The existence of the purported doctrine was first mentioned by DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor earlier this year. Now, following a briefing by army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa to a group of journalists and anchorpersons, it has been indirectly revealed to the country as the so-called Bajwa doctrine.

Ostensibly a template for bringing peace and security to Pakistan and the region, the doctrine also delivers a blueprint for addressing complex and ingrained governance and economic issues in the country. Several points need to be made.

First, it is a welcome move by Gen Bajwa to speak to the media. His predecessor, retired Gen Raheel Sharif, was all too visible in public-relations campaigns, but opted not to address the media or answer questions. Given the pre-eminent position the army chief has in the national security, and also political, framework, the holder of the office should face the media and answer questions.

Perhaps Gen Bajwa ought to consider making his media interactions more formal and bringing them on the record — the words of the army chief can be of much national and international significance.

Second, because Gen Bajwa’s comments were neither recorded nor publicly broadcast, there is some confusion about the words he chose and the sentiments he expressed. A clarification would not just be welcome, but arguably essential because of the controversy the quotes attributed to him have stirred.

The transition to democracy is headed towards a third consecutive on-time election, but the democratic project is obviously in some kind of danger. In an environment of such uncertainty, it does not help for an army chief to have remarks attributed to him that can be perceived in democratic quarters as questioning the legitimacy and substance of democracy here.

Previously, when such misgivings were expressed, it presaged a period of either democratic turmoil or military rule. Gen Bajwa has been quoted as insisting that the military has left the era of coups and democratic tinkering behind and expressing an unambiguous desire to see the democratic project continue.

That positive message should not be obscured by controversy over other remarks pertaining to the 18th Amendment or an unprompted expression of support for the superior judiciary. Perhaps Gen Bajwa can clarify the proper context of all remarks attributed to him.

Third, the military as an institution should recognise that for democracy to survive and deepen in the country, all institutions must remain within their constitutional domains. Military input in national security and foreign policy is overwhelming, but there is an undeniable role for the military leadership in helping shape those policies.

Economic policy, centre-province relations and governance matters, however, are civilian domains. Improvement in all those areas is desirable, but it must flow through constitutional channels and be overseen by those with legitimate credentials. Being well-meaning is not the same as having the necessary expertise.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2018

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