Twenty months before his due date of retirement (Nov 2019), Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa during an informal talk with a selected group of journalists shared some of his views (they remain institutional as long as he occupies the office of army chief) on reshaping policies. Being termed the “Bajwa doctrine” both in the local as well as the foreign press, these views it seems were more governed by reason than controlled by the dictate of policy. The best part of the general’s discourse with journalists was that he laid out ‘his (institutional) vision of the possible policy changes’ right on the table. That way at least both the local and the international audience know about the current military mindset and mentality in how this powerful institution in Pakistan looks at its contribution to the joint effort together with the politicians in taking the country forward in the coming years and decades.
While General Bajwa may retire in 20 months or so, his doctrine which most definitely is institutional is most likely to remain the ‘prescriptive device’ as permanent as the border fencing on the Durand Line, something that this doctrine most emphatically showcases as a physical display of the permanent end to the concept of strategic depth. Not a mean achievement given the warm embrace this concept has been receiving by some of the generals in the preceding years.
From warding off the threat of being driven ‘back to the stone age’ and engaging in a form of ‘preventive diplomacy’ to engaging in a ‘proactive diplomacy’ to stand up against all threats, has the time and circumstances not changed? Post 9/11 General Pervez Musharraf responded to the American threats the way he (institution) deemed it fit. How General Bajwa today looks at taking them up as a challenge is how the institution deems it fit now.
Is 17 years of military involvement and operations in the war on terror in any way a short period to build on an enabling environment created by the sacrifices given by the military and the whole nation? Who else is better suited to talk about it than the very head of the institution that has led the nation in this war.
Ideally, policy must understand the capabilities and the limits of the instrument it employs. In a developed world, policy does that by engaging in repeated ‘national security dialogues’ with the instrument. Here the instrument laments policymakers to change their behaviour in order to improve their own image thus improving the image of the very institution they represent. While politicians may still be groping for strategic and doctrinal clarity on most of the things that the general said — to put it simply what national security meant in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was quite different from what national security means today in a ‘stability maintaining’ environment created by continued and enduring military operations.
In essence — an enduring vision of national survival and for what the military will stand for in the post-stability period of war on terror in a rule-based competitive international environment? For this if we need to review and reshape our policies such as peaceful coexistence with our neighbours, peaceful coexistence with the world, border fencing where necessary, improvement of relations specifically with India (The military inviting the Indian defence attaché and senior diplomats of the Indian High Commission to attend the recent 23rd March parade), constitutional changes that create balance and order in society rather than look like treaties that consolidate the hold on power regardless of what happens to society.
Clausewitz, the great military thinker, wrote that “war is an extreme trial of strength and stamina”. The Pakistani nation has undergone and is still undergoing that extreme trial. A ‘singular genius’ whether military or political will not be able to lead the way of national redemption. Any doctrine will have to take advantage of collective wisdom of both the policymakers as well as the implementers. Policy would do well to understand the changing nature of war and how it is being fought today — more pronouncedly by other means. The bloodless victory can only be achieved by being interdependent and interconnected in an alliance system thus being part of an international system that utilises economic tools as a means of extending national/regional and global preferences. The changing nature of war demands jettisoning obsolete concepts and ideas and so too the outdated ideologies. We have been slow, too slow to even up and straighten up our alignment with the world that increasingly believes today that ‘war is no longer politics but economics by other means’.
General Bajwa’s doctrine seems more significant and relevant seen in the backdrop of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) action plan that has now subjected us to a monitoring process.
Planning a future course of action, change in the national policies without concrete political participation is as dangerous as allowing the politicians to interfere with the details of accomplishing any battlefield military operation. Both are doomed recipes for successful civil or military policy orientations. In the developed world, reassessing the nature of threat and matching capabilities to challenge these threats is a routine phenomenon and a continuous process. Why is it termed an individual doctrine when a person or an institution does some deliberation on it here? To me it has got everything to do with the lack of institutional communication. This too is so lopsided in favour of the policy that it can go ahead and accuse publicly the instrument of manipulating politics but the instrument even when it draws the national attention to what the nation needs to do to fashion its policies to overcome the threats it faces it is accused of overlooking its mandated constitutional role.
The big question that needs to asked is not who is subservient to whom (as that is pretty much written in the constitution) — the big question is should all institutions of the state not rally together to extend the interests of the state instead of extending the interests of the government of the day?
In the war on terror that we fight if we have reached the ‘culminating point of the victory’ which in military jargon is described as a ‘moment in battle that an attacking force having achieved superiority over its adversary ought to halt its advance and consolidate its gains rather than continue fighting’ then fighting must stop. Not with the adversary but of instrument with policy. Without this happening, no doctrine will be worth its mettle to take us out of the troubles we have faced as a nation for such a long time.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2018.