Prime Minister Imran Khan has extended the tenure of Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for another three years. The decision was expected in the current external situation, especially after heightened tension with India over the Kashmir issue.
The decision also comes at a time when Pakistan is playing a key role in peace talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban. Analysts say the extension was necessary in view of the existing geopolitical situation, which has been defined by rising hostilities in occupied Kashmir and progress in the Afghan peace process, which stands at a critical stage. Talking to the media, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Prime Minister Imran had used his constitutional authority to extend General Bajwa’s tenure in view of the regional situation. He said the decision would send a clear message to Pakistan’s neighbours that there is continuity and clarity in the country’s leadership.
Analysts say the Army Chief was not interested in an extension but the prime minister must have asked him to continue his job in the wake of the regional security environment. Changing horses in midstream could not have been a wise decision. The security situation demanded Prime Minister Imran Khan to retain the most important member of his team. It is an extraordinary decision in an extraordinary situation, they say. According to defence analyst Talat Masood, “We are going through a sensitive time and it is imperative that our civilian and military leaderships retain the connections that they have made with each other. India has stepped up its offences. On the other hand, there is a prospect of a huge change in Afghanistan and right now it is not clear what kind of situation will develop in the war-torn country. This is a positive step in the light of the regional situation, as there should be continuity in the leadership.”
However, the opposition is not happy over the decision. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has not reacted to the move. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which during its last tenure gave a similar three-year second term to the then Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, described it as an undesirable action that “could undermine the morale of the troops.” PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar said extensions in service were not advisable and should not be viewed favourably. “It impacts adversely on the career prospects of scores of offices in the hierarchy and consequently on their morale. The army is a strong institution and strong institutions do not depend on individuals no matter howsoever competent and brilliant,” he maintained. He reminded Prime Minister Imran Khan of his past stance on the issue of extensions and how he had welcomed former Army Chief General Raheel Sharif when he announced that he was not considering any extension 10 months before his scheduled retirement. The Awami National Party (ANP), in its reaction, termed the government’s decision “a payback” and feared that it could politicise the institution. The opposition’s stance on the extension only proves its double standard. The PPP itself committed the same “mistake” in the past and its allies, including the ANP, kept quiet.
Many politicians and analysts contended that the decision was necessitated by the situation on the eastern border. Defence analyst Lt-Gen (retd) Amjad Shoaib said an exceptional regional situation had warranted an extension for General Bajwa, otherwise it was preferable that institution’s systems functioned normally. Referring to one of his earlier conversations with General Bajwa, whom he described as a simple and straightforward person, Shoaib said the Army Chief too was convinced that he should retire in time. But a sudden change in the regional situation, especially the developing scenario in Afghanistan and India-held Kashmir, caused the rethink. Regional governments, he said, were very comfortable with General Bajwa and the government was “not confident” that it would be able to smoothly handle regional matters if he left.
According to a notification issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, “General Qamar Javed Bajwa is appointed Chief of Army Staff for another term of three years from the date of completion of current tenure. The decision has been taken in view of the regional security environment.” The notification was personally signed by Prime Minister Imran Khan. The last line of the notification says all. General Bajwa was appointed the Chief of Army Staff by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in November 2016. The extension in his tenure marks the second time in nearly a decade that the country’s top general had his traditional three-year term extended. The first time was in 2010 when the then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, after consultation with the then President Asif Ali Zardari, had granted an extension of three years to the Chief of Army Staff at the time, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Experts see rare harmony in relationship between the country’s civilian and military leaderships in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first year in office. Last month, General Bajwa defended the tough economic measures taken by the PTI government as “difficult but extremely essential”. It was a second occasion in a week when General Bajwa had spoken on the economy. Earlier, he had dwelt upon the economic situation at a seminar and blamed financial indiscipline and timid decision-making in the past for the current fiscal mess in the country and endorsed the steps being taken by the government to deal with the situation and sought public support for the economic plan. Earlier, the Pakistani Army decided to voluntarily slash its budget for the current fiscal year to help the government tackle a critical financial situation.
The extension in General Bajwa’s tenure was expected in the current external security situation, while the internal situation has improved considerably under his command. When General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s tenure was extended in 2010, the country was in the middle of a war against militants. The situation is not different on Pakistan’s border with India. India is violating ceasefire agreements on the Line of Control (LoC) and targeting civilians in Pakistan. It has changed the status of occupied Kashmir to convert the Muslim majority into minority. Pakistan expects a false flag operation in Azad Kashmir. In the contest, the retention of the current command was necessary.