General Qamar Javed Bajwa is retiring as army chief in the next few days, and as his six-year tenure at the head of the military comes to a close, we look back at some of the major events that punctuated his time at the helm of the Pakistan Army.

His selection

It is widely believed that on November 26, 2016, then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif saw in General Qamar Javed Bajwa a military leader who would steer clear of politics and by virtue of that distance, restore some balance to the civil-military equation.

Historically, the civil-military balance of power in Pakistan has been tilted in the military establishment’s favour, and Nawaz, a three-time premier, has seen his share of discord and falling out — including a coup that led to his ouster in 1999 — with the army leadership.

It was, then, plausible for him to pick someone he believed to be a proponent of the army not intruding into the civilian space as the successor to retired Gen Raheel Sharif.

Gen Bajwa, who was posted as the Inspector General for Training and Evaluation at the General Headquarters at the time, seemed to fit the bill.

  General Qamar Javed Bajwa calls on then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif on November 26, 2016 after he was named as the chief of army staff. — APP/File
General Qamar Javed Bajwa calls on then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif on November 26, 2016 after he was named as the chief of army staff. — APP/File

And so, his selection as Pakistan’s 16th army chief was finalised.

He took the armed force’s command on November 29 six years ago, superseding four other generals who were recommended for the top slot.

Retired general Raheel Sharif hands over baton of command to General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad

The day Gen Bajwa was named as the new army chief, there were two terror attacks — one among them at a Frontier Corps camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Mohmand region.

The attacks were a prelude to what the new chief would be dealing with. The menace of terrorism, which had gripped the country for long and had transiently abated after multiple military operations, was rearing its head again.

To combat this fresh resurgence, the military launched Pakistan’s first countrywide operation against terrorism, Radd-ul-Fasaad, on February 17, 2017.

Radd-ul-Fasaad, which roughly translates to ‘elimination of discord’, was initiated to indiscriminately eliminate “residual/latent threat of terrorism”, consolidate gains made in other military operations and further ensure Pakistan’s border security, the military’s media affairs wing explained at the time of its launch.

The operation has been underway for over five years now, and Gen Bajwa has said it is ensuring the country’s transition from “uncertainty to peace”.

One of the significant steps taken under Radd-ul-Fasaad is the fencing of the 2,600km-long Pak-Afghan border — a move that has since faced resistance by the Taliban regime that regained power in Kabul last year.

  This 2017 file photo shows a view of the Pak-Afghan border fencing in the Kurram region.—  Photo by Ismail Khan
This 2017 file photo shows a view of the Pak-Afghan border fencing in the Kurram region.— Photo by Ismail Khan

The fencing began in June 2017 in an effort to improve the security situation along the international boundary, and in January this year, then-interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced it was almost complete.

But around the same time, videos surfaced on social media, purportedly showing Taliban fighters dismantling a portion of the fence along the frontier, claiming it was erected inside the Afghan territory.

Separately, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid also issued a statement, disregarding the need for the fencing.

But, the Pakistan Army remains resolute to complete the task.

Nawaz out, Imran in

While the army continued action against terrorism, Nawaz had his own battles to fight.

In April 2016, just months before Gen Bajwa was named as army chief, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists made 11.5 million secret documents available to the public. The documents, called the Panama Papers, revealed links between Nawaz’s family and eight offshore companies.

By the time Gen Bajwa replaced retired Gen Raheel Sharif in the army chief’s role, Nawaz and his family were already facing investigations and court proceedings over corruption allegations linked to the Panama Papers revelations.

The long and winding saga eventually concluded with Nawaz’s disqualification from public office in November 2017 — but not because the Supreme Court found him guilty of corruption.

It was revealed during the investigation in the Panama Papers case that Nawaz had failed to declare his income from a Dubai-based firm while serving as the prime minister. The apex court concluded it was enough grounds to declare he had not been “honest and faithful” — a pre-requisite for the chief executive’s office under the Constitution.

For the third time, Nawaz’s tenure as prime minister ended prematurely on July 28, 2017.

The military’s involvement in his premature ouster in 1999 is no secret, with the takeover orchestrated by then-army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf. But this time around, there were no immediate, outright accusations against Gen Bajwa for his removal. There were a few murmurs though, about the establishment’s intervention. And the speculation was but natural.

Because, as a Dawn editorial says: “The establishment has a long history of meddling in politics. It has directly ruled the country for three decades. Analysts have pointed out that when not ruling directly, it has pulled strings from behind the scenes to oust elected governments, propped up pressure groups, created divisions in parties to split their vote bank, financed opposition parties to destabilise elected set-ups, etc. in order to maintain its grip on political power.”

