In November 2016 General Qamar Javed Bajwa NI(M) HI(M) was sworn in as the 10th Chief of the Army Staff of the Pakistan Army. He was expected to relinquish the post in November 2019. However, the government extended the tenure by three years citing the regional security situation at that time. Currently, Gen. Bajwa is expected to serve in the position until November 2022.
In 1980, he was commissioned into the Baloch Regiment’s 16th Battalion. He served as a General Service Officer to previous X Corps commanders, then as a brigadier, and subsequently a major general in the same sector. Before serving as GOC, X Corps, Rawalpindi from August 2013 to September 2015, he was Force Commander Northern Areas.
The X Corp is one of the most powerful and prominent corp, responsible for the region along the Line of Control. General Qamar Bajwa as a Brigadier also served in the United Nations mission in Congo (MONUSCO). He was also the commandant of Quetta’s School of Infantry and Tactics.
When General Qamar Bajwa took over the command, military leadership was confronted with a plethora of issues. The precarious situation along the Line of Control with India, Afghanistan’s instability and conflict, and the separatist challenge in Balochistan are only a few to consider.
Looking back at his 6 years tenure as COAS, some of the achievements of General Bajwa are commendable.
In view of escalating resurgent attacks in Pakistan, General Qamar Bajwa ordered the beginning of Operation “Radd-ul-Fasaad” (RuF) as soon as he assumed command of the Pakistan Army. The operation’s name translates to “eradication of strife/discord.”
According to ISPR, the aim was to eliminate the lingering threat of terrorism. The purpose shifted attention away from large-scale military operations and toward intelligence-based operations to consolidate and optimize gains earned in previous military actions since 2002.
RuF was a follow-up to the government’s National Action Plan (NAP), a 20-point strategy to combat extremism and terrorism threats. On February 22, 2021, after four years of IOBS, Op RuF came to an end.
Over 375,000 IBOs were completed in four years, according to the DGISPR. Over 64,000 guns and 5.1 million rounds of ammunition were recovered during 34,000 raids in Punjab, 150,000 in Sindh, over 80,000 in Balochistan, and more than 72,000 in KP. 78 terrorist organisations, on the other hand, were singled out and their assets were frozen. The operation improved the security situation and provided stability to the country.
Pak-Afghan Border Fence
The fence of the porous Pak-Afghan border is another notable success under Operation RuF. To strengthen the security situation along the international border, work on fencing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border began in 2017. Around 2,600 kilometers of the border had been walled, according to authorities, with the remaining 21 kilometers to be completed this year.
Two sets of chain-link fences are separated by a 2-meter (6-foot) area filled with concertina wire coils, forming the border barrier. Surveillance cameras and infrared detectors are installed in the double-fence, which is 3.6 meters high (11 feet) on the Pakistani side and 4 meters high (13 feet) on the Afghan side. In addition, approximately 1,000 forts are being built along the border to improve security. After the project’s completion, which is projected to cost more than $500 million, cross-border transit will be limited to 16 formally designated crossing points.
The Royal United Services Institute came up with the term “Bajwa Doctrine” after General Bajwa’s remarks at the 54th Munich Security Conference in 2018, outlining his vision for Pakistan.
Asif Ghafoor, the then-DG ISPR, affirmed the “Bajwa Doctrine.” It serves as a blueprint for restoring peace and security in Pakistan and the region. It provides a roadmap for tackling the country’s complex and entrenched governance and economic concerns. According to veteran writer Suhail Warraich, the doctrine shifts Pakistan “After 70 years of extreme chauvinism into the doctrine of realism while focusing on the peaceful coexistence with the neighboring countries.”
Suhail Warraich’s article in News International brings out the whole content and context of doctrine. According to this, the doctrine supports the country’s democratic future, as well as capable institutions and a strong constitution.
Under this approach, the COAS, together with the political leadership, firmly backed the Afghan peace process and assisted the US in withdrawing its troops. It also expects equal collaboration with the United States on equal footing while refusing to be hired gun for wars. Whereas the concept effectively strove to follow peaceful existence with neighbors along the Western and Eastern borders. This concept fulfilled the need to revive the strong bond between Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
Similarly, despite a focus on peaceful coexistence, the doctrine is not weak when it comes to defending the country. It also declares that if provoked or threatened, the country would defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity with all of its military strength.
It envisages Pakistan’s transition from geopolitics to geoeconomics, with a focus on long-term regional and internal stability, peaceful coexistence with neighbors, regional connectivity and commerce, and long-term growth through international and domestic investment.
The doctrine has successfully navigated through troubled waters. The current government’s approach to improving economic health, increasing law and order in the country, securing the borders, helping Afghanistan in humanitarian crisis are few to be counted as the merit of the doctrine.
