Gen Qamar’s political legacy leaves much to be desired

Experts say former army chief took interferences to a new high


Rizwan Shehzad   December 05, 2022
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa arrives to attend the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad, March 23, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

ISLAMABAD:

The “Bajwa doctrine” had clothed itself as being the wave of the future but in fact, it was a reversal of that -- it was going back to a time where the security establishment controlled the political authority.

During around four years of the PTI rule, the debate about selected and selectors kept echoing, the same-page mantra was often manifested, and the notion of political engineering did not fade away.

This happened under the watch of former chief of army staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Then the focus shifted to the theory of staying apolitical.

However, the claim of the army not interfering in political matters from a certain point fell flat on Thursday night.

On that night, PML-Q leader and Punjab chief minister’s son Moonis Elahi shocked everyone when he revealed in a talk show that he and his father supported the PTI at the time of the no-confidence motion against then premier Imran Khan in April this year on the instructions of Gen Qamar.

“Gen Qamar told us to support Imran,” Moonis left little to imagination.

Read more: ‘Gen Bajwa showed us the path to support PTI’, says CM Elahi

The startling admission came in the wake of Gen Qamar’s recent statement that the institution had decided to stay apolitical since February last year.

The former army chief had conceded that the main reason for the military's criticism was its “unconstitutional” involvement in politics for the last 70 years.

“So in February [last year], the army decided after a lot of deliberation that it will not interfere in any political issue,” he added.

Gen Qamar’s statement vowing to stay away from politics in the future had come as an attempt to restore army’s shattered public image but the damage had already been done.

In the words of a PTI leader, who did not want to be named, Gen Qamar’s last desire before retirement was to make political rivals sit across a table and leave behind a stable political situation, which could not be fulfilled.

However, Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob was pretty blunt in expressing his views on the matter.

“He [Gen Qamar] is leaving behind a shattered public image of the army as a legacy because of the choices he made during his six years in command,” Mehboob said.

“Although the army was accused of intervention in the country’s politics long before Gen Qamar’s appointment as the COAS, the level of these interferences during his time reached a new high,” he added.

The political expert said Gen Qamar’s involvement in holding international negotiations on economic, commercial and political relations as well as presiding over sessions to brief the opposition on behalf of the prime minister on issues including the provincial status of Gilgit-Baltistan were only some of the examples where he flouted his jurisdiction.

The PILDAT president listed down several other occasions when Gen Qamar had interfered in the political domain, including the “exit of Nawaz Sharif as premier under highly dubious circumstances, election and installation of Imran under equally controversial conditions and reported interventions in parliamentary proceedings to help the PTI government as publicly claimed by the party chief himself”.

In addition, Mehboob added that the acceptance of a second three-year term as the army chief under the shadow of court proceedings, apparent engineered support of the parliamentary parties for the needed amendment to the Constitution and Army Act for his extension, alleged control of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to regulate the accountability process to suit his political ends, and continuing the tragedy of people going missing were only some of the highlights of the six-year journey of Gen Qamar.

Also read: Imran accuses Gen Bajwa of playing ‘double game’ against his govt

Nevertheless, PM Shehbaz has lauded Gen Qamar’s services, despite knowing that his elder brother and three-time premier Nawaz had accused the former army chief in October 2020 of toppling his government, pressuring the judiciary, and installing the regime of former PM Imran in the 2018 elections.

Nawaz, while speaking via video link from London to a gathering organised by the then united opposition at Gujranwala, had said Gen Qamar had “packed up our government, which was working well, and put the nation and the country at the altar of your wishes”.

He had blamed the generals and the judges for what he said were trumped up charges.

Mehboob incorporated that one measure of gauging Gen Qamar’s contribution was to check whether the institution was in a better shape at the time of his departure than it was when he had assumed command.

“Apparently, the institution has been made much more controversial today than it was six years ago,” he noted.

“Except for the outright military takeovers, the lowest point in civil-military relations occurred when an ISPR DG publicly ‘rejected’ a notification issued by the PM’s office through a tweet under the watch of Gen Qamar. Sadly, Gen Qamar, in my opinion, is not leaving a legacy which can be celebrated,” the PILDAT president said.

PML-N Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, while expressing his views in the Express News’ talk show, The Review, said Gen Qamar had a very good legacy in non-military areas.

“The Kartarpur corridor was an excellent soft-power initiative,” he added.

In addition, the veteran politician pointed out that Gen Qamar was the first army chief to admit that Pakistan’s Afghan policy was wrong while delivering a speech in Munich in February 2017.

Sayed observed that the involvement of the DGMO and GHQ in achieving the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) targets was another area where results could not have been achieved without the military’s involvement.

However, the senator noted that Gen Qamar’s legacy of political interference was negative.

Sayed stressed the need to close the chapter of giving extensions to army chiefs once and for all through a constitutional amendment.

He added that there should be no extension in the tenures of army chiefs as it led to political bargaining.

The veteran politician, who is also the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Defence, said extensions were politically motivated from both sides and caused harm to the institution, the person concerned and the country.

In response to a question about the army’s decision to stay apolitical, Sayed said nobody could switch on or off on staying away from politics.

He added that the 2023 general elections would prove to be a litmus test for the retired army chief's recent announcement.

Surprising as it may seem, over a dozen political leaders from the PML-N, PTI, PPP as well as political and defence experts were asked to share their comments on how was Gen Qamar’s six-year tenure for democracy in Pakistan and what legacy he was leaving behind but only Mehboob responded.

The rest simply stayed quiet, knowing that it was a risky zone and one should avoid treading on it.

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