This observation, coupled with visibly strained civil-military ties following ‘Dawn leaks’ — a story published in Dawn that reported the details of a high-level civil-military meeting discussing the issue of banned outfits operating in Pakistan — was enough grounds for whatever little speculation there was about the establishment’s role in Nawaz’s ouster.

An open and direct allegation by Nawaz came two years later, when he was residing in London.

In September 2020, the PML-N supremo vehemently criticised the military at a multiparty conference of opposition parties of the time and alleged that there was “a state above the state in the country”.

In subsequent public addresses, he named Gen Bajwa and then-Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed, accusing them of toppling his government, pressuring the judiciary, and installing PTI chief Imran Khan’s government in 2018 elections.

In his eyes, it seemed, Gen Bajwa was no more the agreeable army general who believed in the army limiting its functions to its constitutional role.

The military denied Nawaz’s allegations and, Imran, who had succeeded him as the premier, excoriated the PML-N supremo for his criticism of the establishment.

Imran, a cricketer-turned-politician, whose rise to power is widely believed to have come through the military’s benevolence, saw his predecessor’s criticism of Gen Bajwa as a bid to “pressure” the establishment into removing a “democratic government”.

This was two years before the PTI and PML-N leaderships would change positions in accusing the military establishment following the ouster of a civilian government and defending it against those allegations.

But prior to that, there would be other ‘interventions’.

An intervention made twice

TLP protesters throw a tear gas shell back towards police during a clash in Islamabad on Nov 25, 2017. ─ AFP/File
TLP protesters throw a tear gas shell back towards police during a clash in Islamabad on Nov 25, 2017. ─ AFP/File

In November 2017, activists of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — the political wing of late firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan — blocked the Faizabad interchange that connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad through the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road, both of which are two of the busiest roads in the twin cities.

The agitators were furious over an amendment to the Elections Act, 2017, under which they said a sworn oath affirming a politician’s belief in the finality of Prophethood (Khatm-i-Nabuwwat) was deliberately modified. They were demanding the resignation of then-law minister Zaid Hamid, who would eventually give in to their demand, but only after days of unrest.

Their blockade of the Faizabad interchange would go on for a total of 20 days. They only called off the protest when the government — after the intervention of the army, following a failed police operation — accepted several of their demands.

An agreement was signed between the two sides, with then-ISI chief Gen Faiz Hameed as the ‘guarantor’.

The agreement credited the army chief and his representative team for their “special efforts” and read, “We are thankful to him (Gen Bajwa) for saving the nation from a big catastrophe.”

Former Punjab Rangers DG Maj Gen Azhar Naveed distributes cash among the activists of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah on November 27, 2017 so that they can meet expenses for trip back home. — Online/File
Former Punjab Rangers DG Maj Gen Azhar Naveed distributes cash among the activists of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah on November 27, 2017 so that they can meet expenses for trip back home. — Online/File

Following the accord, an infamous video clip of then-Punjab Rangers director general Azhar Naveed Hayat went viral on social media in which he was seen distributing cash envelopes among the protesters. Police officials present at the time told reporters that the protesters were given Rs1,000 in cash each so that they could return to their homes.

The military’s role as a mediator and guarantor between the government and TLP was largely seen as the army getting ahead of its constitutional role. The intervention sparked a controversy and the Islamabad High Court lashed out at the government, as well as the army, for the role assigned to the military “as the mediator” in the agreement.

The Supreme Court took also suo motu notice of the matter and in its judgment issued in 2019, it directed the government, law enforcers, intelligence agencies and the army’s media wing to operate within their mandate. The apex court also ordered the federal and provincial governments to monitor and prosecute those advocating hate, extremism and terrorism and initiate action against armed forces’ personnel found to have violated their oath.

  Supporters of the banned TLP gather as they prepare to march on towards capital Islamabad, during a protest in Gujranwala on Oct 28, 2021. — Reuters/File
Supporters of the banned TLP gather as they prepare to march on towards capital Islamabad, during a protest in Gujranwala on Oct 28, 2021. — Reuters/File

Yet, the mediation was, purportedly, repeated around three years later when the TLP took to the streets again and stirred unrest in multiple cities, with plans to converge on Islamabad.

This time, they sought the release of their incarcerated leader, Saad Rizvi — who succeeded his father Khadim Rizvi as leader after his death — and the expulsion of France’s ambassador over the publication of offensive caricatures depicting the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in a French satirical magazine.

In mere days, the protests turned deadly and the violent episode ended after the government and TLP came to the table for another round of talks.

