Army chief’s extension then and now

Army chief’s extension then and now

What is the difference between the extension of former army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the current army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Why many political activists of both PML-N and PPP are opposing the extension of General Bajwa while there was no such opposition and outcry when General Kayani was given extension? So the question arise here that what is difference between the two extensions.

First difference is that General Kayani’s extension was not challenged in the Supreme Court.  The hearings in Supreme Court give this issue much media and public attention. The hearings in Supreme Court change the situation. It gained importance and public attention as the result.

General Kayani’s extension never got so much public attention and media hype.
Some people are raising the question that when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced the extension of Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani tenure for three years on July 22-2010-there was no hue and cry at that time. There was no strong reaction erupted in the country on the extension of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Why there is so much noise on the extension of General Qamar Javed Bajwa?  

In my opinion- the main difference is the perception. There is a stark difference between the perceptions of two army chiefs. General Kayani was considered less political than General Bajwa. The perception played very important role in the reputation of a person. Sometimes perception becomes more powerful than the reality.

Another difference was the political situation. Both the largest parties at that time were cooperating with each other. The political polarisation was not very high in 2010. But now the politics is highly polarised and divided. The political polarisation impacts every party- section of society and institution. Every action and measure is seen in the political context. The situation is completely different now.

One more difference is that General Kiyani took over from General Musharraf after 9 years of military rule. General Musharraf lost popularity and support when he finally retired from army and handed over the baton to General Kiyani.

When General Kiyani took over the charge as army chief- he was forced to take steps and measures to restore the image of army. He was forced to readjust the dominating and over the place role under General Musharraf.  He repaired the image.

When General Bajwa took command from General Raheel Sharif – the army was once again in dominating position and was enjoying wide spread support in the society. The operations against Taliban and other terrorist groups made the army popular and widely respected.  General Raheel Sharif builds his image of a saviour through the unprecedented media coverage.

 General Bajwa continued the policies of General Raheel. There is no doubt that military sacrificed a lot in the fight against terrorists to restore peace and writ of the state. But army’s role and influence also increased during this period.

 There was general perception about General Kayani was that he was a big supporter of democracy and he also refused to rig the general elections of 2008 in the favour of then kings party PML-Q. He did not side with then former military dictator and President General Musharraf when he was engaged in a bitter power struggle with PPP and PML-N. Finally –he was forced to resign.

Even though- General Kayani introduced the Kiyani doctrine in which he decided not to intervene directly to impose martial law but to maintain the pressure on the civilian government to protect the interests of the military as an institution.

 His strategy was to manage everything from behind the curtains. Despite putting lot of pressure on the PPP government on different issues- the perception was that he was a laid back sort of person. Memogate scandal was an example of this pressure.  He was also a media shy person which never liked so much public attention. So he did not face much resistance. 

On the other hand- the perception about General Bajwa is that he is playing active and visible role inside and outside the country. Contrary to General Kayani’s perception- the perception about General Bajwa is that he intervened in the elections to bring Imran Khan into power. The perception is that General Bajwa is backing the Imran Khan led government. He could be seen everywhere. His imprints are everywhere. 

When top businessmen and industrialists prefer to meet with army chief instead of PM or ministers to discuss their problems than this perception get stronger?  When foreign powers talk to him directly on important matters instead of PM or foreign minister than this perception get deeper among the political activists and general public? It is an open secret that who is calling the shots in Pakistan.
The PTI ministers and other pro-establishment journalists-anchors and politicians themselves spread such perception.

The political workers and social media activists reacted strongly on the issue of extension because they strongly believe that General Bajwa is behind the political maneuverings against PML-N and PPP leadership. The activists were hoping that both the parties will oppose the extension on this ground.
 But they were shocked to see both parties supporting the extension of General Bajwa.
When the Supreme Court refers the matter of army chief’s extension to parliament – the general perception was that both PPP and PML-N will give tough time in the parliament. But when both the parties announced support for the act- there was a strong reaction against the leadership in both parties.

The activists and political workers reacted strongly because they blame Bajwa doctrine for the shrinking democratic space- attacks on freedom of media and expression- political victimisation of opposition politician through NAB and one sided accountability process.

General Bajwa and establishment needs to change this widespread perception. There is wide spread resentment and opposition among the pro-democracy political activists against the military’s intervention in the politics. This resentment has increased in last few years. Despite the clarifications and denials from ISPR that Military is not involved in politics- the perception still exist.

The resentment and opposition shown by many political and social media activists is not against army as an institution but against the political intervention of few at the top.

Another reason is that the project to clean politics and to bring in the honest people in the government has so far failed. The performance of PTI government is far below the expectations. The blame of this failed experiment is not just on the PTI but also on the establishment. Some people consider both the PTI and establishment as two sides of same coin.

Despite the full support from the powers that be- PTI government has failed to deliver. The resentment and anger against PTI government has increased. When political workers- intellectuals and pro-democracy analysts and journalists feels that powers that be are supporting such a poorly performing government then the resistance and opposition increased against them.

This needs to be addressed by the powers that be. Their claims of neutrality should be backed by their actions.
                                                    Khalid Bhatti

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