Bajwa’s “Double Game”

Bajwa’s “Double Game”
It’s confirmed. General Qamar Javed Bajwa was playing a “double game” all the time. The truth has been outed by Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and Moonis Elahi. They say the army chief advised them at the nth hour to renege on their  commitment with the PDM to form government with them in the Punjab, and to side with Imran Khan. All this while Gen Bajwa kept assuring the PDM that he was “neutral” and wouldn’t try to swing the vote against them by leaning on the PTI’s disgruntled allies who were lining up behind them. There’s more.

​PDM sources admit that General Bajwa also tried to persuade them to withdraw the VONC in exchange for a dissolution of the National Assembly by Imran Khan but they didn’t follow his advice because they couldn’t trust Imran Khan or him to keep their word. In turn, Imran Khan felt betrayed by General Bajwa when the VONC neared conclusion and threatened to sack him, which prompted a midnight SOS to the Islamabad High Court and Supreme Court to stand by and thwart the prime minister.

​It’s not just Imran Khan who has accused General Bajwa of playing a “double game”. The PDM has its share of allegations too. After General Bajwa’s spat with Imran Khan over the matter of shunting Lt- General Faiz Hameed from the ISI to Peshawar Corps in late 2021, the PDM suddenly got active in mounting a VONC against the PTI government. PDM sources admit that this initiative wouldn’t have kicked off without a wink from General Bajwa. But all was not smooth. It took the PDM four months to launch the VONC only because General Bajwa kept dragging his feet over giving them the green light, offering various excuses for the delay. He told them he was concerned that the Reko Dik and IMF matters should be signed and sealed by the PTI government before it was ousted because neither could afford to be delayed on account of fresh elections. He was also hoping to buy time to pressure Imran Khan so that he could fulfil his own personal ambitions.

​His motive for playing a double game was to get another extension in service from Imran Khan and/or the PDM, seeking assurances from one or the other on that count. But when he realized that Imran Khan was bent on making Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed army chief in November 2022, he started to play footsie with Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari. Both seasoned politicians let him believe they would scratch his back if he scratched theirs.

​General Bajwa’s last ditch effort to sway the Chaudhries to back Imran Khan was aimed at signaling his support for Imran Khan so that the latter wouldn’t get wise to his machinations and sack him. He didn’t offer the same advice to the MQM and other PTI allies because he didn’t want the PDM to lose faith in his “neutrality”. He wanted Khan to dissolve the National Assembly so that he could manipulate the new elections and bring the PDM to office in exchange for a second extension. But when neither Khan nor Sharif bought his advice, the government changed hands and a new scenario presented itself in April 2022. General Bajwa now tried to persuade the new government to call fresh elections immediately and would have succeeded if Imran Khan hadn’t hurled his threat to besiege Parliament on May 25. Under the circumstances, the PDM felt that to throw in the towel under threat from Khan would be bad for optics and prove costly in the elections. So Nawaz Sharif dug his heels in and vowed to resist both General Bajwa and Imran Khan.

​Imran Khan now went on the warpath against General Bajwa for not helping him enough. Matters worsened when a perceptible backlash against the military’s interventions in politics in general, and against General Bajwa’s machinations in particular, began to build up in civil society and the rank and file of serving and retired army officers. In consequence, the senior commanders of the army met and approved a simple agenda: the army leadership should pull back and stay “neutral”, rule out martial law, and no further extension in service to General Bajwa. That’s when General Bajwa sought out President Arif Alvi to convey a new formula for buy-in by Imran Khan: an announcement of elections by the PDM before November 29 and a six month extension for General Bajwa to preside over the caretaker period and keep economic stabilization going. Imran Khan was tempted to float this formula because he thought he would win the next elections and appoint his own man as army chief after six months. But the PDM was not about to be taken for another ride by General Bajwa.

​The formula was roundly rejected. General Bajwa became threatening. Nawaz Sharif wouldn’t budge. His argument was that the PMLN had lost significant capital in implementing the hardship policies of the IMF and would be routed at the polls if these were held in March. General Bajwa now changed tack. He insisted that Generals Azhar Abbas and Saher Shamsad, who were close to him and tilted towards Imran Khan, should be elevated to the post of COAS and CJCSC respectively, failing which he would not send any suitable summary to the Ministry of Defence. Once again, Nawaz Sharif held his ground. General Bajwa was told that If he didn’t send the name of General Asim Munir, the PM would simply “retain” the service of the senior most general, namely Asim Munir, and appoint him army chief. The tensions of the last week of November were palpable. In the end, General Bajwa backed down, General Asim Munir became army chief and General Shamshad was the compromise CJCSC.

​General Bajwa’s last wish was to disappear into nothingness. So he requested the Chaudhrys to bail him out with Imran Khan and the PTI in the hope that he and his family would not be constantly harassed by the PTI trolls. But even though the trolling against General Bajwa has temporarily stopped, Imran Khan is not in a forgiving mood. Nor is the independent media that was at the receiving end of the general’s stick for four years. Stories of his  corrupt practices and political manipulation continue to make the rounds.

​This is just as well. General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s role in the last six years of instability and constitutional aberration should not be forgotten or forgiven. It should serve as a lesson for self-serving adventurers.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.