Pakistan Army chief General Bajwa backs talks, even as India hangs tough - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 27 January 2018

Pakistan Army chief General Bajwa backs talks, even as India hangs tough

Indian and Pakistani DGMOs meet at Wagah on Dec 24, 2013. Maj Gen Aamer Riaz now commands Lahore corps (see below)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Jan 18

Sources close to the Pakistani military say New Delhi is missing an opportunity to engage Islamabad in dialogue that would have the full backing of Pakistan’s powerful army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The sources say India is under-reading two unambiguously positive signals that Bajwa has choreographed in recent months. Instead, New Delhi, especially the Indian Army, is focusing on tactical aspects like ceasefire violations on the Line of Control (LoC) and infiltration of militants, which have little to do with strategic issues like dialogue resumption.

Restarting dialogue, point out these sources, would automatically calm the LoC and reduce armed militancy in Kashmir.

A senior Pakistani officer with direct knowledge of his army chief’s thinking says: “The Pakistan Army would be willing to re-start negotiations around the so-called Four-Point Formula that was negotiated [between the representatives of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf] in 2005-07.”

The Four-Point Formula, which looked beyond both sides’ claims to all of pre-1947 Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), ruled out redrawing borders or amending constitutions. Instead, it sought to make the existing boundary irrelevant by enabling commerce and contacts between Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC.

Across India’s political spectrum, the Four-Point Formula, or a variation of it, might be the only acceptable solution to the Kashmir dispute.

Pakistani signalling

On December 19, General Bajwa first signalled that the Pakistan Army did not oppose dialogue with India. Briefing a joint sitting of both houses of Pakistan’s parliament on “national security affairs”, Bajwa conveyed the point that he would support any civilian government initiative on opening talks with India.

"You [the parliament] will devise all policies including defence and foreign affairs, whereas, we [the army] will abide by [the policies],” said Bajwa, according to the respected Pakistani news daily, Dawn, which quoted a parliamentarian who attended the briefing.

Bajwa was accompanied in parliament by a senior team of generals, signalling the army’s resolve to crackdown on terrorist groups. These included the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief, Lieutenant General Naveed Mukhtar; the army’s public relations chief, Major General Asif Ghafoor; and military operations chief, Major General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, who gave a detailed briefing on the anti-terror Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (End of Discord), launched last February.

While the focus was on “anti-Pakistan” groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), with little emphasis on “strategic assets” like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) that function as deniable instruments of the Pakistan Army, Bajwa had backed the arrest of LeT chief, Hafiz Saeed, last January and his detention until a court-ordered release in November.

It is rare for Pakistan’s army chief to report to the elected legislature. The last time it happened was in 2011, when General Ashfaq Kayani and his ISI chief, Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha briefed parliament on the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, by US Special Forces who humiliatingly penetrated deep into Pakistani territory to carry out a unilateral operation.

Pakistani sources say Bajwa’s visit to parliament was also intended to telegraph the message that the confrontation with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), or PML(N), was over with the ouster of former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, in July after the Supreme Court banned him from holding public office for life. Bajwa was signalling that the army fully backed Sharif’s successor, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and that civil-military relations were again on an even keel.

Bajwa had already signalled an end to confrontation with the PML(N). This was done on September 28, with the posting of the trusted Lieutenant General Aamer Riaz, as the commander of the Lahore-based 4 Corps. Riaz also happens to be close to Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s brother, who is the Lahore-based chief minister of Punjab. With Riaz as interface between the PML(N) and the army, political confrontation between the two was clearly over.

Since November 2016 when Nawaz Sharif appointed him Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Bajwa has, more unambiguously than any army chief since Musharraf after 2003, signalled that the Pakistan Army would back a peace process with India.

As this newspaper reported soon after Bajwa’s appointment (January 11, 2017, Is Pak Army preparing to turn on LeT and Jaish?), he told the Pakistan army that the country’s interests lay in ending confrontation with India, without compromising Pakistan’s self-respect. This was a bold move, coming soon after India’s “surgical strikes” in September 2016 on Pakistani targets across the LoC.

Pakistan army folklore recounts a visit by the newly appointed chief to a forward LoC post, where a unit commander, wanting to appear aggressive and effective, described to Bajwa what mayhem he had caused in the Indian Army posts in front of him. After hearing him out, Bajwa quietly asked: “So have you brought azaadi (independence) to Kashmir?”

A pragmatist with both feet on the ground, Bajwa is aware that talk of Kashmir’s azaadi is more political than practical. He has noted the signs posted in shops in Muzaffarabad, the bustling capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, which read: “No credit, until Kashmiri azaadi”.

