General Bajwa in an interview with Gulf News talks about challenges an army chief faces
By Ashfaq Ahmed, Senior Assistant Editor (Gulf News)
Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is known as the friend of Arabs in Pakistan due to his untiring efforts to bring Pakistan closer to the Middle East countries.
The Pakistan Army Chief General Bajwa, who is going to retire on November 29, spoke at length during an exclusive interview with Gulf News.
He talked about his concept of military diplomacy, relations with Gulf and Middle East countries and the major world powers, and his decision to make army ‘apolitical’ in the country. General Bajwa, who is leaving behind a strong legacy, believes that the institute of military has remained a stabilising factor in managing internal rifts and finding a balance in global politics through military diplomacy.
Pakistan witnessed eventful six years during General Bajwa’s tenure. The country remained in the center of attention due to domestic politics, international events and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of ‘War on Terror’. During these years, Pakistan continued to face domestic instability due to the aftershocks of leaked ‘Panama Papers’ and internal political schisms.
General Bajwa’s proactive military diplomacy consolidated Pakistan’s position both internally and internationally. With six years of leading an Army which brought Pakistan closer to Middle East, ensured peace in the border regions with Afghanistan, improved internal stability and contributed towards national development, General Bajwa’s legacy as an Army Chief will be remembered both by the public in general and Army in particular.
At the domestic front, his efforts for upholding constitutional values, national development, security and support during period of natural disasters remained the key highlights of his tenure as Army Chief.
Will you please explain the role of the army in Pakistan’s politics? Recently, you have decided to remove the military from the corridors of politics. How will this impact civil-military relations in the short and long term?
Pakistan Army has always remained a dominant player in national decision-making. Due to its historic role in country’s politics, the military drew severe criticism from public and politicians alike.
We have restricted the army’s role to its constitutional mandated task only by deciding to make it ‘apolitical’. This decision, though being viewed negatively by a segment of society and led to personal criticism, will facilitate in reinvigorating and strengthening democratic culture, assist in supporting state organs to effectively perform and deliver. Above all, this decision will help enhance army’s prestige in the long term.
Pakistan Army has enjoyed unmatched respect and trust of Pakistani Nation throughout our history. Army’s positive and constructive role in Pakistan’s National Security and development has always received unwavering public support.
I believe that public support and affinity towards the armed forces tends to erode when the military is seen to be involved in political affairs, and, therefore, I considered it prudent to shield Pakistan Army from the vagaries of politics in Pakistan.
Despite some criticism and undue vilification of the armed forces through mass propaganda and meticulously crafted false narratives, the institutional resolve to remain apolitical will remain steadfast. I am certain that this political quarantine of the armed forces will auger well for Pakistan in the long term by fostering political stability and strengthening the Army-to-people bond.
Historically, Pakistan has enjoyed close relationship with Middle Eastern countries. Even you, as Pakistan Army Chief, have been intimately involved in the military diplomacy in this region than any other place. What in your view is the present status and outlook of this relationship?
Pakistan enjoys a special bond and fraternal ties with GCC and other Middle Eastern countries, which is deep-rooted in our strong religious, historical and cultural affinity. Our traditional ties with brotherly Arab states transcend beyond any cost-benefit calculus. Pakistan remains grateful to our brethren for their generous and unconditional support to Pakistan, especially during testing times. Pakistan, on its part, has always supported the strategic interests of our Middle Eastern friends and would continue to do so in the future.
Military diplomacy is complementary to Pakistan’s foreign policy and plays its due role in fostering Pakistan’s bilateral relations with other countries, including in the Middle Eastern region. Our intimate engagements with the Arab countries at the leadership level have continuously helped nurture the long-standing ties and translate them into practical cooperation in areas of common interests.
I foresee a very robust and broad-based relationship with our Arab brothers in future, which remains exclusive and independent of their bilateral relations with other countries.
What are the main challenges Pakistan facing?
