Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa

by Tara Kartha

In the last few months, there has been an outpouring in Pakistan media on the so-called “Bajwa Doctrine” of the army, based presumably on the thinking of its chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The whole debate seems to have been set off by a paper by a Pakistani analyst working at the UK-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on the same subject, as well as the attempts by many to attribute a certain personality and style to Bajwa.

At a time when Pakistanis badly need to believe that their leaders have done something right, the thought of a ‘Bajwa Doctrine’ that bases itself on Pakistani pride and ability to face down US pressure is a shot in the arm at a time when talk of designating Pakistan as a terrorist state is under discussion. There is no doubt that the redoubtable army chief is facing crisis after crisis with apparent aplomb. The problem is that most of those crises have been created by his own institution at various points of time. But leaving that aside for the moment, the main points of the Bajwa Doctrine according to some analysts are the following:

The first argument is that unlike former president Pervez Musharraf, Bajwa has proved more capable of resisting US pressure. In his own memoir, Musharraf recalled that the US threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age if it didn’t cooperate with the Americans in providing land and air space for its operations into Afghanistan. Following that threat, Pakistan rolled back the Taliban. It even closed down a few camps along the Line of Control. However, this is an unfair comparison, since Musharraf was facing tumultuous times immediately after 9/11 when it seemed anything could happen. Moreover, it doesn’t appear that anyone has made a similar threat to the current army chief.

Perhaps this is a pointer that such a threat should be made, since that seems to be the only method of getting Pakistan to roll back its disastrous policies.

What the Bajwa Doctrine — such as it is said to be — actually does, is to place an unhealthy reliance on China to prevent such a threat from being actually carried out. Recent events, such as China backing off from protecting Pakistan at the meeting of the Financial Action Task Force is a pointer for some course correction in the general’s doctrine. Like all nations, China works towards its own benefits. Certainly it would oppose a bombing of Pakistan, partly as an old ally, but primarily because it has now sunk several billions of dollars in investment. In such a scenario, where a bombing of Pakistan was imminent, China is far more likely to twist Pakistani arms to reduce its reliance on terrorism as a tool of national security. This is something that the Bajwa Doctrine should carefully assess if it has to base itself on realistic expectations of its ‘all-weather’ friend.

A second aspect of the Bajwa Doctrine appears to lie in the general’s facing down demands that Pakistan do more in stopping terror. It is true that Pakistani security forces have lost valuable lives in fighting an effective counter terrorism battle in Karachi: An operation that it is undertaking for the third time in the past several years. It is also true that the army has undertaken an unrelenting operation in the tribal areas against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ( TTP), which involved bombing and strafing its own citizens.

True, also that the TTP has been the primary source of terrorism in the country. At an international security conference in Munich recently, the army chief rather realistically blamed previous Pakistani and US governments for backing the rise of radicalism in pursuit of goals in Afghanistan. This argument, and the reality that the US suddenly abandoned the Afghan theater and turned to Iraq, would have been better received if the Pakistani Army chief had not also claimed that there were no more ‘organised’ terrorist camps on its territory. A second course correction on the general’s doctrine is therefore quite simply this: Don’t mix facts and sheer untruths. It reduces the impact of the good arguments that you undoubtedly have.

A third strand of the doctrine arises to some extent from the above. The basis of the analysis that backs the Bajwa Doctrine as ideal for Pakistan, is that US policy remains unchanged over the years, whether under the Bush administration or under President Donald Trump. There is some truth in this. During his address, the army chief indicated that of 131 terrorist attacks against his country, at least 123 had been propagated from Afghanistan by such groups like the TTP and the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.

Pakistan has long been asking — or demanding — the US rid such elements from Afghanistan in return for action against the Taliban. US forces did just that several years ago. Starting around 2009, they began to pick out the TTP leaders waging war against Pakistan. The death of Baitullah Mehsud was a particular blow for the group. Attacks by the TTP against the Pakistan security forces thereafter declined, and as the pressure eased, so did cooperation from the Pakistanis on reining in the Taliban. Recently, media reports have stated that the US offered handsome rewards for other TTP leaders hiding in Afghanistan, clearly in response to demands from Pakistan. The doctrine is therefore right in saying that US policy has not changed in its inability to perceive that a ‘reward and threat’ policy against Pakistan is not going to work. Pakistan will take the reward, and slide out of the threat.

What else the Bajwa Doctrine is supposed to embody can be paraphrased in a tweet which calls it a “Superman and a Batman” at the same time. In all fairness, the Pakistan Army has not exactly received support from politicians who kept their own interests foremost rather than that of the country. Faced with chicanery and greed, one army chief after another sent prime ministers into oblivion, preventing the growth of not only institutions, but also eroding the functional capability of the governments to undertake even minimal governance: Which in turn leads to yet another army intervention.

It is here that a “Bajwa Doctrine” can certainly be discerned. The cyclical army takeovers have been replaced by a highly successful exercise of pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

This has been most recently apparent in the calibrated exercise which cut down Nawaz Sharif, then removed him as party head, and thereafter played with the electoral process to ensure that the senate elections don’t go into his party’s hands: Primarily by unseating the Balochistan government. As an exercise in “governance”, this is yet to be beaten in terms of its sheer breadth and scope.

With regard to India, the only ‘doctrine’ visible seems to be to push in as many terrorists as possible, and vitiating diplomatic ties to the extent of even refusing an outreach by India in inviting the Pakistan commerce minister to attend the meeting of the World Trade Organisation. In December 2017, Bajwa promised the Pakistan Parliament the army would back any peace overtures to India.

For the Bajwa Doctrine to gain heft and leave a lasting historical memory, it would be wise indeed if the army chief persuaded Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to step up to the stage and extend a hand. That would actually flesh out the ‘doctrine’ into a real strategy, instead of simply being a set of beliefs that others have assigned to an imperturbable army chief.