A day ahead of his retirement, Pakistan's Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has said that his decision to keep the military establishment 'apolitical' will shield it from the 'vagaries of politics' in the coup-prone country.
General Bajwa, 61, will retire on November 29 after six years in what is normally a three-year post. The Pakistan government on Thursday appointed General Asim Munir, a former ISI chief, as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to succeed General Bajwa.
General Bajwa admitted that the "Pakistan Army has always remained a dominant player in national decision-making. Due to its historic role in the country's politics, the military drew severe criticism from the public and politicians alike."
“We have restricted the army's role to its constitutionally mandated task only by deciding to make it 'apolitical.' This decision, though being viewed negatively by a segment of society and led to personal criticism, will facilitate reinvigorating and strengthening democratic culture, and assist in supporting state organs to effectively perform and deliver," General Bajwa said in an interview with the Gulf News.
Above all, this decision will help enhance the Army's prestige in the long term, he told the UAE-based newspaper.
On Wednesday, in his final public address as Pakistan's Army chief, General Bajwa said the military establishment's unconstitutional interference in politics over the past 70 years was the reason why it drew criticism from the general masses and politicians.
General Bajwa opined that public support and affinity towards the armed forces tended to erode when the military was seen to be involved in political affairs. "Therefore, I considered it prudent to shield (the) Pakistan Army from the vagaries of politics in Pakistan," he said.
Since Pakistan was created 75 years ago, the Army has seized power three times and directly ruled the country for almost four decades.
During his final public address on November 23, General Bajwa extended an olive branch to those targeting the Pakistan Army, saying that "I want to move forward by forgetting it."
He also urged all stakeholders to move ahead by learning lessons from past mistakes. "This is why in February last year the Army, after great deliberation, decided that it would never interfere in any political matter. I assure you we are strictly adamant on this and will remain so,” he explained.
In the interview, General Bajwa acknowledged that while terrorism had abated in Pakistan, we continue to make meaningful efforts to overcome the menace of extremism and the residue of terrorism.
He, however, cautioned against streaks of political intolerance in our society as a worrisome new trend.
"We will keep striving for a society which is tolerant, rational and does not discriminate on the basis of political orientation, faith, ethnicity or creed,” he said.
He also termed Pakistan's economic frailty as a cause for concern, saying it tended to exacerbate other issues concerning human security such as health, education, access to food and clean water and mitigating threats posed by climate change.
The outgoing Army chief spoke about the delicate position that Pakistan found itself in amid the ever-sharpening global power contestation between the United States and China.
"Pakistan is trying to steer itself prudently in this increasingly contested strategic environment and ensure that we are not pulled into any future iteration of (the) Cold War," he noted.
The Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) said the "perpetual conflict and instability" in South Asia has made the region "least integrated" despite its economic potential.
He noted that the region had been referred to as a strategic chessboard due to its role in great power rivalries in the past, the recent being the two-decade-long war on terror in Afghanistan.
"Pakistan's western border has therefore seen a great deal of instability due to the conflict in Afghanistan. Post-US withdrawal, a modicum of stability has been seen in the country with a reduction in violence. However, the situation remains volatile," he added.
Pakistan, a nation of 220 million, has been ruled by four different military rulers and has seen three military coups since it was founded. No prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term under the present constitution of 1973.
Bajwa was appointed as the army chief in 2016 and his three-year term was extended in 2019 by then Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has turned out to be the top critic of the Army.