ISLAMABAD: Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was on Monday given another three-year term in office by Prime Minister Imran Khan, allowing him to keep the command till November 2022.

A notification signed by the PM, which was released by his office to the media, read: “Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is appointed as Chief of Army Staff for another term of three years from the date of completion of tenure. The decision has been taken in view of the regional security environment.”

As Gen Bajwa’s current tenure was to end on Nov 28, he will now remain in office till the penultimate year of Mr Khan’s tenure. However, the PM’s move was by no means a major surprise as many keen observers of politics and civil-military relations expected an extension in his tenure if not another full tenure.

Mr Khan during his opposition days had remained opposed to giving an extension to the military leadership. Commenting on the extension given to then army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani by the Pakistan Peoples Party government in 2010, he had in a television interview said: “Western countries, historically even during wars, never gave extensions. Institutions function according to their laws and when laws are changed for a person, what Gen Pervez Musharraf did and what all dictators do, institutions are destroyed.”

PM Office says decision has been taken due to regional security environment

In 2016, Mr Khan in his reaction to Gen Raheel Sharif’s decision on not seeking extension tweeted: “Gen Sharif’s statement will strengthen the institution of the army and nations are built on strong institutions.”

Over the past two decades, Gen Sharif was the only army chief to have retired on time though he went on to command the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition soon after his retirement.

“Regional security” was cited as the reason for extending the service of Gen Bajwa for three years. Currently, efforts for a deal between the United States and the Afghan Taliban being facilitated by Pakistan are at an advanced stage, while tensions with arch rival India have exacerbated due to the situation in held Kashmir. India earlier this month annexed the disputed territory of Kashmir and imposed curfew and restrictions on communications while taking thousands of Kashmiris in custody under special laws. Tensions over Kashmir have spiked sharply since the killing of Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani in 2016. The situation on the Line of Control has deteriorated every year since 2012.

Most of the commentators who appeared on TV channels after the announcement regarding the extension hailed the move, explaining that the external security environment demanded continuation of the command. The very few critics of the decision were very reserved in expressing their opinion. None of the main opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party, formally commented on the decision.

The latest announcement has now stirred speculations about the fate of the incumbent Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Zubair Hayat and his office. It is yet to be seen if he too gets an extension; Gen Bajwa will hold both offices after his retirement; or a new chairman will be brought in. Gen Zubair is scheduled to retire later in November.

The impact of the decision on the promotion chain of the general officers is also under discussion, as one or two lieutenant generals at the top of the seniority line are likely to be affected depending on whether or not a new chairman joint chiefs of staff committee is designated. Lt Gen Sarfraz Sattar would have been the senior most in November, followed by Lt Gen Nadeem Raza and Lt Gen Humayun Aziz.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2019