By Dr Subhash Kapila
Pakistan’s announcement of new Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on November 24 2016 set in motion a torrent of futile Indian media speculation on positive implications for India in terms of his attitudinal postures.
India must learn to recognise that no Pakistan Army Chief ‘controls’ the Pakistan Army even though by virtue of his office he commands it. It is the Pakistan Army which institutionally through its Corps Commanders Collegium that controls the Pakistan Army Chief and Pakistan.
Strangely, the Indian media and strategic community comparatively never debates such aspects when changes in China’s military hierarchy takes place even though the fact is that China’s policies towards India are conditioned by the Chinese military hierarchy and that China is more decidedly the major threat to India amplified since 2014 by the China-Pakistan Axis.
Before moving on to the examination of the main theme it would be proper to briefly shed light on the external and internal environment that presently dominates Pakistan. The new Pakistan Army Chief cannot operate in a vacuum and Pakistan’s political and security environment that prevails will certainly count for much as General Bajwa’s operational assessments and the policy he crafts when he dons the mantle on November 29 2016.
Pakistan can be said externally to be bereft of support of the United States and Western countries, its traditional supporters. China and with Russia in tow cannot fill the vacuum so caused. China is only an aphrodisiac that excites delusionary military highs in the Pakistan military hierarchy in confronting India
Regionally, Pakistan and the Pakistan Army are at confrontational odds with its two major neighbours, Afghanistan and India. This makes Pakistan Army’s both military flanks troublesome. Within SAARC also Pakistan stands isolated.
On Afghanistan, with Pakistan Army’s fixated obsession of controlling it for strategic depth, Pakistan Army Chief has to confront the new reality that today there is a strategic consensus between India, Iran and Afghanistan and that is at cross-purposes with Pakistan Army’s end-aim.
Internally, the domestic environment is in turbulence not only politically but also militarily. Politically, Pakistan PM has not been allowed to settle down stably on many counts. Militarily, Balochistan and to some extent Sindh and the Western Frontier regions will provide challenges to the new Pakistan Army Chief. These can be serious distractions as General Bajwa confronts the military turbulence on its Western and Eastern Flanks.
Then are the major challenges that could arise within the Pakistan Army hierarchy as in their perceptions the smooth transition of command of the Pakistan Army Chief in a way for the first time opens a window for greater Pakistani civilian control of the Pakistan Army. There could be reverberations as General Bajwa by Pakistani media accounts was not the favoured choice of the outgoing Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif or the Pakistan Army.
Surely, it is an established fact that Pakistan’s policy stances towards India are not dictated by any incoming Pakistan Army Chief’s personal preferences. It is the Pakistan Army’s institutional mindset on India that prevails ultimately and no new Pakistan Army Chief can afford to shrug that off.
Pakistan Army’s institutional mindset on India is decidedly Anti-India not only because of post-1947 reverses that Pakistan Army has suffered at the hands of the Indian Army. The Pakistan Army’s mindsets are also historically moulded by the nostalgia and hangover that the Pakistan Army are the true heirs of the Islamic Slave Kings and Mughal Empire that ruled India for nearly eight hundred years before the advent of the British.
With that contextual background it can be asserted that the Pakistan Army is in a state of paranoid fixation towards seeking strategic and military parity with India. Since this could not be achieved in the outcomes of Pakistan Army’s four wars with India, the Pakistan Army for the past few decades resorted to asymmetric warfare whose main instruments have been proxy wars and state-sponsored terrorism by Pakistan Army jihadi terrorism affiliates.
With the advent of General Bajwa as Pakistan Army Chief, therefore, nothing changes for India in terms of conflict escalation and military brinkmanship on the LOC and the international border. India must learn to live and not only live but defeat Pakistan Army’s institutional obsessive fixation to downsize India and its military might.
Would General Bajwa as the new Pakistan Army Chief be able to restrain Pakistan’s terrorism and disruptive activities against India and especially in the Kashmir Valley, the answer is in the negative. Unlike previous Pakistan Army Chiefs, General Bajwa has practical hands-on experience and mastery of operational matters all along the LOC and the IB having served many tenures in every rank in Pakistan Army’s X Corps which is the largest Corps in the Pakistan Army whose operational responsibility covers the entire expanse of Jammu & Kashmir. That makes him a General to be reckoned with when it comes to military operations in Jammu & Kashmir.
The Indian media has widely quoted that General Bajwa had once stated that Pakistan faces more internal threats than the threat from India. But that does not imply that the Pakistan Army would isolate/insulate itself from its military adventurism in Kashmir or seek peace and tranquillity on India’s borders. Or, more significantly for India, restrain terrorism against India and other disruptive activities.
Pakistan is currently under great international pressure to defang Pakistan Army’s notorious affiliates the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, as the major powers feel that their activities could provoke India into an escalated armed conflict with Pakistan.
Should the new Pakistan Army Chief succumb to such international pressure, it would not be from any fears of Indian military backlash but out of coercive pressures from Pakistan Army’s erstwhile strategic patrons. The rest of Pakistan Army’s military adventurism against India is unlikely to cease.
The other major ongoing speculation in India is whether Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif having personally selected General Bajwa as the new Pakistan Army Chief could possibly expect him to second the Pakistani PM’s penchant for better relations with India which in the past were over-ruled by previous Army Chiefs.
It would be a flawed assessment that speculates that Pakistani PM’s main determinant in selecting General Bajwa was that the new Army Chief would be more accommodative in promoting Pakistan’s peace dialogues with India. Pakistan’s institutional opposition to such initiatives would ultimately prevail and even if there is no threat of military coups exist but until such time Pakistan Army comes under complete control of its civilian masters, no Pakistani PM can be oblivious to Pakistan Army’s institutional Anti-India fixations.
The ‘China Factor’ has now surfaced as a major factor and determinant in Pakistan’s and Pakistan Army’s policy attitudes towards India with the emergence of the China-Pakistan Axis in more concrete terms. Further, China prefers dealing directly with the Pakistan Army Chief and the Pakistan Army, and not with the elected Government of Pakistan. China can ill-afford any Pakistan Army Chief who displays soft attitudes’ towards India. General Bajwa cannot be expected to be an exception.
Lead editorials in Pakistan’s more prominent dailies reflecting on General Bajwa’s selection as Army Chief in outlining the agenda for the new Pakistan Army Chief have stressed that General Bajwa should focus on the continuation of his predecessor’s aggressive policies which in any case were not India-friendly.
Pakistan seems to be suffering from heightened besieged paranoia where one columnist has gone so far as to suggest that the ‘Trump-Modi Combine’ would be out to destroy Pakistan.
Concluding therefore, the major assessment that surfaces from the above analysis is that India should be under no delusions’ that Pakistan’s policy on India would change for the better with the advent of the new Pakistan Army Chief. A complex mix of external and internal factors may propel Pakistan to greater military adventurism against India on the plea that India threatens Pakistan’s very existence now with no restraining coercive pressures of the United States existent.