By Maqbool Malik
Bajwa tells senators military has its own effective accountability system
A rare and in-depth interaction between the top army leadership and lawmakers came on Tuesday, which hopefully will give a new lease to the constitutionalism and democracy in the country.
During an extraordinary in-camera session at Senate, Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Maj Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza gave a lengthy briefing on a wide range of issues relating to national security.
This was followed by a three-hour question-answer session during which some senators asked Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa a number of tough questions that were responded by him quite wittingly and satisfactorily.
According to insiders, Gen Bajwa said he has unflinching belief in democracy and supremacy of parliament. He rebuffed the view that presidential form of government could prove better for Pakistan.
A source said that the top army leadership addressed all queries from senators to their satisfaction, which many believed would have far-reaching affect in removing misunderstanding and bringing the civil and military leadership closer.
The marathon session of the Committee of the Whole House, with an aim to draw policy guidelines in the light of the emerging regional realities, was presided over by Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani and was also attended by directors general of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI) and Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR).
Speaking to the media after the briefing, ISPR DG Asif Ghafoor said the DGMO “talked about the geostrategic environment from a security lens, informed the senators about threats to national security, and gave an update on the war on terror and future plan of action.”
He said that the briefing went on for an hour and a half, followed by a “very candid, very free, very frank, [and] very objective” question-answer session. “When we are together, no one can defeat us,” he said.
Democracy and constitutionalism
“Gen Bajwa made it clear that army was not against democracy at all,” a source quoted him as telling the senators.
The source quoted him as saying that the formulation of foreign and defence policy was the prerogative of the parliament, and “we [army] have to implement those policies and our duty is to secure frontiers”.
Senator Nehal Hashmi also quoted the COAS as saying that army is ‘subservient’ [to parliament] and ‘answerable to the public’, and the institution has to act according to the law.
“During the question-answer session General Bajwa dismissed the notion that the presidential form of government is a panacea to all ills in the country,” an insider told The Nation, requesting anonymity.
According to the sources, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar raised the question of across-the-board accountability and Gen Bajwa told him that the armed forces have a ‘robust system of accountability’ in place.
He reportedly also said that army was answerable to him and he [in turn] to the public [through their representatives].
Maj-Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza informed the senators that since 2015, military courts decided 274 cases and awarded 161 death sentences.
According to sources, the military leadership further said that 56 convicts had been executed in that time, 13 prior to the launch of Operation Raddul Fasaad and 46 after the operation.
The lawmakers were told that since Gen Bajwa was appointed the army chief , the military courts had received 160 cases, the sources said.
Briefed the lawmakers on the action taken by security forces under Operation Raddul Fasaad, the DGMO said that 18,001 intelligence-based operations and 4,983 search-based operations were conducted in the country and as many as 19,993 weapons were recovered since the launch of the countrywide effort.
Giving area-wise details, he said that 1,249 combing and intelligence-based operations were conducted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Of these, 31 were major operations.
He reportedly told the Senate that 13,011 operations were conducted in Punjab, including seven major operations. He added that 1,410 operation, 29 of them major ops, were carried out in Balochistan. About Sindh, he said 2,015 operations were conducted there, including seven major operations.
Karachi op and missing persons
The DGMO also reportedly informed the lawmakers that since the launch of the Rangers operation in Karachi in 2013, 8,780 suspects have been handed over to the police, 12,105 weapons seized and 1,948 terrorists apprehended.
He said that 154 abducted had been freed from captivity and 154 kidnappers were apprehended at that time. According to the sources, the DGMO told the legislators that since the launch of the operation, 24 soldiers have been martyred.
The senators who spoke with the media termed General Bajwa’s briefing a historic event.
“This is for the first time that such an open and detailed briefing was given. Everyone is very satisfied with the COAS’s briefing. This is a very good thing for civil-military relations. The confusion created by the current situation has been cleared,” said Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed.
PPP Senator Farook Naek said: “I believe that the discussions in the committee were held in a pleasant atmosphere. A lot of things were cleared.”
PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rasheed said that ‘both sides’ talked ‘very openly’, asked questions, and presented their stance.
“The best part about the Senate briefing is that the state institution [army] believes it is answerable to the public’s elected representatives, and it responded to the questions that public representatives had,” Rasheed said.
PML-N Senator Asif Kirmani said that the ‘informative briefing’ was a very important step from both the Senate and army’s end.
“It was the first time in the Senate’s parliamentary history that the COAS gave a briefing [to the House],” Kirmani said. “The briefing has clearly made us more aware of matters and helped us with understanding matters [pertaining to national security].”
According to the ISPR, the Senate acknowledged army’s role and sacrifices [in the fight against terror].
ISPR DG Asif Ghafoor in his media talk said there was a consensus that Pakistan was a strong country and “we will have to move forward together”.
He said that the interaction between parliamentarians and the army leadership was held in a cordial atmosphere and he described it as a ‘good beginning’.
ISPR DG said the proposal for such an interaction was given by members of the Standing Committee on Defence of the two houses during their visit to GHQ in September. The Senate chairman had also extended an invitation to the army chief to brief the House.
A rare occasion
The army leadership arrived at the Parliament House amid strict security arrangements. Gen Bajwa who arrived via a helicopter was welcomed by Senate Deputy Chairman Abdul Ghafoor Haideri. He held a meeting with Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani in the latter’s chambers before the two proceeded to the Senate hall.
This was the first time in six years that the military leadership came to the Parliament House to brief lawmakers on the security situation.
Last time it was in May 2011 when then army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and then ISI chief Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha had briefed a joint session of parliament about the Abbottabad operation in which al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden had been killed by US forces.
Earlier, in May 2009, then DGMO Maj-Gen Javed Iqbal had briefed a joint sitting of parliament about the country’s security situation and the military operation in Swat.
The decision to brief senators was taken voluntarily by the military leadership after seeing media reports about criticism in the Senate of the federal government and the military for not taking the parliament into confidence over recent security developments. The developments in question include the change in Washington’s policy towards Islamabad following controversial remarks by US President Donald Trump about the role of Pakistan in the war on terror, border clashes with Afghan forces and Pakistan’s role in a military alliance under Saudi Arabia.
COAS ‘believes’ in democracy