Clearly no shopkeeper believes azaadi is nigh.

Bajwa moved to remove his army’s Kashmir obsession, replacing a hawkish ISI and public relations chiefs with more moderate officers. In the 14 months since, he has appointed corps commanders who shared his views, easing out hardliners appointed by his predecessor, General Raheel Sharif. The appointment of General Sharif to command the Saudi Arabia-inspired, 39-nation, Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) has allowed Bajwa space to shape the all-important caucus of corps commanders in his own image.

“Over the last year, Bajwa has created the environment to support bold moves on India. The ball is in India’s court”, says a senior Pakistan military officer.

India’s tough response

New Delhi has either missed Bajwa’s signals, or else has decided that, at least for now, confrontation with Pakistan rather than dialogue is the way forward.

Pakistani sources point out that India’s ministry of external affairs (MEA) has conditionally welcomed Bajwa’s reported comments in parliament supporting dialogue and good relations with India. In contrast, Indian army chief, General Bipin Rawat, has answered Bajwa’s conciliation with hard-line statements.

On December 22, at the conclusion of a large military exercise in the Thar Desert, Rawat underlined Pakistan’s continuing support for terrorists [in J&K] to argue that it did not really want peace. “Only [if Pakistan stops supporting terrorists] can we say that peace talks should take place,” he told reporters in Barmer.

Unlike a Pakistani army chief, whose statements are as much political as military, Rawat’s outlook is tactical, his ire fanned by Pakistan’s continuing aggression on the LoC – through ceasefire violations (CFVs) and supporting militant infiltration into Kashmir. Apparently undeterred by the Indian Army’s “surgical strikes” of September 2016, there have been a reported 860 CFVs in 2017, thrice as many as the year before. Infiltration has climbed in proportion.

This has caused Rawat to actually concede – the first time an army chief has done so – that India was violating the ceasefire to punish Pakistani posts that support infiltration. On January 12, he stated: “Earlier, we were targeting only infiltrating militants. But these extremists are disposable commodities for Pakistan. Instead, the pain has to be felt by the Pakistan armed forces for supporting infiltration. So we have started targeting his (Pakistan’s) posts and I can assure you that, in these exchanges of fire, he has suffered three-four times the casualties. That is why we get repeated requests from Pakistan to take the ceasefire back to 2003 levels.”

In a snub to the Pakistan Army, Rawat said: “If we see a drop in infiltration along the LoC we are willing to call for a ceasefire, but not until we see a drop in infiltration levels. This is in full coordination with the government.”

Three days later, on January 15, Rawat stated: The Pakistan Army is helping infiltrators; if they provoke us further, we will take stronger action.”

During this same period, India reportedly spurned a Pakistani request for the two directors general of military operations (DGMOs) to meet and discuss de-escalation on the LoC. While the DGMOs speak on the telephone every week, a meeting is a special event. One last took place at Wagah in December 2013, and succeeded in de-escalating tension that had flared on the LoC after Pakistani troops killed seven Indian soldiers and mutilated the bodies of two.

The way ahead

With official dialogue closed, a back-channel dialogue track between the two national security advisors – Ajit Doval and Nasir Khan Janjua – is apparently the only real communication channel between the two countries. The MEA has portrayed this as a mechanism to hold Pakistan responsible for terrorism, but there are few buyers for this explanation.

Pakistani military officers tell Business Standard that Bajwa’s presence offers a rare opportunity for a regular political dialogue that has the full support of the army. “Bajwa is due to retire in November 2019, which provides an assured 22-month window. It is impossible to tell who will succeed him, or whether the next army chief would have the same mind set.”

However, New Delhi would remember that Kayani, who succeeded Musharraf in 2007, quickly scuttled his predecessor’s Four-Point Formula, bringing to naught the most promising peace initiative in the history of Indo-Pakistan relations and taking both countries back to the start line.


  1. The last paragraph is telling. If we are not sure that the next Pakistani Army Chief will back the peace talks or not, then what is the use of initiating a dialogue that may or may not sustain beyond the tenure of Gen Bajwa.
    It is also well known that the Indian Army and the Indian society has always welcomed and supported every initiative of the Indian government to start and establish peace talks with the Pakistani government. But history is witness that every such initiative has been scuttled by the Pakistani military.
    Also worth recalling that though the four point proposal of Musharraf is being sought to be played up as a viable starting point for talks, it is the same Musharraf who scuttled the Lahore talks with his Kargil misadventure.
    The aspect of LOC firing and infiltration may be tactical in the eyes o the writer, however considering that Pakistan is on the back foot bot strategically and possibly tactically, it is correct that the pressure on it is not removed.

