On April 14, 2018, COAS, General Qamar Javed Bajwa uncharacteristically expressed his desire to normalise relations with India. “It is our sincere belief that the route to peaceful resolution of Pak-India disputes – including the core issue of Kashmir – runs through comprehensive and meaningful dialogue,” he said, while addressing the passing out parade ceremony of Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) cadets in Kakul.
The political situation in the country was in flux back then, and heavyweights were in the arena, flexing their muscles to dominate and control the system, as the country was approaching the polling day. There were signs that Imran Khan was on his way into the power corridors.
On April 2, 2022, General Bajwa again expressed his views on the normalisation of relations with India at the Islamabad Security Dialogue. He said, “We believe that peace and stability in our wider region are pre-requisites for achieving shared regional prosperity and development” and “In this regard, our doors are open for all our neighbors”.
General Bajwa’s expression of desire to normalise relations with India for the second time coincided with the political turmoil in the country. Imran Khan was in the process of being ousted from power, and the opposition parties were expected to re-enter the power corridors.
This is evidently a new General Bajwa, who is ready to take risks with Russia and China.
In April 2018, the general’s speech had come as a surprise for the political observers in Islamabad. Given it was a full-fledged policy statement, meant to offer peace talks to India, the statement should have come from the civil government. But few people knew that General Bajwa was to embark on a visit to Moscow within two weeks. Even fewer knew that Pakistan was in talks with the Russian Federation for the purchase of state-of-the-art T-90 battle tanks, and other Russian weapons.
General Bajwa’s predecessor had signed an agreement with the Russian Federation in October 2015 which allowed arms trade between the two countries and cooperation in weapons development. During his visit to Moscow, General Bajwa held talks with his Russian counterparts over political issues related to the purchase of Russian military hardware. Pakistan was facing problems in convincing the Russian military-industrial complex for the sale of military hardware, especially in the face of intense Indian lobbying in the power corridors of Moscow against Pakistan.
General Bajwa’s speech in Kakul was meant to convey to his Russian interlocutors – before he embarked on a visit to Moscow – that although Pakistan was ready to reduce political and military tensions with India, the country would still need military hardware to deal with the difficult task of stabilising its western border in the face of religious extremism and militancy. It is no secret that Pakistani diplomats who regularly interact with Russian government officials were facing entreaties about normalising relations with India before relations between Pakistan and Russia could further improve.
This diplomatic necessity was still in place when General Bajwa spoken about normalisation of relations with India for the second time in April 2022. This time however he was more ambitious than in 2018. He championed the cause of developing countries against any possible entanglement with the impending new Cold War between China and the United States. He advocated an independent foreign policy for Pakistan, away from any camp in the new Cold War that could be around the corner. Pakistan is an ideal regional connectivity hub, which is ready to resolve all disputes with neighbouring India to achieve its economic potential.
In case Gen Bajwa’s project to normalise relations with the country’s eastern neighbour materialises, he could become the most influential foreign policy army chief in the country’s history.
This is evidently a new General Bajwa, who is ready to take risks with Russia and China. His said in his last speech, “Let me also emphasize that while CPEC remains central to our vision, only seeing Pakistan through the CPEC prism is also misleading. Our immensely vital geostrategic location and a transformed vision makes us a country of immense and diverse potential which can very positively contribute to regional development and prosperity”.
In this situation, someone who has signaled his intentions to antagonize the West (especially Washington), and by default wants land into a tight embrace with Russia and China, is of no use to the general. Imran Khan loud-mouthing Washington had the potential to gravely injure the Pak-US relations. He was thus considered unfit to steer the ship of the state that has the geo-strategic vision of balancing ties with Washington and other emerging poles in the World politics. Ironically, Nawaz Sharif has spent the intervening period of four years between General Bajwa’s two speeches – 2018-2022 — in political wilderness. Yet, he is standing firmly on his position to normalise relations with India, a position that gels well with General Bajwa’s desire to remove all political hurdles to in the way to realizing the economic potential of Pakistan.
Will geo-strategic vision lead to political realignment in domestic politics? In case his project to normalise relations with the country’s eastern neighbour materialises, he could become the most influential foreign policy army chief in the country’s history.
Normalizing means handing over Kashmir to Pakistan in exchange for the loss of East Pakistan. This should be made clear in all such commentaries. This is not going to happen.
Many Pakistanis do not see Bangladesh as an independent country but a satellite of India.
Whatever claims Pakistan may have had on Kashmir was lost after Pakistan invaded Kashmir in 1948. It led to defeat. When an aggressor is defeated it looses all claims against the victim of its aggression.
Pakistani public should be educated that Kashmir has not served Pakistan’s interest and Bangladesh is an independent country. Pakistan can begin by repatriating the 300,000 or so of its citizens who have been living in horrible conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh, and offer an official apology to Bangladesh.