Beating the retreat!


By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
In my weekly column in Daily Times of Pakistan (March 28) captioned “Recipe for National Disaster” I had expressed my serious concerns regarding a reported comment by Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in a briefing to three-star pedigreed journalists comparing 18th Amendment to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Six Points that resulted in the establishment of Bangladesh after a fratricidal war and invasion from India that led to the break up of the country following biggest surrender by a Muslim army in history.
When I read series of long articles, one after the other, interpreting ‘Bajwa Doctrine’ by those great intellectuals who were invited to the GHQ by their weight and thinning of hair, I suddenly smelled rat in the air. There was an orchestrated mention of an almost knocking on the door ‘Messiah’ who would save the country from going to ‘dogs’. I wont test your memory to ask who used that word and for whom. Though General Bajwa does not seem to be the man who would bend to foreign diktat and perhaps, his flesh is not so weak to fall for temptation to be masqueraded in the Western capitals as Asian De Gaulle or to be exactly, Emperor with new clothes.
I was much relieved to hear DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor’s remarks on ‘Bajwa Doctrine’ in a press conference that dispelled the misperception created by the pen pushers that the Army Chief is anti-18th Amendment. I have known many generals in the past and I have heard about their being too obdurate in accepting their retreats and failures-one such example being the runaway General-former President Pervez Musharraf of Kargil Debacle.

Pakistan Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa gives his speech on day two of the 54th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany on February 17, 2018. (File picture)

