General Qamar Javed Bajwa: An Analysis of the Challenges Before Him
I wrote an introductory assessment on General Raheel Sharif when he took over as the Pakistan Army Chief in 2013, for South Asia Defence and Strategic Review. Analyzing the personality and his work by placing the Indian Army matrix on a Pakistan situation and personality is usually quite simple. Doing it from a realistic Pakistani angle is more challenging. In the last three years, I have met several Pakistani Generals as part of Track 2 diplomacy and perhaps understood a bit more of Pakistani psyche.
The first myth I therefore wish to bust is that General Bajwa is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s choice. Anything to do with the Pakistan Army is only the choice of the Pakistan Army itself, of an unseen diffused power center controlled by a nexus of veterans, the ISI and others who form a part of the Deep State. I think this message needs to be read and re-read by many who do business with Pakistan or intend to do so.
The next myth which needs busting is that General Bajwa was helpful to the survival of Nawaz Sharif during the dark period when the political sit in of the capital was being orchestrated by Imran Khan and his cohorts in 2014. Bajwa was then GOC 10 Corps, the high profile Corps of the Pakistan Army which is responsible for J&K but headquartered at Rawalpindi. The notorious 111 Infantry Brigade, responsible for many a coup is on the order of battle of this Corps at Rawalpindi. Gen Raheel Sharif was then the Chief and a strong one at that. Whatever transpired then at Rawalpindi was under his direction; so no need to have deductions where no factors exist.
General Bikram Singh, former Indian Army Chief, while extolling the virtues of high professionalism of General Bajwa his erstwhile subordinate commander in the UN in Congo, mentions in the same breath that he expected General Bajwa to now work as per the norms of functioning and interests of his Army and nothing else.
That is what it will be. General Qamar Javed Bajwa is not a second generation Infantry officer of the Baluch Regiment for nothing. He will wish to imprint his stamp of excellence and achievements as the Pakistan Army Chief even as he remains the Colonel (Head) of the Baluch Regiment like three of his predecessors, Generals Yahya, Aslam Beg and Kayani. Yet, it is best not to be presumptive about anything. Neither should one expect a complete change of heart with an olive branch being offered to India nor an increase in bravado at the LoC and in the hinterland of Kashmir which will eventually permanently ruin the informal ceasefire of Nov 2003.
I continue to believe that a senior military commander comes to his appointment with his own calling, intellect and experience. No doubt national interest of his nation will prevail in his mind but that can be construed as per perception. We have to wait to glean which side General Bajwa would lean although reportedly he has made it known that he is inclined to believe that Islamic radicalism poses a greater threat to Pakistan than India. This was the belief of General Kayani and Raheel Sharif too. The latter in particular went selectively hammer and tongs after the unfriendly terror groups and radical elements but stopped short when it came to the India focused ones, LeT, JeM and the other elements of the United Jehad Council (UJC).
There is a deduction heard in some quarters of the strategic circle in India that since Gen Bajwa has had three tenures in Pakistan 10 Corps he will perhaps be inclined to focus on his comfort zone, Kashmir. This deduction may also stem from the fact that during the last five years Gen Bajwa has had nothing to do with the operations of the Pakistan Army against the unfriendly Islamic radical groups. There are Generals galore in the Pakistan Army who have been blooded in this ongoing fight which at one time had as many as 22 of Pakistan’s approximately 66 active brigades deployed in the internal security duties. Unprofessional military men focus on comfort zones, the really diehard professionals perceive national interests and concentrate on that.
Gen Bajwa is obviously a professional to the core. Otherwise the Pakistan Army would not have sent him to the Canadian Staff College at Toronto and the Naval Post Graduate School Monteray Bay, US. Or for that matter a non-professional would not have headed the Pakistan Brigade in Congo and received accolades from even General Bikram Singh, India’s former Army Chief and in 2007-8 the GOC of the UN Division which comprised the Indian and the Pakistan brigades.
At the cost of repeating umpteen times in my assessments even in this publication let me say it again. Pakistan’s security priorities are three. The inter se priority keeps changing as per situation. These are :-
• Stabilizing the internal security situation in Pakistan. This includes the Western border and tribal areas, Karachi and Baluchistan. One of the considerations in this is also the security of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
• Securing the strategic space in Afghanistan.
• Continuing the destabilization of India with the strategy of inflicting a ‘thousand cuts’. Kashmir is the focus of this strategy.
So clearly Gen Bajwa, who is also General Raheel Sharif’s choice, is going to initially follow the beaten path of his predecessor and that emphasizes on internal security to the maximum. The activation of the Kashmir front, both the turbulence within the Valley and at the LoC/Jammu IB, is a response to the surgical strikes and a temporary affair in the current priorities. The attempt to inflict maximum casualties on Indian troops is a way of acknowledging that the surgical strikes did take place and were successful. Gen Raheel Sharif could not have admitted to them publicly; it would have meant a huge loss of face and made it mandatory to refocus the effort from internal security to Kashmir. Without creating a hype, the Inter Services Public Relations is revealing in bits what it feels it is achieving in Kashmir and the LoC. It perceives no loss of credibility for General Raheel Sharif. The announced shift of two divisions worth of troops from west to east is also a part of this purpose; the shift may never take place. It is the information game which General Raheel Sharif played masterfully.
Gen Bajwa will take time getting into this and till then will probably play Gen Sharif’s policy. Indian media assessment has continuously harped on his Kashmir experience and orientation to conclude that he will go hyper in his policy on Kashmir. In other words this conclusion points towards the Kashmir and ‘thousand cuts’ front taking permanent primacy under him. This is a fallacy. If anything, a sound ex Corps Commander of 10 Corps should himself understand the futility of threatening the cease fire. Three things will remain a constant unless Gen Bajwa can push hard to change. First, is the linkage of Islam to security of Pakistan as perceived by Pakistan’s strategic community and the armed forces. Second is the strategic link with China. Third the permanent state of enmity with India that gives the Pakistan Army its position in hierarchy and society. It would take a revolutionary to turn this around but within that ambit there can be flexibility and the borders can be quiet.
For us in India it is important to start projecting to the Pakistan strategic community the futility of battling for J&K. This is something we have never done with any level of focus. Our hold over J&K is not fragile at all nor is the desire of the people to be a part of Pakistan. Pakistan’s ability to bring turbulence to J&K year on year is with the intent of the ‘thousand cuts’ policy. Pakistan itself bleeds far more because of this. If we decide to take a ‘reverse thousand cuts’ to different parts of Pakistan over the next few years it will bleed even more. The idea that Pakistan can be made to bleed much more than it can make us bleed is what needs clear projection to the public, strategic community and the leadership. Perhaps this can start right now.
Gen Bajwa isn’t going to believe any of this. His own staff won’t let him believe it. So for him it is going to be business as usual. So even as he wrestles with numerous briefs over the next few days we will know soon whether he is a pragmatic sensible General who wishes to keep the LoC quiet or one of the dyed in the Pakistani wool wooden headed soldiers who won’t think beyond his nose.