The new agreement was facilitated by Mufti Munibur Rehman and some other religious leaders after a National Security Committee meeting, chaired by then-PM Imran and with General Bajwa in attendance, decided on a course of action to deal with the matter.

While there was no official confirmation of the extent of the military’s role in mediating the 2021 resolution, Saylani Welfare Trust Chairperson Maulana Bashir Farooqi, who was among the facilitators of the agreement, told the media at the time that the army chief was “1,000 per cent in favour of bringing peace in the country” and was absolutely clear that there shouldn’t be any use of force against the protesters.

“It is because of his blessings that everything got done,” The Express Tribune quoted Farooqi as saying.

The army chief’s vision

More than two years after Gen Bajwa took charge as army chief, the nation was introduced to the ‘Bajwa doctrine’.

The existence of the doctrine was first mentioned by then-Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) director general Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor in January 2018. Then, following a briefing by Gen Bajwa to a group of journalists and anchorpersons, it was indirectly revealed to the country as the ‘Bajwa doctrine’ in March.

Media reports said the doctrine envisioned better relations with neighbouring countries, a balance in dealing with world powers, eliminating violent extremism and de-weaponising and mainstreaming terrorists, to name a few of the areas it covered.

A Dawn editorial described it as “ostensibly a template for bringing peace and security to Pakistan and the region”. The doctrine, the editorial said, “delivered a blueprint for addressing complex and ingrained governance and economic issues in the country”.

The ‘doctrine’ was criticised by some sections of civil society and the media, mainly for its disapproval of the 18th Amendment — a legislation that lends greater autonomy to provinces.

The army, however, dismissed media conjecture on the doctrine and emphasised that it was, in fact, only a concept around security and had nothing to do with the country’s political and constitutional matters.

In 2021, Gen Bajwa expanded upon his vision for the country.

During an address at the Islamabad Security Dialogue in March that year, he stressed the importance of a shift from geopolitics to geoeconomics — a concept that was dubbed the ‘Bajwa doctrine 2.0’ by some sections of the Indian media.

In his speech, Gen Bajwa emphasised the need for boosting intra-regional trade and connectivity and bringing sustainable development through the establishment of investment and economic hubs. He also called for moving towards lasting and enduring peace within and outside and the non-interference of any kind in the affairs of Pakistan’s neighbours and regional countries.

“We have realised that unless our own house is in order, nothing could be expected from the outside,” he had said on the occasion.

In line with this vision, then-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was more direct in his choice of words when a week after Gen Bajwa’s speech he said Pakistan had shifted its priorities from geopolitics to geo-economics.

“Our new economic security paradigm has three essential pillars: peace, development partnerships and connectivity,” he declared.

A more concrete step in this direction was the introduction of Pakistan’s first-ever national security policy in January this year. The policy acknowledged economic stability as a key component of national security, and the military resolved to play its “due part in achieving the vision laid out in the policy”.

Hybrid warfare

In 2018, Gen Bajwa identified a new challenge Pakistan was facing — hybrid warfare, also called fifth-generation warfare.

In a speech at a passing-out parade of cadets in April that year, the army chief told his audience that a “hybrid war” had been imposed on Pakistan. The purpose of the said war, he elaborated, was to internally weaken the country as enemies were failing to divide the country on the basis of ethnicity and other identities.

“Our enemies know that they cannot beat us fair and square and have thus subjected us to a cruel, evil and protracted hybrid war. They are trying to weaken our resolve by weakening us from within,” he said.

It was for the second time that Gen Bajwa addressed the idea in an apparent reference to the then newly launched Pashtun Tahafuz Movement — a campaign for the rights of the Pakhtun people.

An opinion piece in Dawn later mentioned that the existence of a hybrid war was also cited in a review petition as grounds for the extension Gen Bajwa’s tenure.

The threat, it seemed, was looming large by mid-2020, when the army chief stressed at a Corps Commanders’ Conference the importance of protecting Pakistan from “fifth-generation warfare and hybrid application by anti-Pakistan elements against Pakistan’s vital interests”.

Eventually, India was named as the main perpetrator of the offensive.

ISPR chief Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar told Global Village Space in December 2020 that India was engaged in a massive campaign of fifth-generation warfare to obstruct Pakistan’s road to prosperity mainly through targeting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Pakistan’s international image.

“Unfortunately, it’s a major onslaught, it’s a major part of the fifth-generation warfare. Pakistan is being subjected to […] hybrid applications in a massive way and we are aware of that,” he said.

The warning was reiterated by others in the government, including President Arif Alvi who said around a month before the Taliban takeover of Kabul that India was “supporting militancy and terrorism” in Afghanistan and using its soil for hybrid warfare in Pakistan.