Pakistan is lucky to have in General Bajwa a man in uniform who thinks without its nature of absolute arbitrariness. I know at least one instance when his wisdom and timely ‘retreat’ of a tweet, saved the country from a political disaster at the hands of now deposed prime minister and his team who were hell-bent in seeking vendetta under the cover of Dawn leak. His second retreat on misinterpretation of Bajwa Doctrine shows his wisdom. It is definitely a retreat from the hornets nest. As a supporter of 18th Amendment, one would appreciate DG ISPR’s categorical assertion that the army chief was not opposed to 18th Amendment and wants provinces to be truly empowered.
Most certainly no two views. Moreover, despite the fact that 18th Amendment has further consolidated the federation, yet the evolutionary process for devolution to the grass root level has to continue vigorously to nurture and nourish a strong democratic society and culture of tolerance in the real spirit of Quaid’s vision of a Pakistan in which religion will be a private affair.
The misconstrued Bajwa Doctrine caused a nationwide debate and some quarters it is still on though apprehensions of doing away of 18th Amendment have been allayed. It did cause very deep simmering in the society and fissiparous forces took it as a golden opportunity to revive their irredentist ambitions that had been buried by the resolution of the tricky issue of provincial autonomy in 1973 constitution and 18th Amendment. God willing, the nation will be celebrating landmark achievement in 70 years when it will complete a full decade of democracy in a few months time when elections are held and power transferred. Notwithstanding confusion getting worst confounded by the powers that be and other manipulative players who perhaps need bell, book and candle treatment to exorcise them of their hideous doctrinarian ambitions.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi’s statement that there would be no judicial or martial law, elections would be held as scheduled and power transferred to the next elected government following his half an hour meeting with American Vice President Pence in Washington – means something more than meets the eye and is definitely reassuring. So is the firm snub by CJP Mr Justice Saqib Nisar to the suggestion by MNA Sheikh Rasheed. National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq who was here in London too on March 23 on the occasion of Pakistan’s National Day function was exhuming confidence with pride on a great decade of democracy.
The controversial Bajwa Doctrine has ignited a nationwide debate. It has caused very deep simmering in the society and fissiparous forces take it as a golden opportunity to revive their irredentist ambitions that had been buried by the resolution of the tricky issue of provincial autonomy in 1973 constitution and 18th Amendment.
One should have read Bajwa Doctrine along with Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s repeated reiterations that army does not pose any threat to democracy – notwithstanding one’s lurking fears in the current atmosphere of eerie lull before the storm, dispelling of doom and gloom when elections are around the corner – is just the need of the hour.
One must remember that perceptions are more lethal than reality. I consider GQJB’s pledge as credible that no harm would come to democracy from the army and that he would retire on the completion of his tenure. Not only that, his assurance that army as an institution would stand by the judiciary and that it would ensure its decisions are implemented – is timely to blunt the vicious volleys of attack on the apex judiciary and judges by the PMLN goons masquerading as ministers who have a notorious reputation of ransacking the Supreme Court in 1998, manhandling the then late Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and bankrolling a judicial coup by the Sharif brothers.
In democracy elections are means to an end for the dispensation of good governance within the parameters of the Constitution, rule of law and the exercise of sovereignty through Parliament. It would require a separate article to clinically analyse Punjabi chauvinist mentality of Prime Minister Abbasi who wants to replace elected Chairman Senate from Balochistan – Senator Sadiq Sanjrani. He is not happy with the defeat of PMLN’s nominees for both Chairman and Deputy Chairman.
It was good to see the misperception about Bajwa Doctrine buried when it was just being interpreted as continuation of the past. Its prognosis is almost similar to what the generals have said in the past. Commitment to a clean and ‘real’ democracy is not new. And the quest for an economically strong and centralised state is also a perennial theme in the military worldview.’
I would say that it means a state with strong centre as was designed in Ayub Khan’s presidential system. In other words, it was a blue-print for a garrison state that developed most under General Ziaul Haq, followed by General Pervez Musharraf. While the smaller provinces have always opposed strong Centre, Punjab in it has the cake and eats it too. That’s the reason disqualified former Prime Minister on war-path with the judiciary and the army has expressed his willingness to sit with General Bajwa and discuss with him his doctrine including amendments in the constitution since 18th amendment is considered as bad as 6-points.
Unfortunately, Praetorian mind-set does not have that sort of wisdom that saved Pakistan from further fragmentation after the fall of Dhaka in 1971 especially when both the Pakistan army and the religious bind could not hold the country together. Had it not been for the statesmanship of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who convinced the leaders of the smaller provinces – messrs Khan Wali Khan, Sardar Ghous Bux Bizenjo, late Nawab Akbar Bugti, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Mufti Mehmood, Samad Khan Achakzai, Raisanis, Khalil Khattak, Aslam Khattak, Professor Ghafoor Ahmed, Maulana Noorani Mian, Zehris, Jamalis, Magsis, Hazaras, Sardar Sherbaz Mazari and host of others as elected members of the National Assembly – in the need to live together as an integrated whole by resolving the thorny issue of provincial autonomy and equitable distribution of resources. It was decided in 1973 Constitution that the Concurrent list would be transferred to provinces in 1983. Gen Zia did not as he thought strong centre was Islamic.
The resolution of the quantum of autonomy issue was the only way to keep the four provinces together. Army was totally decimated by its humiliating defeat; cream of its fighting force was languishing in Indian PoW camps. In the banquet speech to welcome President Bhutto, Soviet President Nikolai Podgorny made it clear to Pakistani delegation in early 1972 that “if a similar situation like that of East Pakistan arose once again, the Soviet Union would support the right of self-determination of the smaller nationalities” – i.e. Pakhtuns wanting Pakhtunistan, Sindhis wanting Sindhu Desh and Balochis wanting Independent Balochistan. It was Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who convinced the leaders of the smaller provinces that unity in diversity was the only way forward to peace, progress and prosperity. It was he who defied the pressure of some of the top opposition leaders who had advised to defang the army so that it does not ever stage a coup.
Those who compare 18th amendment with Six Points are paving the way for national disaster. Army needs funds to carry on the war on terrorism, so does prodigal Punjab leadership. It has to move on with its mega money making projects in the name of development. Both seems to be sleeping in different beds but are having the same dream, that is, finish off only women poverty alleviation scheme acknowledged internationally – Benazir Income Support Scheme.
Elements blinded by self interest and parochialism want BISP to be rolled back-much the same way as Americans have been wanting us to do away our nuclear programme. Punjabisation of national economy was crudely manifested by the Prime Minister’s Adviser on finance in which he said that financial powers delegated to the provinces under the 18th Amendment should go back to the Centre. Bilawal Bhutto warned of the “conspiracies that are being hatched for the last five years to deprive the provinces of financial powers and transfer them back to the Centre. Come hell or high water we will not compromise on our constitution’s integrity, no roll-back and changes in National Finance Commission.”
(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)