Army chief’s tenure: What objectivity demands?

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Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi

RECENTLY, the official spokesperson of Pakistan People’s Party Qamar Zaman Kaira has advised General Qamar Javed Bajwa to not extend his tenure as the country’s army chief. “We believe that he won’t take an extension,” Kaira said on July 26. “When we gave an extension [to former army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani], it was given out of compulsion. Prima facie, the statement arguing our army chief not to have any extension in his service tenure is nothing but an illogical solicitation because of the fact that the army chief has nothing to do in this regard, it is the prerogative of the government to do so. And yet, the objectivity of national interest warrants that if the government decides to extend the tenure of Gen Qamar Bajwa, there appears no solid justification that why he should not accept it.  Objectivity is the ability to maintain a realistic perspective and keep personal bias to a minimum. 
National interest is a dimensional concept debating — decisions at the operational level tend to be conceived within a narrow context in which only a few dimensions are considered whereas decisions at the aspirational level as well as explanations and rationalizations refer to national interest as a whole and to the broad principles involved in it. Some of our fellow Pakistanis are discussing whether the country’s current army chief should be given a new term in office beyond November when he is normally set to retire. Proponents who are many; and opponents —(who are few) of extending General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s term — argue for or against why his stay in office or departure would best serve the interests of the military and Pakistan. Normally, four factors play a crucial role in making the selection of the COAS: seniority, merit, professional competence and loyalty. Anyone factor could stand out when the final decision is done but one thing is certain, while appointing the COAS in Pakistan never remains business as usual and against all the forecasts and predictions, the final choice of the political leadership surprises all of us. But here the case is different because of the existing understanding between Prime Minister Khan and the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
As for Gen Bajwa’s military profile, in August 2011, he earned the Hilal-i-Imtiaz (Military) and was subsequently posted as an instructor at the School of Infantry and Tactics in Quetta. Thereafter, he taught staff course at Command and Staff College in Quetta, and a course on national security at the National Defence University, Islamabad.  On 14 August 2013, Major General Bajwa gained promotion to three-star rank and was posted as field commander of the X Corps — stationed in Rawalpindi. He was appointed as Grade-I officer during his tenure as field commander of the X Corps.  In 2014, Lt-Gen Bajwa was accordingly appointed as Colonel Commandant of Baloch Regiment. On 22 September 2015, Lt-Gen. Bajwa was posted in the GHQ-Rawalpindi where he served as the Inspector-General of the Training and Evaluation (IGT&E), then he was a PSO to the then-COAS, General Raheel Sharif.
But since assuming the charge which is generally regarded as the most powerful position in the country, General Bajwa has had left no doubt about who remains in charge. A little more than a year after he took command, there has already been talk in the country of the “Bajwa Doctrine” fostering Pakistan’s approach to foreign and domestic policies indoctrinating our army chief’s deep and balanced vision. One primary objective that underpins the Bajwa Doctrine is to reorient or improve Pakistan’s foreign relations with the neighbours and near neighbouring countries including Turkey, Japan, Malaysia while other important objectives— include the establishment of lasting peace by hitting out at core common issues of terrorism and extremism, and maintaining pivotal relations with the UN, the EU, the OIC—and yet also resetting Pakistan’s relations with the major powers, the USA and Russia. Correctly, Pakistan’s security and its sovereignty have organic link with economic stability. In this regard, it has been the sane wisdom of the army chief to endorse the policies of the present government in terms of economic and tax reforms.
In view of some analysts: “If Bajwa continues as the army chief, Pakistan can meet key economic, foreign policy, and national security milestones during the next one to two years, It will also strengthen Imran Khan’s leadership.”  Though there is no lack in our army officers’ professional competency, the officers— who are to follow after Bajwa’s tenure— are all very capable. But in the given context, the doctrine of national objectivity and stability favours Bajwa’s extension. Bajwa’s achievements are primarily based on addressing the commanding challenges such as the National Action Programme (NAP), making an uplift in civil-military relations, and reorienting strategic vision in our foreign policy.
The current US visit of Premier Imran Khan and Gen Qamar Bajwa seems to drive the most strategic exigency of making an extension into the service tenure of Gen Bajwa since his continued presence as the army chief is crucial to achieving the desired objectives.  Pakistan’s deepening tension with India is significant factor in this regard. It is also an undeniable is a fact that the dangers of FATF’s fatal benchmarking against Pakistan are still hovering over.  In the given scenario, our national interests are supreme, particularly the security situation of our homeland and while keeping the objectivity in terms of the strategic outlook of our foreign policy, the Government may extend the service tenure of the COAS.
Nevertheless, it has become abundantly clear that a subjective debate may ponder unrest in our social circles thereby creating confusion in our public policy quarters that is not good for our security concerns. It is notions of pragmatism, security Doctrine and gravity of our national interest that we must show our positive concern regarding our national matters. To impart a vital stimulus towards the goal of national stability, we must avoid promoting our personal bias and prejudice.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.

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