From Muzaffarabad to Mian Channu — airspace violations by India

Debris of Indian aircraft shot down by the Pakistan Air Force in Azad Jammu and Kashmir on February 27, 2019. — Photo by ISPR/File
Debris of Indian aircraft shot down by the Pakistan Air Force in Azad Jammu and Kashmir on February 27, 2019. — Photo by ISPR/File

The Indian threat appeared on Pakistan’s horizon, quite literally, in February 2019.

On February 14, explosives packed inside a van ripped through buses in a convoy of 78 vehicles carrying some 2,500 members of the Indian paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force in India-occupied Kashmir’s Pulwama.

The blast claimed the lives of 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers, and banned outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility. But, India claimed Pakistan’s involvement.

Indian PM Narendra Modi vowed a “strong response” while Pakistan condemned the attack and demanded “actionable evidence” of the allegations from across the border.

For his part, Gen Bajwa was clear that defending the motherland was the most sacred act and the army was ready to perform its duty to safeguard the country’s boundaries.

In the following days, an escalation in tensions was witnessed along India-Pakistan frontiers, as well as in diplomatic domains, amid calls for restraint.

The conflict reached its climax on February 26 when Indian military planes violated the Line of Control (LoC) — the boundary separating Azad Kashmir and India-occupied Kashmir — intruding from the Muzaffarabad sector.

“Pakistan Air Force immediately scrambled” and Indian aircraft went back, the Pakistan Army’s media affairs wing said in a statement right after the incident.

Sharing a more detailed account of the episode, then-ISPR chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor held a press conference that evening and debunked the Indian claim of having “struck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad in Balakot” during the incursion.

Now, he said, “ it is time for India to wait for our response“.

The response came the next day when the Pakistan Air Force undertook strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) from Pakistani airspace.

“In response to PAF strikes […] the Indian Air Force crossed the LoC. PAF shot down two Indian aircraft inside Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside Azad Jammu and Kashmir while the other fell inside IOK,” the ISPR said.

An Indian pilot was also arrested after the skirmish but was later released by Pakistan as a goodwill gesture.

Another incident of airspace violation by India was reported in March this year.

A missile from India entered Pakistan and fell near Khanewal district’s Mian Channu in March — a violation that New Delhi later explained as a consequence of “accidental firing” and sacked three officers it held responsible for it.

However, Pakistan rejected the explanation as “simplistic” and demanded a joint probe into the incident.

The unfolding of Gen Bajwa’s extension

By mid-2019, the skirmish in February, coupled with India’s move to strip occupied Kashmir of its special autonomy, had fuelled tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi. Meanwhile, talks between the Afghan Taliban and US on ending a prolonged war in Pakistan’s neighbour to the northwest had reached a critical juncture.

It was against this backdrop that then-PM Imran, “in view of the regional security environment”, deemed it plausible to give approval for extending Gen Bajwa’s tenure as the chief of army staff by three years. The nod by the PM came just three months before Gen Bajwa was set to retire on November 29, 2019.

The matter, however, took an unanticipated turn on November 26 when the Supreme Court (SC) suspended the notification by the government for Gen Bajwa’s extension and grilled the attorney general on how the whole matter was handled.

Following two days of lengthy court proceedings and back-to-back cabinet meetings — all in an attempt by the government to satisfy the top court on the legal grounds of the move — the SC announced on November 28 that Gen Bajwa would retain the top military position for another six months.

“General Qamar Javed Bajwa has been appointed as COAS under Article 243(4)(b) of the Constitution with effect from 28.11.2019,” read the SC short order.

In the same order, the apex court shifted the onus to parliament when it asked the government to determine the tenure, terms and conditions of service of the army chief through legislation within six months, till the end of Gen Bajwa’s extension.

In January 2020, three bills pertaining to the tenure of the three services chiefs — chief of army staff, chief of air staff and chief of naval staff — and the chairman of the joint chief of staff committee were passed by the National Assembly. The legislations were passed within 20 minutes and a day later, the bills were bulldozed through the Senate, paving way for a three-year extension in Gen Bajwa’s term.

On the completion of his three-year extension on November 29 this year, Gen Bajwa will join retired Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as the longest-serving army chief in Pakistan under a civilian setup.

The 61-year-old general could have surpassed Gen Kayani in terms of the length of his tenure had he sought, and been granted, another extension before approaching 64 — the retirement age for services chiefs.

However, he made it clear around a month before his retirement date that he would not be seeking another extension and bidding adieu to arms at the end of his term.