Pakistan is located in South Asia, where stability has remained elusive due to historical conflicts and un-resolved disputes. Perpetual conflict and instability make it the least integrated region in the world despite huge economic potential and a large population.
The region has been referred as the strategic chessboard due to its role in great power rivalries in the past — the recent being the two-decades-long war against terror led by US and the West in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s western border has therefore seen a great deal of instability due to the conflict in Afghanistan. Post-US withdrawal, a modicum of stability has been seen in the country with reduction in violence. However, the situation remains volatile.
Pakistan’s all-weather strategic partnership with China has endured the upheavals of strategic environment through many decades. The ever-sharpening global power contestation, however, now places Pakistan in a delicate position with regard to balancing our relationship with China and the West. Pakistan is trying to steer itself prudently in this increasingly contested strategic environment and ensuring that we are not pulled into any future iteration of cold war.
Our western neighbour Iran’s peculiar geo-strategic orientation has been a source of concern for the international community; however, Pakistan has always desired peaceful and friendly relations with our Muslim neighbour and tried to maintain a positive working relationship.
On the internal front, Pakistan’s successful counter-terrorism campaign has turned the tide of terrorism and we continue to make meaningful efforts to overcome the menace of extremism and residue of terrorism.
Streaks of political intolerance in our society is a worrisome new trend; we will keep striving for a society which is tolerant, rational and does not discriminate on the basis of political orientation, faith, ethnicity or creed.
Another major concern is economic frailty, which tends to exacerbate other issues concerning human security such as health, education, access to food and clean water, and mitigating threats posed by climate change.
In 2017, you started Operation Rudd-ul-Faasad that saw the back of militants broken giving Pakistan few very peaceful years. You also took many initiatives like fencing of Western Border, mainstreaming of FATA, huge educational network in KP & Balochistan. Which of these projects are close to your heart and how do you wish to see them in future.
Pakistan’s nearly two-decade long campaign against terrorism and violent extremism has followed a deliberately conceived plan in response to a constantly evolving threat paradigm. Operation Rudd-ul-Fassad, which, was aimed at elimination of terrorists and extremists groups, is the continuity of our phased drive against militancy, which commenced in 2017 and has helped achieve impressive gains against terrorists and their abettors.
Pakistan has also undertaken a wholesome people-centric developmental approach with focus on mainstreaming of our tribal areas, bringing underdeveloped regions of the country at par with other areas.
The emancipation of people of border areas remains top priority of Pakistan’s civil and military leadership. All these issue are closely intertwined and every step taken towards that direction remains close to my heart.
You are completing 42 years of illustrious service including six years of tenure as COAS. In the backdrop of such comprehensive experience, where do you see Pakistan Army as a fighting force in foreseeable future?
It has been a profound privilege to have served and led one of the finest military forces of the world during a most challenging time in Pakistan’s history. In these four decades, I have witnessed Pakistan Army as a constantly evolving force, which has always orchestrated and synergised its response with the changing threat paradigm and rapidly transforming character of war.
We have worked out plans to effectively align ourselves with the requirements of future battlefield, making the best use of our limited resources.
I foresee Pakistan Army as a cohesive, agile, adaptive and a modern force, which can complement other elements of national power by maintaining a credible deterrent capability to help foster a secure environment for national development and socio¬economic well-being.
What is your message for people, especially youth of Pakistan?
No nation is secure by virtue of its defence forces alone. While the armed forces of Pakistan are ready to sacrifice our lives for the motherland, we cannot succeed without the support of our people, especially the large, dynamic and industrious youth of Pakistan, which constitutes around 60 per cent of our total population.
Pakistan’s armed forces draw their strength and support from Pakistani nation and this support keeps us motivated in confronting the threats to Pakistan’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and internal security.
My message to our young generation, the future of Pakistan, is to devote their time and energy towards education and skill development. Honest toil and selfless exertion are the basis of a progressive society.
The youth must also ensure that they are shielded from divisive propaganda and information warfare that seeks to polarise our society and erode mutual trust. Pakistan should always come first — before any other marker of identity.