The dirty legacy of General Bajwa – one of Pakistan’s most controversial army chief who ended up dividing the military

When General Qamar Javed Bajwa became Pakistan’s most powerful man on November 29, 2016, he was taking over the army amidst a religious campaign against him and in favor of his predecessor General Raheel Sharif, to stay as the army chief.

The 62-year-old official, in charge of the country’s most powerful post for six years will step down on November 29. Last Thursday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif appointed Lieutenant General Asim Munir, a former spy chief, as Bajwa’s successor.

General Bajwa is credited to be the man who institutionalized the current model of governance in Pakistan – called the “hybrid regime” where the military remains in control of the country behind shadows but helps install their person of choice as the Prime Minister.

The first experiment that Bajwa orchestrated in this regard failed miserably with Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician, who turned against the military after his ouster as the Pakistani Prime Minister earlier this year.

The second experiment in this regard continues today but is yet to bear any results, given Pakistan’s economy is in trouble and the political instability in the country is at an all time high.

Khan and Bajwa had a fall out because of their disagreement last year over a key position in the military – the head of the powerful intelligence service – the ISI. Khan wanted his recommendation to continue as the ISI chief, but Bajwa eventually prevailed, and subsequently Khan was sent packing home earlier this year in a no-confidence motion by the Pakistani parliamentarians. But the dispute between Khan and Bajwa and Khan’s removal from office has led to one of the most vocal campaigns against the Pakistani military to date, leading to a dramatic decline in the army’s reputation across the country.

In his farewell speech last week, Bajwa acknowledged that the military has meddled in political matters for which it has been severely criticised.

“In my opinion, the reason for this is the constant meddling by the army in politics for the last 70 years, which is unconstitutional,” he said. “That is why, since February last year, the military has decided they will not interfere in any political matter.”

According to international media – Bajwa’s abiding legacy will be the “internal rifts” within the army, which has been viewed as the most disciplined institution in the country.

“General Bajwa miscalculated and underestimated the cracks within his own establishment. He acted too late and also perhaps does not seem to have the stomach to ‘quash’ the rebellion within,” said Maria Rashid, the author of a book on Pakistan’s military, Dying to Serve: Militarism, Affect, and the Politics of Sacrifice in the Pakistan Army, in an interview to Al Jazeera English website.

“For the first time perhaps, the cracks within the military, even though they existed before, are being filtered through the concerns of a mainstream political party, the PTI,” Rashid told Al Jazeera, refering to Khan’s party.

Bajwa’s 6 year tenure also saw the worst crackdown against media freedoms, with Pakistani journalism dying a slow death. Today, the country’s media is effectively micro-managed and controlled by the ISPR – the military’s media wing, and as per RSF: “Pakistan is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, with three to four murders each year that are often linked to cases of corruption or illegal trafficking and which go completely unpunished. Any journalist who crosses the red lines dictated by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) – an intelligence agency offshoot – is liable to be the target of in-depth surveillance that could lead to abduction and detention for varying lengths of time in the state’s prisons or less official jails. Furthermore, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s leading military intelligence agency, is prepared to silence any critic once and for all.”

Another legacy of Bajwa’s tenure is the resurgence of the Pakistani Islamist and militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban who were offered a peace deal recently, and the rise of the Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) – an Islamist group that uses blasphemy as a tool to further its own extremist agenda. TLP has been involved in radicalizing Pakistanis beyond the country’s borders with blasphemy related attacks by Pakistanis in Europe and in neighboring India in recent years.

However, perhaps the most damning legacy of Bajwa is an investigative report that came out just a few days before his retirement by an exiled Pakistani journalist Ahmad Noorani, who in  a publication called FactFocus has revealed how the outgoing army chief’s family made billions of dollars in property and wealth during his 6 year tenure. The journalist published the tax records of his close family members and how the assets grew manifold since Bajwa’s appointment as chief. The report has led to the current Pakistani government initiating an inquiry into the leak but not denying the contents of the investigation.

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