is that there is nothing allocated for Pakistan in the current financial year ending June 2020. The only signal of good faith from the US is the approval of $125-million worth of military equipment under Foreign Military Sales (FMS), which means that Pakistan will have to pay the amount itself. But the approval of FMS for Pakistan’s F-16s is tantamount to making a cat happy so it follows you around a bit more.

It’s to tempt General Bajwa to take the harder decisions of containing militancy in Pakistan and not allowing the Chinese the strategic use of Gwadar port. Both are major decisions for the army leadership.

Also read: Will scrapping Article 370 and splitting the state resolve Kashmir problem or worsen it?

Challenge for Bajwa

For Pakistan’s army chief, a successful US visit was important for personal reasons – an extension that will be decided by the middle of September. The issue is not the political government but his equals in his own organisation, who are watching intently as to what does he bring to the table.

The officer cadre, in general, like the idea of Imran Khan, which is now intertwined with the image of General Bajwa. Prime Minister Imran Khan represents that rootless class of Punjabi politicians, which is not connected with the baradari (kinship) system to exploit it to its advantage in building a parallel base that could be used to challenge the military. Thus, Khan will remain tied to the military’s page for longer than his predecessors.

In the words of a British journalist, it is now easier dealing with the Pakistan government because, unlike Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan doesn’t mind if foreign governments and their representatives speak to Bajwa first or don’t talk to the prime minister at all. Furthermore, Khan is wholeheartedly committed to aiding in constructing the image of the military as the only above-board institution and drawing attention solely to the wrongdoings of politicians.

But when he faces his generals Tuesday at the corps commanders conference, would General Bajwa be able to claim that he changed the US-Pakistan relations qualitatively? The bilateral relations have, in fact, become very sharply utilitarian.

Pakistan is expected to demonstrate ‘irreversible action’ against militancy that is verifiable by, what sources claim, CIA and the British MI6. It seems that in Washington the military trio agreed to an action plan that is “discreet, tangible, and measurable”.

The Kashmir question

However, would this agreement work now when India seems to have checkmated Pakistan in its tracks? Although the excuse being used to repeal Article 370 is that Pakistan may have planned another Pulwama-type attack, the probability of Pakistan Army’s involvement at this stage ought to be questioned. Bajwa and his men couldn’t afford to make a move before consolidating possible gains from the visit. Now, violence and an increase in the political temperature in the Kashmir valley are a possibility, which would put pressure on the army chief to respond, both from his own men and the militants.

Already, there is an observable chatter in the jihadi circle’s support base on social media. According to one such supporter: “It is time to release Hafiz Saeed. It is time to see Molana Masud Azhar in action. Wait for it the legends are coming”.

political change in Jammu and Kashmir could weaken Pakistan Army high command’s ability to remain resolute in fulfilling its commitment to the US as per the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) yardstick.

It was just 10 days ago, after Imran Khan and General Bajwa’s return from the US, that sources claimed the para-military Pakistan Rangers arrested a large number of trained militants from south-west Punjab, which is part of Punjab chief minister’s constituency. Many of the arrests, said sources, were made based on information from Hafiz Saeed.

Also read: Modi’s Kashmir move is biggest test for Indian democracy – and for the silent liberals

General’s Catch-22 moment

There was never a plan to urgently eliminate all militants. A large part of the strategy seems to depend upon cooperation from the leadership of militant groups to remain quiet and not resist arrests. This approach may not work if things go bad in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan Army cannot be seen supporting proxies, especially now that it has promised Donald Trump that it will fulfil FATF goals. But then, would Bajwa want to be seen as compromising as Musharraf was to the Americans after 9/11? Americans are fairly unpopular among the mid and junior ranks of the army.

Would the men be sympathetic to their chief seemingly abandoning Kashmir because Washington wanted him to, or left him with little option? This may be the general’s Catch-22 moment. The political opposition that the general had locked up and tried to silence through his civilian partner Imran Khan is already baying for his blood, seeking answers to why an Indian action was not foreseen.

The question is: Does General Bajwa have much of a choice at the moment? His first instinct would be to call the Americans and seek their intervention, which may not necessarily go in Pakistan’s favour.

Islamabad is likely to argue that allowing US to dabble in Kashmir would hamper Pakistan’s ability to deliver in Afghanistan. There will be a lot of back-channel diplomacy between Islamabad and Washington, and Delhi and Washington. Trump would certainly like to mediate but would not want to catch his Pakistani visitors red-handed using jihadi proxies.

Also, with American intervention, the possibility of turning the LoC into an international boundary remains high. The US President’s idea of solving an outstanding dispute in South Asia may not be different from how he has visualised it in the Middle East – fence the issue in a manner that it doesn’t disturb the peace and quiet of his main partners. The question then is what would such a solution mean for the Pakistan Army that was unwilling to make adjustments with India, arguing it would compromise on the solution to Kashmir as per the UN resolutions?

Pakistan could also go to China, but the fact that in the recent months Bajwa was vocal about his preference for the West over China may make the conversation a bit difficult. Not to forget that in the past China advised Pakistan to integrate Gilgit-Baltistan into its territory, which is part of the larger J&K unsettled dispute. The idea was rejected because it would mean Pakistan accepting the LoC as international boundary. The three major powers – the US, Russia, and China – have a consensus on putting an end to militancy in the region. There will be little sympathy for allowing Pakistan to re-energise the jihadi proxies.

Domestically, the army chief could tempt himself into adhering to the hawkish voices in the military fraternity, such as the former ISI chief, General Asad Durrani, who believes, as he stated in a social media conversation that the army must “declare a state of emergency and put the country on war footing”. There is always the fear that unless the army could find a good strategy to push back India, it may try to embellish its future diplomatic offensive against Delhi with oppressive measures at home. None of this would provide immediate relief to Kashmiris in the valley.

