GEN Qamar Javed Bajwa’s farewell address at the Defense and Martyrs’ Day ceremony on Wednesday focused on the army’s role in politics, possibly in recognition that it will define his legacy.
There was an attempt to come clean—a somewhat grudging admission that the military’s history of political interference played a role in where things are now. But the general also assured us that the establishment’s days of political management were over and that the institution had closed the chapter on 70 years of “unconstitutional” political interference in February 2021.
This brief moment of self-accountability was quickly followed by complaints.
Though the military made mistakes, the public and political parties recently went too far in their criticism of the institution. The military was chastised first for bringing in a “selected” government, then for bringing in an “imported” one, despite the fact that in both cases, it was the politicians who could not accept defeat.
There was also a clear dislike for former Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose foreign conspiracy narrative has caused a lot of trouble for the armed forces this year. Gen. Bajwa asked the audience how the armed forces could have done nothing if there was a conspiracy against the government.
The olive branch appeared at the end. The general stated that the army had opportunities to kill critics but chose not to do so for the sake of national unity. The institution’s patience, on the other hand, has limits. As the process of catharsis begins, political parties must also reflect on and re-examine their roles.
It was an unusual speech, but perhaps appropriate for these unusual times. Congratulations to the chief for admitting the army’s role in politics is “unconstitutional” and attempting to make amends. Time will tell whether the institution keeps its word.
In the meantime, some questions remain. The good general failed to explain what prompted his institution to leave politics during his final years in power. What role did him and the army play up until February 2021, and why were they so remorseful? And, when Gen Bajwa eagerly claimed credit for resolving the Reko Diq and Karkey disputes, FATF whitelisting, and securing credit and cheap gas from friendly countries on behalf of the armed forces, did he consider for a moment that the army had no business interfering in any of these matters?
Finally, when the military realised its mistakes in political interference, did it reconsider its militancy policies, some of which had contributed to Pakistan’s grey listing by the FATF? Otherwise, wouldn’t it be unjust to claim credit for resolving a problem it had caused?
When the institution confronts the ghosts of its past, catharsis will occur. As a result of the efforts of Gen Bajwa, one hopes that the process will continue.
Honesty and sincerity in the civil-military relationship may be just what the country needs to heal.