Yet, the speculation about his extension did not entirely die down as the government seemed set to amend the Pakis­tan Army Act 1952, purportedly in a bid to prolong Gen Bajwa’s tenure until he installation of a new government and evade any controversy over the new chief’s appointment.

‘Karachi incident with Maryam Nawaz’

Months after Gen Bajwa’s extension was finalised, the military establishment found itself caught up in a controversy, which ended with the removal of ISI and Rangers officials who were found to have acted “overzealously” during the weeks-long episode euphemistically referred to as the ‘Karachi incident’.

The incident took place in October 2020 — at a time when Nawaz had become excessively critical of the military establishment and the Imran administration. In his speeches streamed at Pakistan Democratic Alliance’s (PDM) power shows, he would not shy away from naming the army chief as the man responsible for his ouster and blast the PTI government.

It was for one such PDM rally on October 18, 2020 that Nawaz’s daughter and PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz, along with husband Capt Mohammed Safdar, arrived in Karachi.

After attending the rally, when Capt Safdar and Maryam retired to their hotel room, security personnel visited their hotel and arrested Capt Safdar.

It was later reported that in the early hours of October 19, Rangers personnel, accompanied by some intelligence officials, had arrived at former Sindh inspector general of police Mushtaq Mahar’s residence and compelled him to accompany them to the local sector commander’s office. There, the province’s top cop was forced to sign arrest orders for Capt Safdar who was accused in a first information report of having violated the sanctity of the Quaid’s mausoleum the previous day by raising slogans at the mausoleum.

The incident had left the Sindh government, with PPP at the helm, redfaced. The provincial police, too, was incensed; at least 13 senior officials had applied for leave on the grounds that their high command had been “ridiculed” and the entire force left “demoralised and shocked”.

What appeared to be snowballing into a full-blown crisis was somewhat defused only when Gen Bajwa acceded to PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s request to hold an inquiry into the incident.

“That Mr Bhutto-Zardari looked to Gen Bajwa to order an inquiry, and this was undertaken, also indicates that the perpetrators were taking instructions from individuals in the security establishment,” highlighted a Dawn editorial.

Later, it turned out the FIR against Capt Safdar too was based on false information.

Eventually, ISI and Rangers officials involved in the incident were removed pending further departmental proceedings for having acted “overzealously”.

ISI chief’s appointment — the first tear in the ‘same page’?

Until then, and for months ahead, the relationship between the Gen-Bajwa-led military establishment and the civilian government under Imran Khan remained congenial for the most part and assurances that both sides were on the “same page” would come frequently.

The first signs of a tear in the page between the military and civilian leadership appeared in October 2021 when Imran and Gen Bajwa reportedly disagreed on the ISI chief’s appointment.

The army announced on October 6 that the former ISI chief, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, had been made the Peshawar corps commander, while Lt Gen Anjum was appointed in his place.

But the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) did not issue an official notification of Lt Gen Anjum’s appointment immediately, leading to rumours about strains in civil-military relations.

Multiple reasons were cited in the ensuing weeks for the then-PM not approving the appointment right away, including his desire to retain the incumbent spymaster for some time due to an uncertain situation in Afghanistan and his insistence on being allowed to exercise the authority to appoint the country’s new spymaster.

It was after nearly three weeks of a stand-off that Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum was notified as the country’s spymaster on October 26.

LoC ceasefire

Meanwhile, echoes of the February 2019 skirmish and gunshots continued to ring in the Kashmir valley — the disputed region that has remained the main cause of contention between India and Pakistan.

In November 2003, the arch-rivals had agreed on ceasefire along the LoC, as well as the Working Boundary, which separates Pakistan’s Punjab and India-occupied Kashmir.

The agreement was held for a few years, but regular violations were occurring since 2008, and a sharp spike in breaches was witnessed since 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in India.

According to the ISPR, the deal had largely held till 2016, when tensions exploded in occupied Kashmir, resulting in a surge in violence between India and Pakistan.

As fighting along the LoC raged, ties between the rivals went into freefall with India repeatedly accusing Pakistan of sending infiltrators across the LoC and Islamabad lambasting PM Modi’s government for stoking Hindu nationalist sentiment against Muslims.

The firing along the LoC seemingly reached a climax in 2020, with thousands of clashes reported. But the damage from coronavirus and slowing economies — along with a geopolitical tug of war — appeared to have convinced both sides to halt as they agreed on February 25, 2021 to the strict observance of all agreements, understandings and ceasefire along the LoC.

The matter garnered attention again this year when then-Indian army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane claimed the ceasefire on the LoC continued to hold because New Delhi had negotiated from a position of strength.