Tension with India
The doctrine, on the other hand, envisions peaceful relations with neighbors. It also advises against adversarial misadventures. The situation of relations with India has been shaky, and relations with the present Modi government in India have taken a nosedive. The tensions along the LOC, as well as India’s repeal of Article 370, have taken a toll on both nations’ ties. Both nuclear-armed powers came dangerously close to war in February 2019, when Indian fighter jets flew into Pakistani airspace in retaliation for claimed Pakistani complicity in the Pulwama attack on Indian soldiers in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Pakistan, on the other hand, dismissed India’s claim, dismissing the attack as a political stunt by Modi’s government to boost domestic support ahead of elections. Pakistan’s retaliation for Indian intrusion into its airspace was swift and ruthless, culminating in the downing of an Indian fighter plane and the arrest of Indian pilot Abhi Nandan.
However, the return of the pilot by Pakistan as a peace gesture was met by India with another controversial act by revoking the autonomy of the disputed Kashmir valley in August 2019. Since then both states have had minimal diplomatic relations with each other. Pakistan has called again and again for peace with the condition of fully restoring the Indian-held Kashmir’s autonomy. Meanwhile, there is news in certain circles that Pakistan and India are holding talks discreetly to improve their relations.
The relations with India have been a challenge for every sitting Army Chief. While General Qamar Bajwa has tried to restore some kind of relations, to his dismay it has remained a dream.
CPEC Security and relations with China
Pakistan’s ties with China have become stronger over time. With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), both nations have shifted away from military cooperation toward economic cooperation. Pakistan and China signed a $50 billion partnership that includes infrastructure development, energy cooperation, and the construction of the Gwadar port, among other things. So far, the project has weathered every storm.
Whereas, the current government’s emphasis on building economic zones and promoting international and local investments has ushered it into the second phase. In this respect, the COAS engaged the country’s business community, helping civilian leadership, explore hidden opportunities and resolve challenges impeding economic progress.
Similarly, Gen Qamar Bajwa has repeatedly reiterated his support for CPEC while also his resolve to guarantee the safety of Chinese engineers working on various projects. CPEC has continued to help the country despite the obstacles and increased threats from Baloch separatists supported by hostile agencies.
Efforts have been made to address Baloch separatists’ issue by focusing on development in Balochistan as well as attempts to integrate separatists into the national circle. The initiatives, however, have yielded mixed outcomes. Some chose to join the national circle while others upped their attacks on government and security installations. Notwithstanding hurdles, the leadership is committed to achieving the full potential of CPEC projects.
Crisis in Afghanistan
The presence of US forces in Afghanistan battling the Taliban was perhaps one of the most challenging situations. Pakistan’s actions, particularly its military backing, pushed the US and the Taliban to the negotiating table. It aided the United States in withdrawing its soldiers from Afghanistan. However, it is important to note recent developments across the country’s western border with Afghanistan.
The security situation deteriorated after the Taliban reached an agreement with the US to pull out its troops from Afghanistan after a disastrous 20-year war. The United States’ departure from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s quick seizure of Kabul wreaked havoc on the country, driving refugees back into Pakistan. The military leadership’s earlier efforts proved instrumental in keeping the situation under control.
Border fence aided troops in maintaining complete control of the country’s western border. It also kept undocumented refugees out, ensuring the country’s internal security. Pakistan has stood with Afghanistan in trying situations and has urged the international community to assist the Afghan people in their current humanitarian disaster. For Pakistan, to adequately address the remaining vulnerabilities on the Western border, patience and strong leadership are required. General Bajwa has provided such leadership in this regard and any future Army Chief will surely provide the right kind of leadership.
In Pakistan, the most difficult challenge is to maintain a positive civil-military partnership. The Army, being a powerful institution, has always had a say in the country’s security and foreign policies, particularly with India and Afghanistan. However, there was minimal strife under General Qamar Bajwa’s leadership.
General Qamar Bajwa, a fervent admirer of democracy, backed the elected government to a greater extent. The present administration, led by Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has long valued a harmonious military-civilian partnership. The military career of COAS, who is set to retire in November 2022, has been extended by the government since 2019. The civil-military leadership synergy also aided the civilian administration in taking daring actions such as the Kartarpur Corridor near the Indian border to facilitate the Sikh pilgrimages visiting the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, one of the holiest places in Sikhism. It has also remained steadfast to support economic policy, which has a high political cost for the government.
Although the opposition, particularly the PML-N, has criticized the COAS and blamed him for the ousting of previous Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Army has categorically denied this assertion.
Meanwhile, General’s legacy turned controversial when Imran Khan’s government was ousted under vote of no-confidence in April 2022.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s entire career has progressed significantly. Since the present COAS is leaving office in November, discussions have emerged to anticipate the future successor. The next COAS has yet to be confirmed, even though many people believe their predictions. Irrespective of who assumes charge of the Army, the problems that General Bajwa has faced will remain, necessitating strong leadership from all levels of power.