Regaining the Lost Space: Pakistan Army’s New Doctrine to Pursue Old Policies

At present, the Pakistani Army as an institution seems much stronger, compared to its record over the past 15 years, and has wider public support. – Shreyas D Deshmukh*


When Pakistan’s Army Chief briefs the senior journalists in a close-door and off the record session, speaking about the politico-military-economic status of the nation, (mis)interpretations are bound to be debated across all the socio-political spectrums. When, in the month of March 2018, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Bajwa spoke on many issues including the 18th amendment, indiscriminate application of laws, subversion of the judiciary, security, CPEC and the poor state of the economy. This has been seen as a part of signalling coming from the highest authority of the State. His views have been labelled as the ‘Bajwa Doctrine’.

In light of this, after the circulation of necessary message in the present political establishment, the Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in Pakistan, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor came out with a clarification in which he said that if there is any Bajwa Doctrine, it should be viewed through the lens of security. Furthermore, in October 2017, COAS had argued that ‘security has once again become the foremost business and task of the state’. Pakistan’s Army is considered a political as well as a bureaucratic organisation and which deals with security and foreign policy issues. The Bajwa Doctrine does not fit in the set of traditional doctrines because it does not specifically recommend any policies or strategies.

However, it gives a glimpse of the state of civil-military relations in Pakistan, which has always been crucial to predicting future policy directions of the nation. Off the record, words of the COAS, which are labelled as a doctrine, are as important as official doctrine. This article will try to discuss the developments which forced the Army Chief to send such a signal to the political establishment, what Pakistan military wants to achieve through such signalling and how it will impact evolving political dynamics on the eve of parliamentary elections.


“The appointment of Gen Bajwa as COAS came at the right time for the army, when its popularity was at its zenith and the time to take over the political and bureaucratic mandate (which, so-called Bajwa Doctrine talks about) had come”


Electoral Politics

Re-entry of Rawalpindi in Active Politics

During the Musharraf era, the image of the army was damaged within Pakistan due to Kargil and a resurgence of extremist ideology, giving birth to anti-state entities like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Later, Gen Kayani and Gen Sharif systematically built the credibility of the Army by attracting popular support from the masses through image building exercises, using ISPR and circulating a limited knowledge of ongoing military operations in FATA, Balochistan and Karachi against anti-Pakistan elements such as TTP. Meanwhile, the civilian government had to prove itself on every front of the development, which required sustainability and time. Surprisingly the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) government completed its tenure successfully and handed over the mandate to democratically elected Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N).

The reason could be that the Generals were too busy building the Army’s credibility than bother with taking over the democratically elected government. There were many moments when the army could have possibly taken over government but it would have cost them heavily and lost them both international and domestic support. Rather they chose to maintain the civil-military balance by using different political tools to not let civilian governments become too powerful. This was the period of smart marshal law with a new narrative management exercise to improve the image of the army while continuing to side-line civilian authority.

At the time of the appointment of Gen Sharif as well as Gen Bajwa, media debated that, henceforth civilian government will be dominant in Pakistan. As the Pakistani author Ayesha Siddiqa said in March 2016, ‘emerging civil-military relations slowly moving in favour of civilian side’ was quite apparent. After the expulsion of Nawaz Sharif from the post of Prime Minister without any hustle, it was clear that the Army had reached its potential and has wider public support. We do not see any more criticism coming from liberal media and civil society on ISI or other security agencies. The reason could be many unaccounted attacks on famous journalists and civil society activists who were raising voices against the Army and its subsidiaries.

The PML-N domination of Pakistan’s electoral scene is visible every which way in 2013 National Elections. The national level division of votes and shares puts the party way above others | Image: Dawn

Has Nawaz Lost the Game?

Since 2014, the government has been frequently held responsible for increasing insecurity and being unable to prevent major attacks such as the one on a School in Peshawar, Karachi Airport, Lahore and other sectarian killings. The government was also blamed for ineffective implementation of policies such as National Action Pakistan (NAP) and National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). On the other hand, security establishments which are responsible for law and order also criticised government policies. Although the Army took credit for ‘successful’ military operations against terrorists in Waziristan, Balochistan and Karachi, the appearance of Gen Raheel Sharif’s posters all over Karachi proves the success of ISPR’s PR exercise in this regard.

Pakistani COAS Gen Bajwa with Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif | Image: Hindustan Times

Then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may have thought that he played a masterstroke by offering an honorary position of Chief of Saudi led military alliance of 39 nations to Gen Raheel using his close relations with Saudi Royal Family and appointing Gen Bajwa as COAS and Lt Gen Hayat as Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Committee (CJSC). Lt Gen Hayat who initially worked very closely with Nawaz Sharif and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has two brothers, both of whom are ranked among the most senior officers in the army. They are Lt Gen Omar Hayat, Chairman of Pakistan Ordinance Factory (Board) and Maj Gen Ahmad Hayat, Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)- analysis wing. The satisfaction of ruling the country single-handedly did not last long for Nawaz and the choice of Gen Bajwa as a COAS proved worse than Gen Sharif.