  2. The appointment of corps commanders is done on the basis of seniority, so it is not entirely up to the Pak Army chief, the posting of the current Lahore corps commander has nothing to do with Reconciliation with Nawaz Sharif.
    As India decends into a facist state, the thinking in Pakistan is that the forces of Modi in order to detract from India’s economic problems and to survive the political fallout this will cause, will start a war with Pakistan. A war the Indian army is unprepared for.
    Pakistan cannot fight this war alone. The billigerance on the border caused by Rawat is disturbing and will push Pakistan further into the arms of China. With even closer economic and military intergration, in ten years time this alliance will be so solid that India will have to fight a two front war.
    Chinese Army advanced teams already prepare logistics and infrastructure ready for PLA deployment in force on Pakistan’s southern borders. Transit camps can rapidly be established within weeks for PLA troop movement into Pakistan via sea or road.
    The Modi right wing ideology is creating an atmosphere of mistrust amongst all of India’s neighbors.
    India is becoming increasingly isolated while the nationalist jingoism in India becomes divorced from reality. At present the priority is Modi popularity not peace with Pakistan. Every decision in Delhi is taken with a view of electrol success and Pakistan is only to be used as a tool to this end. Keeping the Kashmir border on the boil suits the party in power in Delhi and it helps towards othering of the Muslim population, keeps the fear alive, that is the food of fascism.

  3. Col. Shukla seems to have been infected by the "peace with Pakistan" virus. One can't blame him when someone like Modi wasn't immune to it till the Pakistan Army (I stopped buying the non-state actor story around the time I lost my milk teeth) injected a quick antidote in Uri.

    Let's see what is on the table here:

    A dialogue that will see a weaker state, battling internal strife and a deadlier enemy on the western front, seeking to ostensibly talk peace on the eastern front, demanding a stronger adversary compromise its interests. India gives up far more with the 4-point formula, which in itself is an insult to every soldier martyred in J&K since 1948. For instance, it means we give up on a de jure land border with Afghanistan. If Nehru's extraordinary generosity with the Indus Water Treaty didn't buy peace, will this be any better?

    I suppose this compromise will also let the Pakistan Army off the hook in Siachen; nor will we get a favourable Sir Creek settlement for being gracious there? Perhaps they will hand over Dawood, Saeed & Lakhvi and give an iron clad assurance on actively preventing another 26/11 with concomitant sovereign commitments, at the risk of war?

    This is just another version of Zia's cricket diplomacy; typical Pakistani bluster / charm papering over a fundamental and existential weakness in the idea of Pakistan. Unfortunately and much to my disappointment, Modi seems to be cut from a cloth no better than Rajiv, in this particular matter. Rawat is no Sundarji but at least he seems to have imbibed the institutional memory unlike Col. Shukla.

    Juxtapose this with the Chinese position in their talks with us, a position that has grown more strident with each passing decade of economic distance between them and India.

    I am just a civilian without the kind of exposure to the Pakistani elite that the likes of Col. Shukla might have. However, having worked with young, well educated Pakistanis from North America to New Zealand, folks who like their Bollywood and don't veil their women, I can say that their hearts are enamoured by Maududi rather than Jinnah. This is a darkness inherent to and inherited from a Mughal sense of entitlement that will not go away.

    It is time that we as a country and a people face this reality and tailor our strategy. Talking peace to compromise on our strategic goals is in no way better than the mess the Modi government has made of our Pakistan policy. We are better off pretending Pakistan doesn't exist, investing political capital in settling the border with China, growing 8%+ each year and increasing defense spending to 3% of GDP. Eventually a time will come to deal with Pakistan on our terms. Till then, Pakistan can stew in its own juices, doped with the poison of its own making.

  4. @Anonymous 12:20

    For someone who seems to have undertaken to write up long-format drivel on Pakistan, you know very little about its army!

    Be informed that the appointment of corps commanders in Pakistan is NOT done according to seniority. It is a highly selective process, in which the army chief's preferences are the last word. Not even all lieutenant generals become corps commanders... only those who enjoy the confidence of the chief.

    Also be informed that the appointments of GOC 10 Corps (Rawalpindi), 4 Corps (Lahore) and 5 Corps (Karachi) go to the most favoured corps commanders -- the ones who the army chief trusts with his life.

