Friday, Jul 01, 2022

General Bajwa Reaches Out To The US As Pakistan Gets Ready For Imran Khan’s Exit

With 24-hours to go before the no-trust vote, the army is preparing to mend ties with the US and the West. Bajwa’s speech gave a clear indication.

Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa AP Photo

Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa used the Islamabad Security Dialogue forum to distance the army from embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan’s foreign policy. Though there was no reference to the PM or the current political crisis in Pakistan, Bajwa attempted to reach out to the US in today’s address. Dubbing the "Russian invasion of Ukraine is a huge tragedy," General Bajwa said that ``half of Ukraine has been destroyed.’’  While admitting ``despite legitimate security concerns of Russia, its aggression against a smaller country cannot be condoned.’’ He said it was unfortunate as thousands of people were killed, and millions have had to flee the country. He called for an immediate stop to violence and said Pakistan supported a solution through dialogue. He also spoke of Islamabad’s warm defence and economic ties with Ukraine.

The army is not on the same page as Khan on relations with the US. While welcoming increasingly close ties with China, the pragmatic general is not willing to alienate the US, which still remains the world’s only superpower. The military is keen to repair ties with America and it is likely that the government that will take over from Imran Khan will make that a priority. Bajwa also spoke of better relations with the EU and the UK, going against the Prime Minister. Khan had lashed out at a letter written by EU envoys to Pakistan asking it to side with the West and condemn Russian aggression of Ukraine. Speaking at a public rally, Khan has said “EU ambassadors wrote a letter to Pakistan, asking us to issue an anti-Russia statement. I ask EU ambassadors "did you write that letter to India as well?” He went on to say that Pakistan should never be a ``slave to anyone.’’

During the PTI tenure, ties with Washington had steadily deteriorated and President Joe Biden demonstrated his displeasure by not making the customary phone call to Imran Khan since taking office. Khan in his turn has accused Washington of  trying to push him out of office for his so-called ``independent’’ foreign policy. He was in Moscow meeting President Vladimir Putin on the day Russian forces began the invasion of Ukraine. Imran Khan's unfortunate timing has been criticized severely at home and abroad.

After ensuring Khan’s victory in the 2018 elections and installing a hybrid government, meaning the GHQ in Rawalpindi and the political leadership in Islamabad were in tune and worked harmoniously together. This was much celebrated after the tumultuous last tenure of Nawaz Sharif  rule when the military and civilian leaders were at loggerhead. The Panama Papers gave the army an opportunity it was looking for to get rid of the Pakistan Muslim League government. Sharif was forced to resign and Khan was assiduously built up by the establishment. Despite all that effort, Khan did not win the majority he needed to form the government. Again, the army leadership ensured coalition partners for the Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government. But Khan proved a disappointment and the army wanted to distance itself from the government. The opposition took the chance and with the army remaining neutral Khan will soon be out after the no-confidence vote slated for Sunday.