Outgoing army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is set to retire tomorrow, has said he is certain that the “political quarantine of the armed forces” will bode well for Pakistan in the long-term.
“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 augur well for Pakistan in the long-term by fostering political stability and strengthening the army-to-people bond,” he said in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.
Gen Bajwa’s statement comes as the military has in recent months reiterated that it has decided to remain apolitical. The statements from the army’s top brass came amid accusations that the military meddles in the country’s politics, often favouring one political party or the other.
In his last public address as the army chief on Nov 23, Gen Bajwa identified the military’s “unconstitutional” interference in politics for the past 70 years as a reason for the institution being criticised by the people.
“This is why in February last year the army, after great deliberation, decided that it would never interfere in any political matter. I assure you we are strictly adamant on this and will remain so,” he resolved while addressing the Defence and Martyrs day ceremony.
Elaborating further on the subject in his interview with Gulf News, Gen Bajwa said the Pakistan Army had always remained a dominant player in national decision-making.
“Due to its historic role in the country’s politics, the military drew severe criticism from public and politicians alike,” he said.
“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,” he said.
Gen Bajwa went on to say that in his opinion, public support and affinity towards the armed forces tended to erode when the military was seen to be involved in political affairs.
“And, therefore, I considered it prudent to shield [the] Pakistan Army from the vagaries of politics in Pakistan.”
Commenting on the current challenges Pakistan was confronting, Gen Bajwa first highlighted regional instability.
“Pakistan is located in South Asia, where stability has remained elusive due to historical conflicts and unresolved disputes. Perpetual conflict and instability make it the least integrated region in the world despite huge economic potential and a large population.”
He stated that the region had been referred to as a “strategic chessboard” due to its role in great power rivalries in the past — the recent being the two decade-long ‘war on terror’.
“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 a reduction in violence. However, the situation remains volatile.”
He also spoke about the “delicate position” Pakistan found itself in amid “the ever-sharpening global power contestation” between the United States and China.
With Islamabad now having to balance its relationship with Washington and Beijing, he said, “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 [the] cold war”.
In this connection, he also mentioned that Iran’s “peculiar geo-strategic orientation” had 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 from, Gen Bajwa said terrorism had abated inside Pakistan after the country’s successful counter-terrorism campaign, and “we continue to make meaningful efforts to overcome the menace of extremism and residue of terrorism”.
However, “streaks of political intolerance in our society is a worrisome new trend,” he said.
“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,” he resolved.
Gen Bajwa also termed Pakistan’s “economic frailty” as a cause for concern, saying it tended 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 reply to a question about ties between Pakistan and Middle Eastern counties, Gen Bajwa said the former had a special bond and fraternal ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council 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,” he said, adding that Pakistan remained grateful to “our brethren for their generous and unconditional support to Pakistan, especially during testing times”.
Pakistan, on its part, had always supported the strategic interests of its Middle Eastern friends and would continue to do so in the future, he said.
Gen Bajwa also spoke about the role of military diplomacy in fostering ties with countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, saying that “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”.
In his message to the youth, the outgoing army chief again stressed the significance of people’s support for the army.
“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.
He went on to urge the youth to devote their time and energy towards education and skill development. “Honest toil and selfless exertion are the basis of a progressive society.”
At the same time, 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.”