Also read: On Article 370, India hasn’t violated any international treaty. That’s why world won’t react

The author is a research associate at SOAS, London and author of Military Inc. She tweets as @iamthedrifter. Views are personal.

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  1. The aim is not what the 370 did.. as 370 was a Indian constituent decision.
    That was enforced so that the KM.. kashmiri muslims donot feel hurt..a appwasement by Nehru.. This made Pak hover over and then choose the path of introducing Non state actors to participate..ok that era is over now.
    The future for the now muddy, all tgeir leaders and doctrine of pan islamisation links with ISIS is clear as global terrorist outfit. Now How will Pak engage or clamp these band it created .. the big dilema is that.
    Any move to stir or get involved in separatist move or killings will be known , if they are from Area held as POK..or AK., Indian forces at will can move to crush the bases.
    A move by India that has definitely put Pak military in a spot.

  2. An outrageous article based on a false narrative and totally false presumptions. It seems like an attempt to finger the Pakistan Military. A sinister and a planted article. This is the lowest form of journalism. It begs the question, on whose behalf has the author written this ridiculous article?

  3. This is an analysis par excellence. Professional ,impartial ,thoughtful , realistic.
    It can be rightly called intellectual input , for those who need one.

  4. At any rate, the indian move would force pakistan army to either unleash the jihadi terror proxies – which is not a bad thing – or lose face entirely with those proxies and the pakistani public at large.
    Pakistan has also “integrated” Gilgit-Baltistan and keep in mind G-B is 80% of pakistani occupied kashmir.
    In 1974, Pakistan passed a law allowing pakistanis to settle and own land in G-B.
    So why can’t india do the same in 2019?

  5. Excellent article. Pakistan army projects itself as the ultimate protector of Pakistan’s ideological and physical boundaries , and as champions of Kashmir cause . It has waorked hard to label all the civilian politicians as inept and corrupt. Then there are lower , middle and mid high ranks , who firmly believe that they are training to fight an ultimate war with India.
    It is therefore , imperative that army takes the lead , as the current protege of the army , Imran Khan has turned out to be a weak leader , a u-turns lobbyist at best .

  6. Nice article Ayesha….quite informative, however, India lacked offensive approach earlier, which made it weaker. Right now, its the perfect mix of diplomacy and offensive military approach. Kashmir was a part of India, since 1947, when Pakistan attacked it and tried to forcefully occupy. However, still it was cut off from rest of India due to Article 370 and 35A. We were not able to interact with each other and Kashmir had to maintain dual citizenship. After Pulwama, huge anti kashmiri sentiment developed accross the country and our alieanated relationship added fuel to it. It is the greatest move in Indian history. Now, Indian Kashmiris and rest of Indians will live, eat, study, enjoy together and bring us more close. And the most benefitting Kashmiri politicians are crying loud because they cannot stop it anymore. Jihadi proxies will be extremely difficult when these pakistani puppets lose power. Pakistan has lost Kasmir now. Few months will be difficult due to uprising protests, but after that, it will be business as usual. Pak will not dare any military misadventure because Indian Govt. is waiting and prepared for it, and it will become an excuse to get POK back. In conventional war Pak cannot win, going nuclear will be an excuse for the world to wage war against Pak. And India itself can contain it. Only two options on table for both the countries- Kashmir belongs to India or Its the endgame and mass destruction of both the countries, which India may survive due to size of country and population.

    • For your information kashmier was never is never and will never be the part of India until the people of kashmir have to decide it. To abolish the so called article Indians are realizing that now kashmir is intergal part of India. Lol. It is dream. In 71 years despite all the use of state force killing the innocent people burning the homes raped the womens by the butrial indian army using the piolts guns disappear the young kashmiries and much more other butriality of the indian state has never effectt supressed the kashmeri struggle of their right to independence. We as Pakistani sulte our kashmeri brothers and we always stand with our kashmeri Muslim brothers in their struggle at every cost. Kashmeri get their right of independence very soon. Insahllah.

      • Zohaib:
        At least get your spelling correct! Kasmiris right to “independence” – by stating this you are ignoring UN reslutions which basically gave Kashmiriis the right to decide to be independent, join with Pakistan or India. That resolution requires Pakistan (yes Pakistan) to FIRST vacate what they occupied.

        As for India killing Kashmiris, rape etc.. – why dont you indulge in some introspection and think what The Pak Army did in East Pakistan. Or you cannot remember that far back?

  7. We can keep writing theories about what Pakistan think and what they will do. But the ground reality is not going to alter and any consequences of Pakistan’s dirty game have to be faced with iron hand. Country’s policies are not decided based on what our neighbor thinks. Rather focus on what we can do to unite our country. Few in media want to focus on those counter debates only to improve their TRP and few media personal do not mind supporting Pakistan in the name of opposing Modi for every act. Enemy for India is within, not outside.

  8. A bit of a stretch that Pakistan would choose the US over China. That is a foundational friendship going back more than sixty years, anchored in shared enmity towards India. The $ 60 billion CPEC has so far been restricted to about $ 20 billion because the fragile Pakistani economy cannot absorb so much costly foreign investment. Are we to believe that the CPEC will be built but that its final destination, Gwadar port, will not be accessible to China. There are reports that Iran too would not mind giving China access to Chabahar port. 2. Reassuring to read that there is a growing consensus between America, China and Russia that militancy in the region should be ended. India should work with all three of them, for terrorism that comes from Pakistan and might in future come from Afghanistan as well. 3. It would be wonderful if PM Imran Khan could play off his generals against each other and not give Bajwa an extension.

  9. I hate Qamardard bajwa and major general Asif buffoon of Pak army. Always poking their noses in civilian affairs of Pakistan and Indian affairs.

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