Rebutting the claim, the Pakistan military termed it “clearly misleading”.

The ceasefire was agreed “only due to Pakistan’s concerns for the safety of people of Kashmir living on both sides of the LoC”, the ISPR DG tweeted. “No side should misconstrue it as their strength or other’s weakness.”

Army diplomacy — the China, US, Afghanistan nexus

Since 2008, there has been no coup. The PPP and PML-N governments preceding the PTI administration had managed to complete their parliamentary terms, even with the premature ouster of every prime minister during this period.

In these regimes, the military establishment would not openly meddle in politics and other affairs outside of their constitutional domain but continued to step in on important matters such as national security and foreign policy.

If anything, “Gen Bajwa’s recent high-profile visits to Washington and other capitals testify to the establishment’s continuing predominance in the country’s power structure. The protocol was not what another country’s army chief would have received,” noted analyst Zahid Hussain in a recent opinion piece for Dawn.

During Gen Bajwa’s tenure, the army’s role in this set-up gained prominence with respect to Afghanistan.

Pakistan was a key player in efforts to resolve the conflict between the Western-backed government and the Afghan Taliban during a two-decade-long war. The military establishment’s role in the area was evident with Gen Bajwa’s visits to the war-ravaged country, where he would not just hold discussions on bilateral interests but also extend support for the Afghan peace process.

And soon after the Taliban regained control in Afghanistan in August last year, then-ISI chief General Lt Gen Faiz Hameed flew to Kabul. An official agenda for his visit was not issued but Gen Hameed was in the Afghan capital supposedly to hold meetings with the new Taliban regime and discuss security and border management issues among other matters.

PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry, who was the information minister at the time, had explained the visit as a necessary unconventional contact amid a power vacuum in Afghanistan.

But since the ascent of the Afghan Taliban to power, there has been an increase in attacks by militants in Pakistan from across its northwestern frontier as Afghanistan continues to be the abode of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders.

While Pakistan has condemned the use of Afghan soil by militants, the Taliban government has accused Pakistani forces of carrying out strikes in Afghanistan and alleged that Islamabad allowed the US the use of a base to carry out a drone strike in Kabul that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Pakistan, however, has expressly rejected the Taliban government’s claim about Pakistani airspace being used for the US strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The Pakistan-Afghanistan nexus also takes into consideration US ties with the two south Asian countries, which in the case of Pakistan, were strained after Americans found and took out Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011 without informing Islamabad.

Ten years later, when the US finally decided to wind up its war in Afghanistan, Washington blamed Pakistan for Kabul’s fall and accusing Islamabad of supporting the Afghan Taliban put another dent in the relationship.

Prior to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, reports by the American media said Washington continued to focus on Pakistan for a military base in the region, although some US officials believed the negotiations had reached an impasse.

“Some American officials (told the newspaper) that negotiations with Pakistan had reached an impasse for now. Others have said the option remains on the table and a deal is possible,” a New York Times report said.

The report also mentioned that the Central Intelligence Agency director had met the ISI chief in Islamabad while the US defence secretary had had frequent calls with Gen Bajwa about getting Pakistan’s help for future US operations in Afghanistan.

Later, then-PM Imran ruled out allowing the US access to bases in Pakistan post-America’s pullout from Afghanistan, responding to a question about the possibility of the scenario during an interview with an “absolutely not”.

Despite this friction, the US continued to believe after its withdrawal from Afghanistan that Pakistan still had enough leverage on the Afghan Taliban to influence their policymaking and urged it to “push the Taliban in the right direction”.

The US-Pakistan ties, which were further strained after former PM Imran accused Washington of a conspiracy to oust his government, however, have seen improvement since the installation of a new coalition dispensation in Islamabad.

It was at this juncture when the new set-up was struggling to put off a default risk and the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) assistance became vital, that Gen Bajwa contacted US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, reportedly, to request help in securing an early disbursement of funds by the IMF.

The move, seen as another act of transgressing institutional boundaries, met with criticism, particularly by Imran.

  US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin greets Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.—Courtesy Pentagon/File
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin greets Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.—Courtesy Pentagon/File

Last month, Gen Bajwa went to the US on a five-day visit, which was interpreted by the international media as part of an effort to reset US-Pakistan ties.

As the relationship between Pakistan and US showed signs of improvement, the inclusion of China in the equation entailed a delicate balancing act.

Addressing the matter in April this year, Gen Bajwa said Pakistan was positioning itself as a melting pot for international economic interests by focusing on connectivity and friendship.

