The exalted status that army chiefs enjoy in Pakistan have tempted most incumbents to develop a grand vision about everything — from political problems to the economy and foreign policy. Not surprisingly, the past few weeks have seen a spate of articles and comments on the so-called “Bajwa Doctrine”. General Qamar Javed Bajwa is the 16th army chief of the Pakistan army and the first Jat to hold the coveted post. The doctrine is his analysis of international and domestic affairs and his prescription for a ‘peaceful and prosperous’ Pakistan.
In 1954, General Ayub Khan as Commander-in-Chief authored a document titled ‘A short appreciation of present and future problems of Pakistan, analysing Pakistan’s problems and their resolution. The only doctrine that his successor, General Yahya Khan had time for was ‘unrestrained frolicking.’ General Zia-ul-Haq’s doctrine was to survive and harness Islam in this venture. Gen Aslam Beg came up with a concept of ‘strategic defiance’ against the backdrop of the first Gulf War. General Asif Nawaz died in harness before he could share his vision. General Waheed Kakar became famous for the ‘Kakar formula’ — getting rid of both the president and the prime minister. General Jehangir Karamat sought an institutional role for the army in decision-making and was shown the door for his troubles. Genera; Pervez Musharraf spoke about ‘enlightened moderation’, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani saw internal threats as a greater security challenge than even India; Gen Raheel Sharif saw securing Pakistan’s culture and way of life as primary security concerns, asserting the enemy ‘lives within us and looks like us.’
The so-called Bajwa doctrine is thus in the same league as the pronouncements of his predecessors. What is different is that at the time of writing, there are at least three versions of it.
The London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) was the first to coin the term ‘Bajwa doctrine’ after his address to the Munich security conference in February 2018. The key element of the doctrine, according to it, was ‘biting back hard’ against threats of funding cuts by the US.
The second version of the Bajwa doctrine came in the wake of a supposedly ‘off-the-record’ interaction that Bajwa had with several journalists in Pakistan.
In foreign affairs it implied better relations with neighbours i.e. Afghanistan and India.
Internally, it stressed the democratic future of the country; focus on internal security by exterminating terrorism from Pakistan, destroying safe-havens, de-weaponising jihadis and bringing them into the mainstream.
Where it became controversial was in terming the 18th Amendment to the constitution as being more dangerous than the six points of Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman because it turned the federation into a confederation. In reality, however, the 18th amendment, by devolving greater autonomy to the provinces, is believed to have strengthened the federation.
The economic content of the doctrine underlined that economic mismanagement had brought Pakistan to the brink of bankruptcy. Expensive infrastructural projects like Metros and Motorways were a massive drain on the economy. In effect, it was a scathing criticism of the Nawaz Sharif model of development.
If these two versions of the Bajwa doctrine were not enough, DG Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor came with the third in a press conference. Clearly, faced with a barrage of muted criticism about Bajwa’s remarks on the 18th amendment, Ghafoor refuted the impression that ‘the Bajwa Doctrine’ had anything to do with political issues such as the amendment. His memorable words were: “If there exists any doctrine…it is only related to the security of Pakistan,” clarifying that some journalists had incorrectly linked Bajwa’s entire conversation with the doctrine. According to him, the army chief was not against the amendment but simply wanted to ensure the provinces were capable of fulfilling the responsibility.
If the third and latest version is the real Bajwa doctrine, then there is very little to distinguish it from the policies of previous army chiefs like Kiyani and Raheel Sharif. Both of them had sought to eradicate terrorism internally- in Swat and North Waziristan respectively.
In other democracies, Bajwa would have been taken to task for overstepping his constitutionally mandated role. In Pakistan, however, there is an acceptance that the army takes a deep interest in civil affairs. So the question is not whether he should have said what he did but whether it is the right remedy for Pakistan.
Pakistan does not have a sustainable civilian template for governance. Thus, what Bajwa has said could well become the national narrative, especially the mainstreaming of jihadis.
Despite the clarifications, the doctrine flags civil-military fissures on two critical issues: economic policy and provincial autonomy. If anything, the doctrine is an early warning to the next government about the army’s expectations from them. Thus, Pakistan’s democratic consolidation, despite heading towards a third consecutive on-time election, would continue to be fragile.
The various doctrines have had a poor shelf life. For example, after he became defence minister in 1954, Ayub submitted his paper (today it would have been called doctrine) to the cabinet. No one thought that it contained anything substantive. So it was consigned to the archives.
Bajwa has 20 months left as army chief. After November 2019, it is likely that the Bajwa doctrine too would meet the same fate as the articulations of his predecessors. What would survive is the continued domination of the army, with or without doctrines.