Dear General Qamar Javed Bajwa:
Congratulations on being appointed the new Chief of the Army Staff. Welcome to the hot seat. Here’s what you might want to consider as you adorn the four stars– and a heavy responsibility – on your shoulders:
1) You will retire in November 2019. This means you will oversee the final stages of crushing terrorism from Pakistan (we hope); the free and fair elections of 2018 with a peaceful transition of power (we hope) and a Trump-Modi double whammy that may be coming to a theatre near you (we hope not). That’s quite a load of work piled up on your desk. You may want to have a cracking team on your side and we earnestly hope you choose wisely from the best on offer.
2) The first order of work will be to assure the nation the momentum of Operation Zarb-e-Azb will not be slowed but in fact will be accelerated. In the very initial days of your appointment you will need to say or do something that categorically establishes your intentions in this respect. Do keep in mind you have very large shoes to fill. Fill them you must. Pakistan cannot afford you not doing so.
3) Your predecessor clarified a key confusion that was clouding the mind of the nation thanks to most political leaders: the so-called ‘misplaced brethren’ were less brethren and in fact more butchers of our fellow citizens. Your predecessor, after having called them for what they were, proceeded to do what needed to be done. And that too with the requisite ruthless efficiency. But there is still some confusion left about the ‘Non-State Actors’ (NSAs) who it is said mean us no harm, but whose association with us is now making us a pariah in capitals that matter. You were a young officer when this policy was crafted. We have paid an unimaginably high price for it. You will need to bury this policy as an acknowledgement that this is your era, not that of the generals of yore. Your decision can chart the right future for your children and our children. The moment is upon you. Seize it.
4) You will have to deal with the Modi menace. India’s next general elections are due in 2019, the year that you retire. However the campaign for the elections will obviously start much earlier. Modi was currently campaigning for the state elections in Punjab and he has already threatened to stop our waters. He will get worse with time. We will go into election mode next year even though they are not due till 2018 and policy will automatically take a back seat. Not that it has a front seat even now since your predecessor and his predecessor and his one too all gripped the India policy steering wheel firmly. Modi will test you. Modi will push you. Modi will mock you. You should respond in two ways: first, I’m tempted to say turn the other cheek, but don’t. How you nuance this may be themost difficult and important decision that you may need to make. That’s why you have four stars on your shoulders. Second, bring in the civilians. Make them own the India policy. Don’t mock the Pakistani leader; mock the Indian one. And do it with the civilian leadership.
5) Please keep in mind we have a solid case on Kashmir. Modi’s pellet gun policy is making it even more solid for us. And yet the world is not acknowledging our argument. It is no secret that we are spoiling our own case by: a) refusing to realize the yawning gap between what we say and what the world believes we do, b) failing miserably to engage world opinion through imaginative, innovative and aggressive diplomacy by able, articulate and eloquent women and men who can represent us on the global stage. Your time in office is coinciding with a wave of right wing nationalism and xenophobia in important regions of the world. While Trump and Modi glower at us and Ashraf Ghani is impatient to do mischief, you may see Marine Le Pen winning the Presidential election in France, unleashing a “Frexit” thereby killing the European Union for all practical purposes. It may be a long shot for Le Pen, but so was it for Trump. The world is changing. We must adjust accordingly. As must our policy on Kashmir.
6) At home you may want to internalise some home truths: you are not the ‘Umpire’ and you should not be in the business of raising your finger. Actually wait, you can be the umpire (as your predecessors have in the past), but you should not. We hope there is no need for you to play this role. But we also realise that your institution cannot just disengage from non-military affairs of the state and retreat into your own shell. This may happen in the future when the civilian institutions are well-developed and systems are working in consonance with the aspirations of the people of Pakistan. For the next three years, that is a tall order. So while you cannot disengage, you can engage with wisdom and foresight borne of a conviction that national interest demands so. Yes sire, the definition of national interests does change with times, and the one that coincide with your time should include the following: In addition to securing our borders and wiping terrorists and extremists off our land (and de-clawing their apologists), national interest demands you help strengthen all institutions civil and military so that Pakistan can have a safe, prosperous and educated future. You have a key role in firmly establishing this new national interest. Help those who may have lesser institutional capacity to do so.
7) Do not allow your institution to fiddle in the next general elections but do keep a close eye to ensure no one else does either. We are hoping the political leadership will succeed in instituting electoral reforms so that the next elections are the fairest yet. Help them do so if possible.
8) Clean up Karachi. The rot is still there.
9) Your predecessor set an example by holding people from your institution accountable for their misdeeds, and doing so publicly. Such transparency boosted the stature of the armed forces. Do continue this policy to set an example for all institutions.
10) In November 2019, leave the army and the country a better place than where it is today. That would be a legacy any man would be proud of.
Wishing you the best, General Bajwa.
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