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General’s Session

by Newsweek Pakistan

Farooq Naeem—AFP

Some crucial takeaways from Gen. Qamar Bajwa’s appearance at the Senate

On Dec. 19, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa faced the Committee of the Whole at the Senate in Islamabad for four hours and answered some “tough and tricky” questions from the senators, which were subsequently “leaked” to the media.

It was a far cry from then-Army chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani’s appearance in Parliament after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011. Unlike Kayani, General Bajwa was accompanied by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen. Naveed Mukhtar, Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Major General Sahir Shamshad Mirza and Military Intelligence (MI) Director General, Major General Asim Munir.

What apparently took the senators aback was the bluntness with which General Bajwa made the stance of the Army clear about its role in Pakistan—that it was not involved in destabilizing elected governments. His most important assertions were as follows:

  • The situation in Rawalpindi would have become aggravated if the Army hadn’t brokered a deal between the government and members of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah to end their 22-day sit-in at the Faizabad Interchange. He said the Army became a signatory to the deal “in good faith” but the sit-in should have been taken care of early in its unfolding and not allowed to spiral out of control. He said the Army was not behind the sit-in and if anyone could prove to the contrary, he would resign from his post.
  • He said he firmly believed in democracy and supremacy of the Constitution. However, he did not deny mistakes in the past with reference to generals Zia and Musharraf.
  • Bajwa said that the military was ready to back the political leadership in any initiative for normalization of relations with archenemy India.
  • On Iran, he said Islamabad and Tehran could not be adversaries but the Army’s efforts for a rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh had received a “lukewarm response” from Saudi Arabia.
  • His most crucial observation was that a dozen retired Army officers currently appearing as discussants on TV channels had not not briefed by the Army. He said the men were free to speak their minds as citizens of Pakistan following retirement, and had nothing to do with the Army.

Most of the senators were overjoyed by what they heard, especially as the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) was constantly hinting at the “hidden hand of the establishment” behind the ouster of its prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. There was however one exception. PMLN Senator Mushahidullah Khan stated after the session: “Forget about civilian and military leaders being on one page. Civil-military issues are a reality.”

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