A retired Pakistani general has said he does not attach any credence to former Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s pledge that the powerful Army would remain out of the nations' politics and blamed the political leadership for contributing to the civil-military imbalance.
Former Lt. Gen Haroon Aslam's remarks came while he was addressing a session on ‘Civil Military Relations: Co-existence or Confrontation’ at the Future of Pakistan Conference — hosted by the student union of the London School of Economics — on Saturday in London.
“Why did (Imran Khan) give an extension to Gen Bajwa? Why did Asif Ali Zardari give an extension to (Gen Ashfaq Parvez) Kiyani? I believe that the military should stay neutral and not meddle in politics, but remember that you cannot switch it off,” Dawn newspaper quoted Aslam as saying.
He also blamed Pakistan’s political leadership for allowing the military to meddle in politics, saying that while the military was not proactively trying to interfere, it was the “civilian component” that gave importance to the military.
When asked about the long-term applicability of retired Gen Bajwa’s farewell pledge of neutrality from the Army, Gen Aslam did not mince his words.
“I don’t attach any credence to that. He played his innings, then at the end said this. There is no importance of what an outgoing chief says," he said.
Gen Aslam was the senior-most at the time of former army chief Kayani’s retirement. Before that, he remained DG military operations and Bahawalpur corps commander.
At the outset of the session, he raised eyebrows by professing that he had voted for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan in the last election, and would do so again. But in the same breath, he also criticised Khan, as well as other civilian leaders for contributing to the civil-military imbalance.
“If you encourage good civilian leadership, then the military will recoil,” he said, adding that “we have to go by the will of the people”.
“The [civilian] component gives importance to the military and the relationship between the two is a triangle of love, hate and expediency. If we have a score against India, everyone loves the Army. But if there is intervention, everyone hates the Army. It is not the military that is proactive in trying (to interfere), it is a collective thing. Woodrow Wilson Centre scholar Michael Kugelman, however, came to the defence of the civilian leadership. “
All roads to Islamabad lead through Pindi. A neutral Army is only possible if politicians decide they don’t need to work with the military. But unfortunately, politicians often don’t have a choice. There is a desire to ensure relations between them and the military are good.”
He said he did not agree with the argument that civilian leaders are corrupt and ineffective, adding that such ideas are harboured by the military.
On the question of who is to blame for Pakistan’s current crisis, Kugelman said: “It is common to point to the economic stability in military regimes with nostalgia, but it is important to remember how critics and dissenters suffered during military rule.”
The military, he recalled, gets a major chunk of the budget even in times of economic distress.
At this, Gen Aslam said that he did not support military takeovers, but opposed singling out the military for the current crisis.
“It is a collective responsibility and a collective failure. There is a gross misunderstanding about the defence budget. It does not eat up the budget without rhyme or reason.”