    Read up a bit and go out and travel

    1. Anonymous is clearly a paid troll. Possibly a Chinese one. I don’t agree with a lot of stuff Modi is doing but saying that China and Pakistan are bonhomie because of modi’s Policies and that India is alienating all neighbors are good clues as to poster’s motives. Clearly, our friend is one who believes in projecting his country’s follies on others.

  5. Col.Shukla is infected with the WCK (Wagah Candle Kisser) virus. For the first time in India's history, the govt has given the army a free hand and the results are there for all to see. Pak is on the backfoot, with internal strife, international isolation and Trump giving them a verbal whopping at every opportunity. Pak is a pariah nation at the UN, their passport means an automatic pulling aside for special attention. Their economy is in the dumps, they will need to go to the IMF begging for money. These are the real reasons that Bajwa is talking peace, but there is no desire on the part of Pak to control infiltration, which is the reason the army has an aggressive posture.

  6. NSR says ---

    Colnel Shukla what have you been drinking and smoking when you wrote this article...

    In the lobby of GHQ Headquarters hangs the Mission Motto of Pakistan Army- "Jihad"

    Muslims wage Jihad to convert what they believe Infidels, Unbelievers, Unclean, etc to Islam through killing other religious men and boys and keeping their woman folk to propagate their numbers...
    So that why Pakistani and Bangladeshi muslims looks like us...
    CNN GPS Fareed Zakaris had his DNA tested and shared it on air - 85% fromSouth Asian mother, sister, daughter, etc...

    It is too sad to see that you have not learned anything about Islam even at your age...

    All the pak generals float ideas only to buy time during their reign and go out with greater goodies...

    No mercy for those Sniping and Shelling innocent soldiers and civilians..
    Pound them into submission...
    No mercy...

    I hope that you go to a shelling area and live there and re-write this article again to be realistic...

    May God bless India and its proud soldiers...

  7. NSR says ---

    A better solution...

    Pak Army show its true colors first by stopping cross-border terrorism, Pak based breeding of terrorists, cross-border sniping and shelling, etc
    If it happens, then four point or a version of four point will become a reality...

    No need to restart any peace talks...
    Just look at what is happening in Afghanistan and J&K...

    I am with General Rawat and his vigilance and hitting hard...
    Hit them hard until they submit to peace on Indian terms...

    Vague promises does not work any more ...real behavior is the answer...

  8. Long format drivel? No that’s not a problem, you seem to be a decent sort of fellow and I enjoy you writings.
    At least you are not from thar semi literate Hindutva mob.
    But old chap, all seniority in Pak is assigened from date of appointment to Brigadier. There is no promotion to corps commander, this is an appointment - you are assigned a job and you are chosen from a pool of officers with close seniority. There has been some exceptions in the past ie Yahya Khans appointments.
    I take it from my understanding, your article made out a person was placed as the corps commander Lahore only because of friendship with the Nawaz Sharifs family.
    He would also have had to have come from the Lt Gen Officer pool with the attendance of senior staff courses and previous experience in command of an infantry division amongst other things - and in the case of this corps commander at Lahore (look at his army record) he fulfills the criteria and there is nothing extraordinary about his appointment. The article saying his appointment was because he was a close friend of Nawaz Sharif without providing evidence of this is merely conjecture.
    Trouble is that with you relatively junior army offices, turned journalists you have to rely on unreliable sources, ex indian army generals seem to be all in your own closed loop for information.
    Why don’t you pick up the phone dail Pakistan and speak to some Pak Generals, if you intorduce yourself I am sure a chat can be arranged, given you credentials as a journalist , if I (a mere non journalist) am able to do that, so can you, dear boy.
    As for the long format drivel I have noted your remark, but have you considered the hubris and jingoism you guys bounce off one another, could be making yourselves a teeny weeny bit delusional .
    May I be so presumptuous to offer advice, I understand you love the Indian Army, you love India. But as a journalist you have to leave that behind, you have be be conscious of the bias and factor it in, the way the Doklam business was reported by you colleagues was atrocious and then you were all proved wrong in the end. Wrong because you let the government feed you the news.
    Don’t report on India acquiring shiny new toys for its army without reporting the shambles that is defense procurement. The sorry state of India’s WW2 Army, the Aircraft that cannot fly, the lack of ammunition, the low moral of the Jawans.
    You do a service to your country by being critical not by blowing trumpets.

  9. Just read your article ‘Time to Talk to The Taliban’ found it well written, well researched, brilliant!
    Why did you not continue with your army career as you had all the requirements for an outstanding officer for future senior rank
    Or did you consider that there was something the army- and made the (intelligent) move to leave.
    In Indian Journalism, don’t follow the herd you have the makings of a awesome defense writer.
    Someone I recall of your ilk said ‘Speak truth to Power’
    I will simply add.
    Shove patriotism up your arse while trying to report facts.
    Take off those rose coloured glasses.

