In his last address as Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa paid tribute to the martyrs of the country before launching into a speech laden with admissions and omissions.
Speaking at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, the outgoing army chief said, “Today, on the Defence and Martyrs Day, I am giving an address as the army chief for the last time.” Before beginning his address, he apologised for the delay in the Defence and Martyrs’ day ceremony due to devastating floods across the country.
He began by paying tribute to those who lost their lives by saying: “Firstly, I would like to pay tribute to the martyrs who are the pride of Pakistan while acknowledging the patience of their bereaved families.” He also reassured them that the army will continue to fulfill their financial needs.
During his address, he also stressed that the basic job of the armed forces is to protect the geographical boundaries of the countries.
However, in the second part of the speech, COAS Bajwa spoke about political matters.
Tacitly admitting to a longstanding charge, the COAS said that the Pakistan army is “often subjected to criticism” and the reason was the army’s involvement in politics.
Reiterating what Director General ISI General Nadeem Anjum had said before, General Bajwa insisted once again that the army will not interfere in politics.
“Pichlay saal February mein faisla kiya kai ab siyasat mein mudakhalat nahin hogi. Fauj ki siyasat mein mudakhlat ghair aaini hai,” he said. (Last year in February, we decided not to interfere in politics. Army’s interference in politics is unconstitutional.)
“I assure you we are strictly adamant on this and will remain so,” he said.
In what seemed like a criticism of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, General Bajwa said that a false narrative was built and a campaign was started against the Pakistan army.
‘Kya ap ko lagta hai ke mulk mei foriegn conspiracy ho aur hum chup rahy’: General Bajwa
Talking about Imran Khan’s claims of his government being ousted because of US interference, General Bajwa asked, “Was it possible for the army to remain silent if there was a foreign conspiracy?”
“Had this been the case, it would have been the most heinous sin on our end,” he emphasised, pointing out that the army could’ve replied but didn’t for the sake of Pakistan.
‘Inappropriate and undignified language was used against us’: General Bajwa
Without naming Khan, who has at various times termed the institution “neutral”, “janwar”, “Mir Sadiq”, and “Mir Jafar”, the army chief said that instead of welcoming the military’s decision to stay away from politics, “many sectors used very inappropriate and undignified language while making the army the target of severe criticism. To criticise the army is the right of political parties and the people, but they should select their language carefully,” he added.
‘Calling governments’ selected and imported is wrong’: General Bajwa
Gen Bajwa also said that political parties started criticising the army after the 2018 general elections when Khan’s government was labelled as “selected” and following the successful vote of no confidence this year, the incumbent administration is being labelled as “imported”.
“We need to reject this behaviour,” he stressed while adding that every party will have to develop the strength to accept its victory as well as defeat.
He said that the next government which will be formed after elections should be known as elected.
‘Political parties should reflect on their behaviour’: COAS
Emphasizing on reconciliation, General Bajwa said that the army had initiated its process of “catharsis” and expected that political parties would follow suit as well and reflect on their behaviour. “This is the reality, mistakes have been made by every institution, including political parties and civil society. The army has started its catharsis, and I hope political parties will also reflect on their behaviour,” he said.
Calling the 1971 debacle that ended with the country being split into two, a “political failure” the COAS said that the creation of Bangladesh was not a military failure.
The COAS said that lessons should be learned from such mistakes so the nation could move forward.
In the last part of his address, he hoped that political stakeholders would set aside their egos, learn from past mistakes, move forward and take Pakistan out of this crisis. He stressed the need for the nation to shed intolerance and adopt a “true democratic culture”.
Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that it has finally received the summary from the Ministry of Defence with a list of names of the candidates for the new COAS and the chairman joint chief of staff committee (CJCSC).
General Bajwa is set to retire on November 29 after six years in office. He was appointed in 2016 by then-PM Nawaz Sharif and later granted an additional three-year extension in 2019 by former PM Imran Khan.