A doctrine in hand…

Updated 03 Apr 2018

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LAST week was dominated by clarifications. But for once, these clarifications were issued by state institutions. The head of ISPR, the military’s public relations wing, held a press briefing; holding forth about this and that, he also chose (coincidentally) to clarify exactly what the Bajwa doctrine was about. It was a concept that dealt with and had to be seen through the lens of security, he explained.

He was followed by the chief justice of Pakistan who felt the need to clarify his decision to meet the prime minister of Pakistan, while the prime minister too clarified his position as a petitioner on behalf of Pakistan in an angry speech.

Also read: Indiscretions or misreporting?

But while the clarifications by the civilians are a ‘developing’ story, the DG’s presser was aimed at putting to rest the debate about the Bajwa doctrine and its parameters. This ‘clarification’ was deemed necessary after a spate of articles and discussions in the press and electronic media, which seemed to associate the doctrine with support for democracy; concerns about the 18th Amendment and even the accountability process, apart from security issues.

Hence, Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor felt the need to explain that the doctrine had to be seen through the security lens and not be linked to domestic politics.

Some more details may be required for further clarity on the ‘Bajwa doctrine’ and for a more informed debate.

Concisely, he described the three aspects of the doctrine: preventing a resurgence of militants; border management (to prevent militants from crossing into Afghanistan or into Pakistan) and a weapons-free Pakistan. He then referred to the terrorism-free country, which existed prior to 9/11, adding that we needed to rewind back to those happier times.

Nostalgia and good intentions aside, some more details may be required for further clarity on this doctrine and for a more informed debate.

A doctrine should ideally be a large concept which can help guide or shape specific policies or strategies, over decades (if need be). Take one of the most famous doctrines of the Cold war era, the Truman doctrine.

Stating that the Soviet Union was essentially an expansionist power, the doctrine (named after the then president of the United States), aimed at providing support to any state threatened by ‘communism’. Initially, this resulted in financial help to states such as Turkey and Greece; later, the Marshall Plan to assist the war-torn economies of Europe came about.

The doctrine helped shape the famous ‘containment policy’ of the US towards the Soviet Union, which stayed in place for most of the Cold War, leading even to military interventions such as the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

And why was it named after Truman? Because till his tenure as president, Washington was still inclined to pursue a less hostile policy towards Moscow which had been an ally of the US towards the end of the Second World War.

In contrast, the Bajwa doctrine so far, appears to offer no such specific details, a Unique Selling Point so to speak, which would allow observers to distinguish it from a general policy of a state. Which state does not aim for peaceful borders or a violence-free society? Surely, this cannot be a significant departure from the recent past?

Second and more importantly, a vague doctrine seems to deny the contribution of the previous army chiefs, and hence, the institution as a whole.

Take the idea of a peaceful Pakistan, free of militancy, which is said to be part of the Bajwa doctrine. Is this a goal that has come to light now? Have we, including the military, not been working for this, for some years now?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a larger goal has been ascribed to an individual.

During the tenure of Gen Raheel Sharif, commentators in mainstream media as well as unknown social media warriors behaved as if the good general, by taking the decision to take the war into North Waziristan, had somehow begun the war against militancy in Pakistan.

Gen Raheel Sharif may have taken the critical decision of going into North Waziristan and extending the operations into Karachi and other urban areas, but he built upon the successes of his predecessor.

Indeed, it was Gen Ashfaq Kayani who built the foundation (and more) of the war against militancy. It was under him that the Pakistan Army cleared Swat and six of the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas. One can debate and criticise his decision to not extend the operation to North Waziristan but one cannot deny his contribution to the progress Pakistan made against militants. It was this success that Sharif built on; allowing him to move the military into North Waziristan as well as begin the ‘intelligence-based operations’ against terrorist rings in urban centres. Gen Bajwa is now building on the work/effort of both Kayani and Sharif.

There is another way of looking at these military operations — all the three chiefs were simply carrying out operations to clean the country of militancy because that is what the military, as an institution, considered the appropriate policy. Since the time of Kayani, military officials continue to point out that most of the senior generals have served in the conflict-ridden areas of the country and that they are aware of the militant threat facing the country.

Indeed, the experience and perception of those in a position to formulate policy, shapes that policy. Perhaps, what we have seen post 2007 is an institutional policy — and an institutional policy can’t be called a doctrine, which is ascribed to an individual.

For this is then unfair to the institution and its policy.

This is not to say that Gen Bajwa doesn’t have the foresight or the vision to shape a doctrine. He can. But his team needs to provide more details, allowing those of us on the outside to understand how this doctrine is different from what came before and from what his predecessors were aiming for. Indeed, every leader can aspire to leave behind a legacy but this requires more than just concluding a war begun earlier.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2018