The appointment of Gen Bajwa as COAS came at the right time for the army, when its popularity was at its zenith and the time to take over the political and bureaucratic mandate (which, so-called Bajwa Doctrine talks about) had come. At present, the Army as an institution seems much stronger, compared to its record over the past 15 years, and has wider public support. Externally the situation is not in favour of Pakistan because of Increasing US pressure (under a new US Af-Pak strategy) to act against the Haqqani group and Taliban, a changing Indian posture and a hostile Afghanistan. The only major support he (Gen Bajwa) can get is from China in the form of CPEC projects and supply of military hardware.

Gen Bajwa unlike his predecessor is an astute student of geostrategy and has a nuanced understanding of politics. The events which have taken place after his appointment has changed the political landscape of Pakistan. For example, the PMLN government which was in complete control of China policy and CPEC projects was gaining a lot of public support by advertising these projects. In due course, the COAS indirectly took over the authority to lead CPEC. Since the last few months, he has been the one inaugurating many CPEC projects and has left the civilian government to deal with increasing debt and depleting foreign reserves.


The revival of Sectarian Politics

On the social front, the main challenge the Army is facing is from Punjab. Punjab has the largest concentration of the religious outlawed group comparing to other provinces. As many as 107 of the 240 socio-political lethal groups are headquartered in the province, with 71 in Lahore and its surrounding region alone. Punjab is the fortress of PMLN and Nawaz Sharif has successfully managed to maintain cordial relations with rival seminaries, Jamia Naeemia and Jamia Ashrafia, of the Deobandi and Baralvi theology, respectively. It is from these two seminaries that Nawaz Sharif and his party draw a majority of his electoral support. By playing Deobandi vs Baralvi, the Army seems to be trying to isolate PMLN from its electoral base and weaken these groups by isolating them from their political patrons. The emergence of extremist political parties such as the Baralvi sect’s Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) and the Ahl-e-Hadith sect’s Milli Muslim League (MML) which receives support from Deobandi’s, may not have attracted many voters.

However, they were able to attract thousands of supporters in Islamabad in November 2017 and brought the government to its knees, forcing the Law Minister to resign. These actions served the dual purpose of having many senior PMLN leaders taken out of the establishment or leaving Nawaz camp and brought others under the scrutiny of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Supreme Court, it includes Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and former Law Minister Zahid Hamid. Leaving Nawaz alone, but keeping individual Members of National Assembly (MNAs) stronger, to use them in the future political games, the army is maintaining the government running but vulnerable to any disruption.


Statistics and Politics

At present, the focus is on the statistical part of electoral politics, which would be the census conducted in 2017. According to that, 11 million voters have been added since the last election. This is a 13% increase in overall electoral lists. Demographic changes led to a change in the distribution of National Assembly seats in the provinces and brought changes in clause 16 of the 18th amendment as President Mamnoon Hussain has approved the 24th Constitutional Amendment Bill 2017 (delimitation bill), passing it into law on December 22, 2017. With this new law, Punjab lost nine National Assembly seats, whereas Khyber Pakhtunkhwa got 5 more seats, Balochistan got 3 more and the federal capital got one more seat. This will affect PMLN’s prospect of winning majority seats in the upcoming elections.



Despite these odds, PMLN is still holding ground and has won the majority of seats in the recently conducted Senate elections. The reason could be the absence of strong and credible opposition. This led to the only option being Nawaz and league minus PMLN, which might be acceptable for the military as well as the judiciary. In this regard one Pakistani columnist has written, “under the Bajwa Doctrine, the role of the organised political parties is shrinking and that of the Supreme Court and the ‘establishment’ is expanding”. Meeting between Prime Minister Abbasi and Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) and Shahbaz Sharif’s praises for COAS is indicative.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with PTI leader Imran Khan | Image: Dawn

It seems imminent that PMLN is the only national political party which can run the country. The other two national parties PTI and PPP lack public support, maturity and strong leadership.  The soft coup which is in play, supported by the Army and Judiciary to take PMLN out of the clutches of Nawaz Sharif, will bring in new political equations before the elections. A likely scenario would be Shahbaz Sharif leading the PMLN, supported by other regional religious parties. How Nawaz and his family will react to this, remains to be seen.




This is first in the series of three articles by Shreyas D Deshmukh which will cover the current political, economic & security development in Pakistan

*Shreyas D. Deshmukh is Research Associate at Delhi Policy Group. His areas of interests include the South Asian geopolitics and CPEC.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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