Another term for the army chief

Updated 21 Aug 2019


The extension of tenure given to army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had been predicted by many observers.

The move, when it came, was justified by a reference to the ‘extraordinary circumstances’ that apparently could not allow another general to be elevated to the position of chief at this juncture.

However, even though it was an expected decision, the move was certain to draw criticism over a couple of important points that have long been a hot topic of debate in the country.

The first of these involves the absolute necessity of establishing a tradition of uninterrupted succession in an institution which is widely hailed as probably the finest in the country.

The principle of a smooth change of command merits utmost respect, otherwise there would have been no room in the rulebook for the provision of succession.

But it seems that instances of a routine transition are hard to come by in our case.

When Gen Ashfaq Kayani got an extension in 2010, the country was in the middle of a terrible war against militants for everyone to see and factor into any discussion related to Pakistan’s security.

However, even today, the situation is far from peaceful.

The Americans may be planning to withdraw from Afghanistan, but we now have a very tense situation with India, especially with the Kashmir crisis exacerbated by the Modi government.

Given the long history of turmoil in the region, it is unlikely that the situation will ever be perfect, but if regular, unhindered succession at the top is a worthy enough objective, the political leadership and the country’s arguably most organised and efficient institution will have to learn the ways of allowing the normal process to go on, even in times of regional troubles.

The second, much-discussed point pertains to the political class.

In 2010, the then-PPP government drew a lot of flak for allowing Gen Kayani to stay for an additional three years.

Among the strongest critics of the move was the current Prime Minister Imran Khan, who argued that under no circumstances was such a departure from principles justified. That was then.

In power since August 2018, Mr Khan has taken so many steps against his own, earlier principled positions that indulging in any kind of defence of his stance now would be a sheer waste of time.

He has indeed come a long way since the days when he struggled to appear unhurt by criticism about his alleged U-turns. At this time, his government has a number of pressing concerns to deal with.

Surely, it must try and live up to its own vision of itself as a powerful setup that is capable of taking on all challenges that previous governments before it dared not — not least because of the proximity between the prime minister and the army chief.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2019