Pakistan's Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Photo: Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations/Handout via Reuters
Pakistan's Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Photo: Pakistan Inter Services Public Relations/Handout via Reuters

In any developed country, news of the extension of the tenure of the chief of army staff, or his departure, means nothing, as in most cases, few people in these countries remember who he is. However, in Pakistan, things are different, as it is the military that controls the proceedings, directly or indirectly. So when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government announced three-year extension of the tenure of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, it not only hit the local headlines but global publications also covered the news.

The extension did not come as a surprise, however, as almost every informed person knew that Washington is desperately seeking Islamabad’s help in brokering a deal with the Afghan Taliban and the government could not afford to let Bajwa retire and depend on a new army chief who might have different views from the PTI.

The general is famous for his “Bajwa Doctrine.” For the last two years the Pakistani media have been kept under tight control, with dissenting journalists fired from their jobs or faced with invisible bans from their profession. Opposition leaders are declared corrupt and traitors, and many put behind bars so the puppet government of the military establishment can sail smoothly.

This doctrine of Bajwa is the same as the one General Ayub Khan had in the 1960s, the only difference being that Ayub was leading a coup-installed regime from the front whereas Bajwa cleverly is ruling from behind.

Bajwa is no doubt a capable general who unlike his predecessors does not want to indulge in any sort of direct or indirect conflicts with neighboring countries and thinks that economic progress is the key to the country’s success. However, being the face of the military establishment and famous for his doctrine, he has to face the criticism for his role in designing the country’s artificial political discourse. Three more years in office for Bajwa means that Prime Minister Imran Khan will increase the intensity of the crackdown against the opposition, and possibly against dissenting journalists as well.

The news and print media always try to portray Bajwa as a savior of the nation and convince people that he is indispensable. The political parties are not far behind, and from the ruling PTI to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, every one has congratulated General Bajwa for the extension of his tenure. The surprising thing is that PML-N is the party that has suffered a lot at the hands of the invisible forces and its supremo Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz have been victimized for not taking dictation from the establishment.

Sharif now has been in prison for a year, and Maryam Nawaz is being held in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) without even being convicted in any charge, while PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif is still somehow dreaming like Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote that he will one day mend the fences with the establishment and will get a share of the power chessboard.

Bajwa is not the first army chief who has taken an extension. Ayub Khan, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, General Pervez Musharraf, and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani too got such extensions, and just like this time, the media and opportunistic politicians and journalists praised them and declared them vital for the country’s survival. However, after the departure of those generals, the same media people and politicians criticized them for worsening Pakistan’s problems.

General Bajwa, being an avid reader and a good chess player, should know that as long as he enjoys power the opportunistic segment of the media and political parties will hail him and praise him, but as soon as he leaves office the same people will start pointing to his flaws

So General Bajwa, being an avid reader and a good chess player, should know that as long as he enjoys power the opportunistic segment of the media and political parties will hail him and praise him, but as soon as he leaves office the same people will start pointing to his flaws. However, this should not be the main worry for Bajwa at the moment; right now he needs to tackle the issue of Kashmir, as the situation in the Indian side of that region is getting gloomier every day for the people living there. He also needs to convince the warmongers segment of Pakistani society that a direct or indirect war is not the solution for Kashmir. He also needs to deliver the desired results in Afghanistan for Washington, lest the Donald Trump administration again leave Pakistan in isolation.

Bajwa’s main battle remains on the political and economic fronts. Imran Khan, the man selected by the establishment to be the symbolical face of democracy in Pakistan, so far has proved to be a major embarrassment, as neither is he able to garner diplomatic support for Pakistan nor is he able to attract investment or bring new ideas to revive the ailing economy.

On the other hand Maryam Nawaz, the vice-president of PML-N, has to be kept behind bars, as she was not only putting immense pressure on Khan and his government but she was openly challenging the hegemony of the military establishment. In fact, she went to the highest level of risk by openly taking on the establishment in her public gatherings.

A bleeding economy and rising popularity of Maryam Nawaz in Punjab are the real problems for Bajwa and the establishment to address as soon as possible. The problem, however, remains that despite the flow of US dollars and an International Monetary Fund loan package, the economy is still in shambles. The use of the NAB to harass politicians and investors who have sympathy for the opposition parties has closed the doors to local and foreign investment. The stock exchange is witnessing a bloodbath on a daily basis, while the devaluation of the currency and imposing direct taxes on businesspeople has resulted in a decline in the circulation of capital and business in the country.

The Bajwa Doctrine has been successful up to now because it has the power of the state and resources behind it, and that is the reason that despite its miserable performance in the governance and economic domains, the PTI government is still surviving, as it has the backing of the establishment.

However, Maryam Nawaz has made a hole in the ship sailed by PTI and the establishment, first by exposing how a judge was blackmailed into sentencing her father Nawaz Sharif and then by connecting a vibrant youth movement to her party, which even her father was not able to do. She may or may not be able to sink the ship right away, but the hole she has created is enough to sink it at some point.

The establishment can forcefully keep the political discourse intact but it cannot force the economic discourse to act at its will. If the establishment is willing to continue with the same old ideology of keeping a puppet like Imran Khan in power, it is destined to lose the game. On the other hand, if PML-N wants to ride two boats at the same time, it is also destined to drown, as Maryam’s narrative is the one that has given life to the party after the arrest of Sharif.

The stakes are high but so too are the potential rewards for the opponents on the political chessboard. Right now this war is between the doctrine of Bajwa and the narrative of Maryam Nawaz – one a soldier of good repute within his institution and the other a lady with an iron heart and the will to risk everything to turn the tables.

Interesting battles on the political chessboard lie ahead in Pakistan, where according to whistleblowers November or December could bring many changes.

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