By Khaled Ahmed
December 30, 2017
On December 19, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa faced the Committee of the Whole at the Senate in Islamabad and answered some “tough and tricky” questions from the senators which they later “leaked” to the media. It was a far cry from the appearance made by the former army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in parliament after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011. What took the senators aback was the bluntness with which General Bajwa made the stance of the army clear about its role in Pakistan — that it was not involved in destabilising elected governments.
His most important assertions were as follows: One, the situation would have been aggravated if the army hadn’t brokered the deal between the government and the organisers of the 22-day sit-in at Faizabad interchange, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah. He said the army officer became a signatory to the deal “in good faith” but the sit-in should have been taken care of early in its unfolding. The army was not behind the sit-in and if that is ever proved, he would resign. Two, he firmly believed in democracy and the supremacy of the constitution. However, he did not deny past mistakes with reference to generals Zia and Musharraf.
Three, he said that the military was ready to back political leadership’s initiative for normalisation of relations with arch-enemy India. Four, on Iran, he said Islamabad and Tehran could not be adversaries but the army’s efforts for a rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh had received a “lukewarm response” from Saudi Arabia. Five, his most crucial observation, that a dozen of retired army officers appearing as discussants on TV channels were not briefed by the army. He said that after retirement, they were on their own as citizens and had nothing to do with the army.
The senators were overjoyed by what they heard, especially as the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PMLN) was constantly hinting at the “hidden hand of the establishment” behind the ouster of its prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. There was, however, one exception. PMLN Senator Mushahid Ullah Khan stated after the four-hour session: “Forget about civilian and military leaders being on one page. Civil-military issues are a reality”.
Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani on Wednesday rightly lost his cool over senators leaking the details of the in-camera briefing. What use is the word “in-camera” if the house is going to hit the town with details not meant to be aired to the public?
Yet, the leak has turned out to be benign and has disarmed suspicions all around. The image of the army has improved, the commitment of the current army chief highlighted by his sincere admission that the “interventions” of the past army chiefs will not be repeated. He asserted the subordination of the army to the constitution and the role it clearly defines for the armed forces. One must also bear in mind that the Senate is dominated by two parties that the army chiefs of the past have not been kind to, overthrowing or bullying their governments and derailing the judiciary from its designated role.
Consider this: There was a “long march” and a “Dharna” by Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf and Allama Tahir ul Qadri’s Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PTI) in 2014 against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) government assisted, according to a senior leader of the PTI, Javed Hashmi, by the ISI through a retired officer.
Brigadier (retd) Ejaz Shah had moved from his residence in Lahore Defence Society to a guesthouse in Islamabad to plan the assault strategy of the Khan-Qadri duo. Brigadier Shah was being connected to an earlier rumour that ex-ISI chief General Pasha had visited Lahore. Pasha was also connected with the earlier “visit” of Tahir ul Qadri to Pakistan and his party’s sit-in protest against the PPP government in January 2013. This was finally confirmed by Hashmi who disclosed to a TV channel that Shah had prepared the entire “script” of the party’s action-plan and had got PTI chief Khan to go to London to meet PAT chief Qadri secretly in the first week of June 2014. The cult of “Dharna” since that year has brought Pakistan to its knees. This is what the current army chief of Pakistan has forsworn and that is news worth leaking.