“Pakistan does not believe in camp politics and our bilateral relations with our partners are not at the expense of our relationships with other countries.”

The army chief added that Pakistan enjoyed a close strategic relationship with China, which was demonstrated by the country’s commitment towards the CPEC, and “equally, we share a long and excellent strategic relationship with the US which remains our largest export market”.

Pakistan’s relations with China have deepened over the years with projects such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the timely completion of which, General Bajwa hoped, would usher in a new era of development in the region.

The army had also committed to ensure the security of CPEC, the assurance gaining significance against the backdrop of a rise in attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan.

  Police officers and members of the investigation team gather near a passenger van after a blast at the entrance of the Confucius Institute at the University of Karachi on April 26, 2022. — Reuters/File
Police officers and members of the investigation team gather near a passenger van after a blast at the entrance of the Confucius Institute at the University of Karachi on April 26, 2022. — Reuters/File

In July last year, an attack on a bus near the Dasu hydropower plant in the Upper Kohistan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had killed 13 people, including nine Chinese workers. Then-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had said the bombing was carried out by Pakistani Taliban militants backed by the Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies and that Afghan soil was used for its planning and execution.

Subsequently, China had announced it was sending a team to Pakistan to deal with the aftermath of the incident.

In April this year, a suicide bombing claimed the lives of three Chinese teachers at the University of Karachi, and in September this year, a dentist of Chinese origin was killed in Karachi in a gun attack.

Following the April attack, Beijing paused development activities, including those related to the CPEC, in Pakistan.

The activities were resumed after Gen Bajwa visited Beijing and offered “iron-clad security guarantees” on security for the Chinese and gave the assurance that perpetrators of the April attack would be tracked down. Following that, a terrorist cell linked to Baloch extremist groups that claimed responsibility for the attack was busted, leading to the resumption of CPEC activities.

As for Dasu, an anti-terrorism court in Hazara awarded the death sentence to two men after convicting them for planning the attack this year.

TTP talks

Since 2007, several rounds of direct and indirect talks between the Pakistan government and the banned TTP have been held, with some resulting in peace agreements.

Truce with the banned outfit was reached twice during Gen Bajwa’s tenure, one of which is still holding.

The first mention of talks between the government and the TTP during Gen Bajwa’s tenure was made by President Dr Arif Alvi during an interview on a DawnNews programme in September last year.

The president suggested that the government could consider giving an amnesty to those members of the banned TTP who had not been involved in “criminal activities”, who lay down their weapons and who agreed to adhere to the Constitution.

The following month, then-PM Imran confirmed that the government was indeed in talks with the TTP so that its members may surrender and reconcile in return for amnesty “to be able to live like ordinary citizens”.

But the TTP rejected the amnesty offer, insisting that their struggle was for the enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan.

It was not until November that a month-long complete ceasefire, from November 9 to December 9, was agreed on by the two sides with the facilitation of the Afghan Taliban.

After the lapse of the 30-day period, the TTP decided not to extend the ceasefire, accusing the government of failing to honour the decisions reached earlier.

In May this year, AFP reported that another ceasefire was agreed on by the two sides for the Eidul Fitr period. The ceasefire was later extended thrice, eventually for an indefinite period.

However, as the ceasefire continues to hold, the TTP’s demand for the reversal of erstwhile Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remains a sticking point and an impediment in the way of peace talks. The situation persists despite delegations of tribal elders and ulema visiting Kabul for the resumption of talks.

The military had secured the nod of the Parliamentary Com­­m­ittee on National Secu­rity for peace talks with the TTP in July, after the government decided that the process of negotiations would be overseen by a parliamentary body.

Later, the Pakistan Army hinted at adopting a more stringent approach in dealing with the outlawed group amid growing public resentment about the return of TTP fighters.

Imran’s ouster and beyond

Lawmakers congratulate PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman after the no-confidence vote against Imran. — DawnNewsTV/File
Lawmakers congratulate PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman after the no-confidence vote against Imran. — DawnNewsTV/File

In April 2022, Pakistan witnessed a weeks-long political turmoil reaching its peak when the then-opposition joined hands and ousted former prime minister Imran from power through a no-confidence vote.

The vote was passed in the early hours of April 10 after the then-premier managed to dodge it for an entire day. When he finally lost, history was written.

Imran, the second prime minister to be removed during Gen Bajwa’s tenure, became the first one in Pakistan’s history who was shown the door through a no-trust vote. He blamed the now-ruling coalition and the US.

The PTI chief accused the PDM, which led the no-confidence move against him, of colluding and conspiring with the US, which, he alleged, had been unhappy with his “independent” foreign policy. As for the military, there were no allegations of any direct involvement but of opting to stay “neutral”, not blocking the move for his removal and letting the country spiral into crises.

