Did Gen Bajwa realise the futility of Pak's Kashmir pipedream?

By, New Delhi
Apr 29, 2023 11:32 AM IST

When Gen Bajwa briefed media on army's combat unworthiness, he perhaps wanted to focus on economic revival as the state of war with India was bleeding Pak dry.

On July 16, 2001, night, the then Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf left the plush Amarvilas Hotel for Agra’s Kheria airport in a huff to take a flight to Islamabad as the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee refused to agree to weaken Islamabad’s commitment on cross-border terrorism over resolution of the Kashmir issue. The entire Agra summit collapsed and those Pakistani journalists who had been waiting from 2 pm for a positive joint statement were left high and dry after the then Indian Spokesperson Nirupama Rao delivered a one-liner at the Mughal Sheraton hotel at 10 pm. Coined by the then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, Rao, who later served as India’s Foreign Secretary, cryptically said “that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” and left the podium.

File photo of then Pak Army chief Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa on LoC in 2018.
File photo of then Pak Army chief Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa on LoC in 2018.

Rao delivered a repartee after the Pakistani dictator had taken off for his country from Agra airport.

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Frustrated by the Indian response and fueled by luxury hotel’s hospitality, the Pakistan journalists accosted Rao, slanged her, and virtually roughed her up for India allowing their President to return empty handed to Pakistan. The expectation bubble that India under Vajpayee would buy the Pakistani line that there all will be hunky dory if the Kashmir issue was resolved in favour of Islamabad had burst.

Among those present at Mughal Sheraton was one riled up journalist who has now accused former Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa for making a secret deal with India over Kashmir Valley. According to Pakistani newspaper reports on the claims of the journalist, Gen Bajwa met 20-25 journalists at the Army Headquarters in 2021 and told them off-record that Pak Army was not capable of combat against India in view of the condition of certain weapon systems in its inventory. The claim by the journalist was that Bajwa had kept the political leadership then headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan in the dark and that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was supposed to fly to Pakistan to ink the secret deal engineered by Gen Bajwa and Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

The off-the-record dialogue at Pak Army Headquarters apparently took place around the time when Indian and Pak Army Director Generals of Military Operations agreed to hold fire along the Line of Control (LoC) and all other sectors with effect from midnight February 24-25, 2021.

While the Pakistan Army issued a statement on Friday stating that media discussion regarding Pakistan Army’s combat worthiness and the former Army Chief’s views to that end were quoted out of context. The Army then added that it was operationally prepared and in state of utmost combat worthiness. The key points in Army’s response were the confirmation of off the record dialogue and the contents of the off the record meeting, --as quoted by the journalist months after Gen Bajwa demitted office and the ouster of Imran Khan--were largely correct.

It is obvious from the entire episode that the retired general Bajwa no longer is the flavor of the day in Pakistan and that the real target of this debate is the conduct of the Pakistan Army itself, which is in the crosshairs of politically resurgent PTI chief Imran Khan. Understandably, the Narendra Modi government has not reacted to the secret Kashmir deal media debate with Pakistan itself being at a discount on the Raisina Hill since 2016.

For someone who ruled Pakistan for six long years behind the scenes, Gen Bajwa was not a fool to realize that there is nothing called off-the-record with 20-25 journalists. He perhaps was giving a clear message to the public through the media that Pakistan should concentrate on its economic revival and give up its obsession over Kashmir valley as it was bleeding the Islamic Republic dry. The current state of a bankrupt Pakistan accompanying political chaos and terror shows that Gen Bajwa was looking into the future of the Republic and sensitizing the public through a responsible media. The real message of Gen Bajwa was the futility of Pakistan's Kashmir dream and not the combat worthiness of the Pak Army.

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    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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