Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had some unusual advice when top officers gathered for his first speech last year – read an American academic’s book on how India has succeeded in keeping the military out of politics.
The army has no business trying to run the government, Bajwa told the gathering of army officers of Rawalpindi Garrison at the General Headquarters auditorium in the last week of December, according to The Nation newspaper.
Bajwa’s first speech as army chief, described by the daily as “an articulation of his vision”, was delivered “in a poised manner” and his views were communicated “to his officers in unequivocal terms”.
The general urged the officers to read Army and Nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence, written by Steven I Wilkinson, the Nilekani Professor of India and South Asian Studies at Yale University.
The 2015 book, which was well reviewed in India and the West, draws on comprehensive data to explore how and why India has succeeded in keeping its military out of politics when other countries have failed. It looks at political and foreign policies and strategic decisions that have made the “army safe for Indian democracy”.
The book also details why India’s democratic process has been a success.
It has been widely reported that Bajwa reads a lot about India, including reports in the media and books about the country. His colleagues have said his interest in India dates back to his days as a young major serving on the Line of Control in 1992.
Brig (retired) Feroz Hassan Khan, who was Bajwa’s commanding officer on the LoC, told the Hindustan Times that the man in what is usually seen as the most powerful position in Pakistan also does not have a “visceral hatred” of India.
Some have credited Bajwa for a reduction in tensions along the LoC and international border in Jammu and Kashmir though attacks by Pakistan-based terror groups have continued unabated.
Bajwa told the officers that the Pakistan Army “must remain within its constitutionally defined role” and “alluded that an impression of a competition between the civilians and the military is counter-productive for the country”, The Nation reported.
The report added that three months after becoming army chief, it could be “discerned that while Gen Bajwa believes in civilian supremacy, he will also not do anything that upends that existing structures and dynamics”. When a controversy recently erupted about land allocated to his predecessor, Raheel Sharif, a “sharp, almost edgy, rebuttal came from the military”.
It also said the comparison between the personal styles of Sharif and Bajwa “cannot be starker”. While Sharif “basked and glowed under the glare of television and press cameras”, Bajwa “likes to go about his job without pomp and show”.
His trips to the frontlines or speeches to troops have “lacked the breathless coverage that was the defining factor” of Sharif’s tenure and there has been no attempt to portray Bajwa as a “parallel, competing powerhouse, with strong political undertones”.
In his public remarks, Bajwa has said the army will support and assist the civilian government in the national interest. Officials were quoted as saying that “United we rise” was the theme adopted by the military and its media arm under Bajwa’s leadership.
Bajwa took over from Gen Raheel Sharif, who had an uneasy relationship with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The civil-military equation has always been a tricky issue for Pakistan, which has been ruled by the army for almost half its history. The army exercises an outsize influence on the country’s foreign and security policies.