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General Bajwa’s farewell speech and thereafter The Excelsior 28 Nov 2022
Speaking for possibly the last time as an army chief on a public platform, General Bajwa made a few interesting comments. He stated that in Feb last year the army took a call to stay away from politics and hence did not intervene in the ‘no-confidence’ vote which removed the Imran Khan led government. However, Imran claimed till the end of his tenure that the army and him were on the same page. Imran also admitted that the DG ISI, General Faiz Hameed, kept him updated on the opposition and hence he was reluctant to let him go, the point of contention between Bajwa and him.
Imran was also advised by the generals to resign once the ‘no-confidence’ motion was being processed, but he decided to hold onto power, banking on a miracle, which did not happen. If what Bajwa states is true, then why was President Alvi organizing meetings between him and Imran to patch up issues. It should have been between Imran and Shehbaz. The Dawn in an editorial questioned this comment of General Bajwa by stating, ‘what motivated his institution to quit politics in his last years in power.’ No one in Pakistan believes that the army will ever surrender its hold over Islamabad.
However, General Bajwa’s statement does imply that the army manipulated the 2018 elections which brought Imran to power. This is the reason why Imran’s government was termed as ‘selected’ while the current government is ‘imported.’ Bajwa decried these words claiming winning and losing elections is part and parcel of politics.
General Bajwa also spoke on the debacle of 1971 leading to the creation of Bangladesh. He termed it as a political failure not military. He stated, ‘I want to correct the record. First of all, the fall of East Pakistan, was not a military but a political failure. The number of fighting soldiers was not 92,000, it was rather only 34,000, the rest were from various government departments.’ Pakistan has for ages been attempting to change the narrative of its 1971 defeat shifting responsibility elsewhere. Bajwa’s comments are far from true.
General Yahya Khan was both, the martial law administrator of Pakistan as also the Commander-in-Chief of the Pak army in 1971. It was he who ordered his forces in the then East Pakistan to suppress the agitation, which was implemented brutally resulting in millions migrating to India. As per reports over 3 million were killed, 200,000 women raped and ten million sought refuge in India. Where was it political failure, when all decisions leading to the war were taken by military leaders ruling Pakistan. Yes, India did ensure a change in Pakistan’s leadership by creating Bangladesh. It brought Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to power when Yahya Khan resigned on 20th Dec 1971, just 4 days after Pakistan’s shameless surrender. It was another twist of fate when Bhutto was overthrown by General Zia-ul-Haq in Jul 1977.
General Bajwa stating there were only 34,000 soldiers is twisting figures. Could 34,000 soldiers, simultaneously deployed along their borders with India, kill millions and rape hundreds of thousands. As per official records, there were 79,676 uniformed POWs which included 55,692 from the army, 16,354 paramilitary, 5,296 police, 1000 navy and 800 air force. The balance 13,324 were Pak civilians. Figures of Pak soldiers killed are not available. The paramilitary, under Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali, were deployed alongside the army.
What General Bajwa failed to admit was that an attacker must possess numerical superiority to break through enemy defences. Without superiority in numbers and firepower, operations are unlikely to succeed. This is the reason India employed larger force levels and attacked from multiple directions. Simultaneously, Bajwa ignored the fact that a surrender of this magnitude is a national disgrace. It was this debacle which resulted in Yahya Khan resigning as martial law administrator.
General Bajwa also offered an olive branch to Imran Khan suggesting that they bury the past and he stop his anti-army tirade. The intent was to provide a clean slate to his successor. He stated, ‘I’m ready to forgive this inappropriate and aggressive attitude against me and the military and get past it because Pakistan is bigger than (all of) us.’ Imran immediately rejected the army chief’s offer and stated, ‘I have defeated the whole establishment and an 11-party alliance with public support and will do so again in the next elections.’ Battlelines are drawn and the confrontation will continue. Gen Asim Munir will face an unrelenting Imran.
Bajwa’s and Pak army generals’ credibility has already been damaged by the release of tax returns of General Bajwa’s family which proves that they became billionaires during his extended tenure as army chief. This will be difficult to overcome. Imran has already hit back at Bajwa on this aspect when he stated in a press interaction, ‘If a public-office holder deposits looted money in the accounts of his family members or establishes an offshore company, those stashing the wealth beyond their means must be held accountable.’ While nothing is being officially mentioned, the reports on General Bajwa finances are genuine.
General Asim Munir, the new army chief, has his task cut out. He has to restore public confidence in an institution accused of multiple wrongdoings, including interfering in politics, running the country by remote control and large-scale corruption amongst the generals. It will not be easy with Imran conducting rallies as his tenure commences. Munir and Imran do not have cordial relations as Imran had insisted on his removal as DG ISI to accommodate Faiz Hameed, his favourite, solely because Munir was aware of his family’s financial wrongdoings.
Generals in Pakistan have a permanent distaste for their politicians. They have controlled Islamabad for seven decades and are unlikely to hand over power easily. The battle for supremacy between Imran and the generals has just begun. It will not be cordial as time passes, despite all claims of the Pak army not interfering in politics. Imran is already aware and hence stated, ‘I do not know whether the PTI will be given a level-playing field in the next general elections.’