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi — who is from the PML-N that alleges Imran’s rise to power was due to the military’s support — said after Imran’s defeat in parliament that “they (the military) don’t want to be seen as supporting him and be blamed for his failures”.

“They’ve pulled their support,” he told Reuters.

The same Reuters report mentioned: “The military viewed Khan and his conservative agenda favourably when he won the election, but that support waned after a falling-out over the appointment of the country’s next spy chief and the economic troubles.”

Whether the military’s involvement, or non-involvement, was the driving force behind Imran’s removal is anybody’s guess. But the fact that courts opened at midnight right before the passing of the no-confidence vote against Imran fuelled this speculation.

However, the Islamabad High Court, where the plea were filed, clarified that the court was opened to hear a petition filed by Supreme Court Bar Association president Ahsan Bhoon, who sought the implementation of an SC order against a ruling by former NA deputy speaker Qasim Suri. In an earlier clarification, the court had explained that in case of an imminent threat to the life or liberty of a citizen or any other important matter, the registrar office can receive the petition and transmit it to the chief justice even after court timing.

Nevertheless, Imran has been relentless in his criticism of the “neutrals” since his ouster, making apparent references to them as the incumbent government’s “handlers” and “facilitators”.

Riding on a wave of popularity, the former premier recently even named a senior intelligence official along with PM Shehbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah as perpetrators of an assassination bid on him while he was addressing a public rally in Punjab’s Wazirabad on November 3.

The first information report (FIR) of the gun attack was delayed, reportedly, because of the very reason that he insisted on the inclusion of the senior military officer’s name in the case. When the FIR was finally registered, it did not include the officer’s name, much to the chagrin of the PTI.

Recuperating from the gunshot wounds he sustained in the attack, Imran told Dawn in a recent interview that his relations with the military establishment soured during the last six months of his premiership over “the issue of them making deals with these crooks when they should be behind bars…”

He claimed Gen Bajwa wanted him to appoint PTI dissident leader Aleem Khan as the Punjab chief minister, that the military controlled the National Accountability Bureau to manipulate corrupt politicians and GHQ resisted the introduction of EVMs “as they make rigging impossible”.

Along similar lines, he had earlier alleged that during his three-and-half-year tenure, decision-making powers did not lie with him, even though he was in charge of running the affairs of the country.

The military’s criticism has not been limited to just Imran. Several PTI leaders, social media activists, television channels and journalists are facing legal action for their statements about the army following the PTI chief’s ouster.

For its part, the army has shown disapproval of Imran’s statement, including those about the selection of the new army chief.

Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum (left) and Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Lt Gen Babar Iftikhar addresses a press conference in Rawalpindi on October 27. – DawnNewsTV/File
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum (left) and Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Lt Gen Babar Iftikhar addresses a press conference in Rawalpindi on October 27. – DawnNewsTV/File

In late October, directors general of the ISI and ISPR held an extraordinary press conference, during which they addressed Imran’s allegations and Arshad Sharif’s killing — a journalist who was shot dead in Kenya on October 24.

It was the first time in Pakistan’s history that the head of the country’s spy agency directly addressed the media.

During the press conference, which was held on the day of Sharif’s funeral, ISPR DG Lt Gen Babar Iftikhar regretted that terms like “neutral” and “apolitical” were turned into “abuse”.

At a later stage in the media talk, ISI chief Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum claimed Gen Bajwa was given a “lucrative offer” in March by the then-government for an extension in his tenure. He rejected it because he wanted the institution to move forward “from a controversial role to a constitutional role”, Lt Gen Anjum added.

There was “a lot of pressure” but the institution and the army chief decided to limit the military to its constitutional role, he said.

The ISI chief added: “Last year, the establishment decided that it would restrict itself to its constitutional role […] The army had an intense discussion and we reached the conclusion that the country’s benefit lies in us restricting ourselves to our constitutional role and remaining out of politics.”

The statement was a reiteration of Gen Bajwa’s announcement from earlier that month.

Farewell to arms

Days later, Gen Bajwa elaborated on his views on the matter in his farewell address at the General Headquarters, capping off his tenure with his thoughts on politics.

The outgoing army chief criticised the anti-military narrative and urged political stakeholders to set aside labels of “imported” and “selected” to move forward for the country’s sake.

He admitted that the army for seven decades had “unconstitutionally interfered in politics” and announced that “in February last year, the army, after great deliberation, decided that it would never interfere in any political matter.

“I assure you we are strictly adamant on this and will remain so”.

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