  10. Good to see that at least one of the parties to the issue is showing sense and desire to sort out the problem. Hope India too sees the benefits of peace in the region.

  11. Ajai,

    You need to change the picture on you blog to a dove - safed kabootar. You are singing the peace song when our soldiers are dying on the LOC. You forgot all the terror attacks?

  12. We have been fooled since the time of Porus by such thoughts .
    We need to pound pakistan posts so much they move back 4-5 km. This clear no mans land will ensure anything human being in this will be shot. This is the only way. Your suggestions are plain stupid at best unpatriotic at the worst.

    Were you really in army ? If yes, Were you discharged honourably ?

  13. If Gen Bajwa would like peace, he must prove that he is 1. Interested 2. Capable of, ensuring peace.

    Its common knowledge that the Pak Army is all powerful in Pakistan. Is the Pak Army officer speaking to our journalist, insinuating that The COAS of the Pakistan Army (5th largest in the world,well equipped and trained) cannot order his subordinate officers and troops to cease and prevent attacks on India from areas under their command ?

    That all his corps commanders and all the military muscle they can muster is not sufficient to quash the various lashkars operating within pakistan that have made attacking india its main objective ?

    What rubbish are they trying to peddle.

    Gen Rawat is rightly saying what he is.
    If they want peace, let it show on the ground.

    What is this nonsense about tactical and strategic. Even a lowly salesman in India has to show results or he is fired from his job.

    India never was and never will be a hawk, we are just not that kind of people.

    But we are not fools anymore either. You want peace, show it on ground.

  14. disappointing to read your article both here and on bbc webpage. it seems you are batting for their army more than our's? why - one party at MSI's home and you landed on their laps??
    today IA has a daring general who speaks clearly. there can and should not be any peace with pak as long as they are attacking us. look at LOC now, all quiet after they were pounded by BSF. if they hit us we hit back this vicious cycle will continue till a full blown war settles it. every PM initiated talks and everyone faced back stabbing. by the way NSAs are talking so how can DGMO talks be any better?? but the tone of your article is clearly aligning with them and sadly not us....

  15. Dear Jean
    For us to seek peace, we don't need Gen Bajwa to 'prove it' in any way. Peace is better than war - or don't you think so? We should try to make peace, whatever Gen Bajwa wants. And, in any case, what sort of certificate do we want from Gen Bajwa? Will a digitally signed one do or would you insist on one personally signed, complete with a round stamp.
    And, please, let us mot talk about India not being a hawk. It has not let any military opportunity go by. That's fine. Even with Pak, if threatening them in a real way will help to push them to peace, use that option. Merely killing a few civilians in LOC firing is no deterrence. In this game, they are winning immensely.
    What a waste of such a large force, being used more at R Day parade than anything else.
    Col Alok Asthana, Infantry

    1. Dear Colonel Asthana, thank you for your reply.

      Per the article, subordinate officers of Gen Bajwa have spoken to our journalist, indicating that PAK COAS would like peace...but despite having absolute power over the country is unable to.

      The Jist of my comment was if they (Pak) want peace, they must show it on ground. Which simply means dismantling the terror apparatus which launches attacks on India ensuring zero cross border terror attacks for a sustained period of time.

      And an end to ceasefire violations. In short an end to all hostile activity towards India.

      As any general of a decently professional army, all he would need to do is pass the order to his army and his army would do the rest.

      No signed paper, no smoke and mirrors through military officers talking to journalists.

      ...Just pure results. Which is what Gen Bipin Rawat has rightly commented. Have results.

      If the above is not possible then it would mean that the Pak Army (and its subordinate state) is leading its COAS and not the other way around. If its Army is not capable of executing his orders then they either incompetent or mutinous or insubordinate.

      Or that Gen Bajwa is really not interested in peace and that his subordinate officers speaking to our journalist are flat out lying.

  16. Dear Jean Luc Picard
    Thanks. The question is - Why shouldn't India be expected to show intention of peace by resorting to no firing? Who started it can't be established and is immaterial. Question is - Who will end it? The cycle has to be disrupted.
    The problem with Pak is that their COAS matters too much. Ours matters very little. Do you think Gen Rawat has any say in it? Is it his professional military advice to kill civilians of Pak? Will it stop anything? Has it, in last year?
    Is all Mr Modi's game. If his army does not shell back, he'll lose face with his voters.


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