Outgoing army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa believes that the army’s decision to become “apolitical” will help enhance its prestige in the long term.
“[The] Pakistan Army has always remained a dominant player in national decision-making. Due to its historic role in country’s politics, the military drew severe criticism from public and politicians alike,” said Gen Bajwa in an exclusive interview with UAE-based publication Gulf News.
The COAS will hand over command of the army to General Asim Munir tomorrow (Tuesday) who was appointed as his successor by the government last week.
The general reiterated that the army has restricted its “role to its constitutional mandated task only by deciding to make it ‘apolitical’.”
“This decision, though being viewed negatively by a segment of society and led to personal criticism, will facilitate in reinvigorating and strengthening democratic culture, assist in supporting state organs to effectively perform and deliver. Above all, this decision will help enhance army’s prestige in the long term,” he said.
The army chief said that the military has enjoyed unmatched respect and trust of the Pakistani nation throughout the country’s history.
“Army’s positive and constructive role in Pakistan’s national security and development has always received unwavering public support. I believe that public support and affinity towards the armed forces tends to erode when the military is seen to be involved in political affairs, and, therefore, I considered it prudent to shield Pakistan Army from the vagaries of politics in Pakistan,” said Gen Bajwa.
The army chief assured that despite the “some criticism and undue vilification of the armed forces through mass propaganda and meticulously crafted false narratives”, the institution will remain committed to its apolitical role.
“I am certain that this political quarantine of the armed forces will auger well for Pakistan in the long term by fostering political stability and strengthening the army-to-people bond,” said Gen Bajwa.
Reflecting on his career in the military, Gen Bajwa said that it is a “profound privilege to have served and led one of the finest military forces of the world during a most challenging time in Pakistan’s history”.
The army chief foresees that the army will emerge as a “cohesive, agile, adaptive and a modern force, which can complement other elements of national power by maintaining a credible deterrent capability to help foster a secure environment for national development and socio¬economic well-being”.
The army chief noted that “perpetual conflict and instability” in South Asia has made the region “least integrated” in the world despite the huge economic potential and large population.
The army chief noted that Islamabad’s strategic partnership with Beijing has “endured the upheavals of strategic environment through many decades”.
“On the internal front, Pakistan’s successful counter-terrorism campaign has turned the tide of terrorism and we continue to make meaningful efforts to overcome the menace of extremism and residue of terrorism,” said Gen Bajwa.
However, the outgoing army chief raised concern about the “worrisome trend” of the “streaks of political intolerance” in Pakistani society.
The general was also asked about Pakistan’s ties with the Middle East to which he stated that the country enjoys a “special bond and fraternal ties” with Gulf Cooperation Council and other Middle Eastern countries.
Pakistan, on its part, has always supported the strategic interests of our Middle Eastern friends and would continue to do so in the future, General Bajwa said.
When asked about his message to the youth, the army chief urged them to “devote their time and energy towards education and skill development”.
But the general warned the youth to ensure that they “are shielded from divisive propaganda and information warfare” which is aimed to polarise the society and erode the mutual trust the army enjoys with the public.
“Pakistan should always come first — before any other marker of identity,” said Gen Bajwa.