Caught in the current political crosshair, the Chief of Pakistan’s all-powerful army has been targeted for the first time with a fact-checking website revealing details of the purported amassing of wealth by his family members.
The family of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, led by his wife Ayesha Amjad’s Foreign currency bank balance allegedly gathered a staggering USD 591,831/-. The family is also accused of owning houses and land property ostensibly purchased during Bajwa’s tenure as Pak Army Chief since 2016.
Following the disclosures on November 20, the website was closed down the same evening. With a week to go before Bajwa doffs his uniform, an embarrassed Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government ordered a probe. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on November 21 took notice of the “illegal and unwarranted” leak of the tax records of Bajwa’s family members.
“This is clearly violative of the complete confidentiality of tax information that the law provides,” a statement issued by the finance ministry stated, a day after a report by investigative news website FactFocus, which cited tax returns and wealth statements, claimed that the COAS’s family had amassed billions in the last six years.
“In view of this serious lapse on the part of to-date unknown functionaries, the finance minister has directed the special assistant to the prime minister (SAPM) on Revenue Tariq Mehmood Pasha to personally lead an immediate investigation into the violation of tax law[s] and breach of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) data, affix responsibility and submit a report within 24 hours,” the government announced.
As per analysts, the revelations and the website’s closure have unmistakably acquired political colour. They could be aiming to prevent Bajwa from extending his stay in office. Gen. Bajwa is scheduled to retire on November 29 after an extended term lasting six years and the government has announced that the process of selecting his successor has begun. Retirement, as well as succession, is, however, at the top of the ongoing political tussle between Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government and the ousted premier, Imran Khan.
Khan has been critical of Bajwa and the military since he was voted out in a parliamentary drill that expressed a lack of confidence in his government in April. Khan is widely believed to be a ‘proxy’ pick of Bajwa, who helped him win the 2018 parliamentary elections. He would proudly proclaim that his government and the Bajwa-led army were “on the same page.”
Khan has changed his positions on these issues many times in recent weeks. Following a reported ‘secret’ meeting with Bajwa, he has toned down his criticism. Among the many “U-turns”, he has said that he was not against either Bajwa or the army, which he referred to as the ‘institution’, but was sore that they did not support him when he was ousted. To the army’s contention that it was ‘neutral’ in the ongoing tussle, he had said “only the animals are neutral.”
He has also changed his position on the succession and who the new chief should be. The Sharif Government that he opposes, should withhold appointing the new chief till elections are held, implying that Bajwa be given a fresh extension till a new government takes office. Bajwa’s stand, if any, on the short extension till March 2023 is not known.
As Bajwa who has announced his resolve to retire on November 29, both personally and through the army’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), has been making his farewell calls to different army units, there is also speculation that as part of a ‘deal’, Bajwa may indeed be given an extension. But Khan has also taken the stand that he has no opposition to the selection of the next chief of Pak army.
Khan’s changing stands on these issues, while causing confusion, however, clearly indicate that the army chief’s office has got caught in the political tussle, much of which is the army’s own past making.
The clearest indicator is Khan leading his protest march asking his followers who are marching in large numbers, to converge on Islamabad, the national capital and Rawalpindi, the seat of the army’s general headquarters (GHQ.) in time for the scheduled change at the top of the Pak army.
The Army Chief’s person, office and the military as also the institution, have for the first time become topics of political turmoil. While changes have taken place and a former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf was under house arrest, no army chief or his family have been subjected to criticism, public ridicule and now, allegations of graft.
Can it be a ploy by PML(N) to thwart any kind of possible interference by Bajwa in Pak politics? Nawaz Sharif was exiled during the tenure of Gen. Qamar Jawed Bajwa, cannot be forgotten easily.