Tumultuous tenure of Gen (Retd) Bajwa

ByRao Tashfain

Banker with an interest in international affairs


December 10, 2022

Tumultuous tenure of Gen (Retd) Bajwa

Rao Tashfain recapitulates a crucial record of six years

The tumultuous tenure of Gen (Retd) Bajwa belonged to the generation born in the swinging sixties and joined the army in what Shuja Nawaz, younger brother of former COAS Gen Asif Nawaz, a reputed author considered a weighty voice in Pakistani military matters, refers to as ‘Zia bharti’ and was commissioned in Baloch regiment famed as one of the earliest raised infantry regiments in the subcontinent along with the Punjab regiment and Frontier Force regiment aka Piffers. He had the ideal physique for an army officer with his over 6 foot height suitably supported by a well-proportioned large physical frame made it possible for him to tower over rest of his colleagues. He was generally known to be of amiable disposition with easygoing manners and his desi instincts were considered predominantly strong in his personal makeup. He was rated to be an ‘all-right’ officer that in military parlance means an officer well-suited to the acceptable mien of army life and its traditions.

His career progression was also quite normal as he served in recognised field, staff and instructional positions steadily rising through the ranks. On attaining the two-star rank he was posted as Commandant Force Command Northern Areas, a hardship posting based in Gilgit-Baltistan and then big break in his career came when he was given the 10 Corps, stationed at Rawalpindi, to command when he was promoted as 3-star general. By another stroke of luck his boss at the time Gen (Retd) Raheel Sharif was denied extension as COAS and the top position suddenly fell vacant. The top man marked for the position then was late Lt Gen (Retd) Ashfaq Nadeem but he fell foul of highly opinionated PM Nawaz Sharif who by passed not only him but also Lt Gen (Retd) Javed Iqbal Ramday who was related to retired SC justice Ramday and the number fourth in seniority Bajwa got the chance of a lifetime. It is also very strongly believed that his father-in-law Maj Gen (Retd) Ejaz Amjad played a crucial role in the elevation of his son-in-law.

Right from the outset the problem with Tumultuous tenure of Gen (Retd) Bajwa was that he had to match the systematically manufactured larger-than-life figure of Gen (Retd) Raheel by ISPR and this was a challenge Bajwa could not shake-off till the very end. Gen (Retd) Bajwa took time to assert his persona in public and in the first few months he focused on consolidating his command through promotions and transfers of key officers in both command and staff positions. Most of his selections played important role in the future events and some of them became highly controversial. He brushed aside the methodology devised during the tenure of Gen (Retd) Raheel to fight internal terrorism through operation Zarb-e-Azb and instead launched his own version termed as Radd-ul-Fassad that ultimately witnessed terrorism raising its ugly head again.
In the course of changing the tack Gen (Retd) Bajwa transitioned the military from heavy-kinetic operations to intelligence-based operations targeting terrorist holdouts and sleeper cells. The emphasis was two-pronged as along with tackling terrorism it also attacked crime-politics-corruption nexus. This influenced the course of politics in the country as under Gen (Retd) Bajwa’s stewardship the military leadership believed that while its officers and men were laying down their lives combating terrorism, civilian governance was not improving and was being constrained by corruption. This was probably a misplaced notion as the brunt of terrorism was borne more by the civilian segment of the country and considering that the entire civilian populace is at fault was a great misnomer.

Throughout his stay at the helm he tried to outdo Gen (Retd) Raheel and this urge compelled him to clinch an extension of tenure through a contentious process that perpetually shut the door for such maneuver in future. Gen (Retd) Bajwa was aware of the risk and kept on trying to plug the gap by changing strategy repeatedly. Quite obviously the fissures have widened over with the passage of time and the situation has come to a pass where the civilian population of the border areas of Pakistan has mounted an agitation campaign against the high-handedness of the security forces in the area.

It was in the spirit of competition that Gen (Retd) Bajwa unveiled the so-called Bajwa doctrine that, inter-alia, envisioned better relations with neighbouring countries, a balance in dealing with world powers, eliminating violent extremism and de-weaponising and mainstreaming terrorists. It was widely believed that Bajwa doctrine was a military-centric interpretation of the state of affairs confronting the country and suggesting solutions that are considered over-centralised in content despite the strong nation-wide urge for decentralising decision making. The heavy security overtones of the doctrine went against the popular democratic demands of provincial autonomy that is largely supported by all major political parties of the country. The army circles consistently defended the premise around which Bajwa doctrine was woven and repeatedly pointed out that it was only a concept around security and had nothing to do with the country’s political and constitutional matters though in practice it was not the case.

In an effort to dilute the raw emphasis on security angle Gen (Retd) Bajwa tried to amend the content of his doctrine and expanded its vision by stressing the importance of a shift from geopolitics to geo-economics and this alteration in emphasis was dubbed as a major shift in the perception of the military though many observers were not entirely convinced of the sincerity of its intention. This shift pointed out the army under Gen (Retd) Bajwa was advocating boosting intra-regional trade and connectivity and bringing sustainable development through the establishment of investment and economic hubs. One crucial offshoot of his policy was his advocacy of moving towards lasting and enduring peace within and outside and the non-interference of any kind in the affairs of Pakistan’s neighbours and regional countries. This tendency saw the practical side getting strengthened by the gradually stamping out of artillery bombardment on Indo-Pak borders and holding of ceasefire. One aspect of Gen (Retd) Bajwa’s legacy was emphasis on hybrid warfare that he insisted was the new challenge Pakistan was facing. This so-called fifth generation warfare was intended to weaken Pakistani internally and to divide it on ethnic basis but many critics termed these claims as the pretext invented by Gen (Retd) Bajwa to justify his extension in tenure.

The concluding phase of Tumultuous tenure of Gen (Retd) Bajwa was mired in controversy as he was reported to be intensely interested in obtaining a short extension in his tenure ostensibly to clean-up the mess his erratic policies have created in the country. He would be remembered as head of the army who witnessed the maximum number of political chief executives turned out of office and in a country where establishment is suspected to be involved in all such events, it is hard not to expect that he had nothing to do with them. It was quite obvious that almost all political forces were unified in ensuring that Gen (Retd) Bajwa quits the scene and not only that but that his close coterie of associates should also be made to stand aside and that is precisely what happened. TW

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