The outgoing Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa, has addressed the backlash he and his institute have faced in recent months in a rare interview.
Talking to the United Arab Emirates based Gulf News, General Bajwa said that the army’s decision to become apolitical is “being viewed as negative by a segment of society and led to personal criticism”. However, he doubled down on the decision, emphasizing that restricting the armed forces to it’s mandated constitutional role will, “facilitate in reinvigorating and strengthening democratic culture, assist in supporting state organs to effectively perform and deliver. Above all, this decision will help enhance army’s prestige in the long term.”
General Bajwa, who has less than two days left in his tenure, stated that he felt it prudent to “shield Pakistan Army from the vagaries of politics in Pakistan,” adding that public support for the institution goes down when the military is seen to be involved in political affairs.
Without naming either Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) or its Chairman Imran Khan, who has criticized the army for becoming “neutral,” General Bajwa again talked about the “undue vilification” of the army. “Despite some criticism and undue vilification of the armed forces through mass propaganda and meticulously crafted false narratives, the institutional resolve to remain apolitical will remain steadfast,” he told Gulf News.
Talking about Pakistan’s relations with Middle Eastern countries, the COAS predicted that the country will have a “robust and broad-based” relationship with Arab nations.
The army chief also discussed the challenges that Pakistan faces, citing it’s “delicate position” in balancing it’s relationships with both all-weather friend China and the West. General Bajwa also cited the western border with Afghanistan as “volatile” but added that the violence has reduced after US withdrawal and provided a “modicum of stability”.
However the COAS also mentioned “economic frailty” as a major challenge, remarking that it tends to “exacerbate other issues concerning human security such as health, education, access to food and clean water, and mitigating threats posed by climate change.”
At the end, the Chief gave out a message to the country’s youth. “The youth must also ensure that they are shielded from divisive propaganda and information warfare that seeks to polarise our society and erode mutual trust. Pakistan should always come first — before any other marker of identity,” he remarked.
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