Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s outgoing army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, says the military has unlawfully meddled in politics for decades and it will no longer do so.
In his last address as army chief, Bajwa on Wednesday defended the country’s most powerful institution, which has come in for criticism, particularly from former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has accused the army of a role in his removal in April.
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Speaking at an event at army headquarters in the eastern city of Rawalpindi, the 62-year-old general wondered why the army in neighbouring India was not criticised by the public.
“In my opinion, the reason for this is the constant meddling by the army in politics for the last 70 years, which is unconstitutional,” he said. “That is why, since February last year, the military has decided they will not interfere in any political matter.”
He added that the military has started its “catharsis” and expressed hope that political parties will also “introspect their behaviour.”
“The reality is that in Pakistan, institutions, political parties and civil society – they have all made mistakes,” Bajwa said. “It is time we learn from them and move forward.”
Bajwa highlighted Pakistan’s precarious economic situation and called on all stakeholders to put aside their egos, work in tandem and learn to accept their victories and losses.
The 62-year-old general has been at the helm of the 600,000-strong nuclear-armed military since 2016. He was granted an extension of three years in August 2019 by then-Prime Minister Khan. He is set to retire on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif is expected to announce his successor in the coming days.
In a speech lasting roughly 10 minutes, Bajwa spent considerable time on the subject of politics and condemned the outpouring of negativity and harsh criticism towards the military, which has run the country for more than half the time since its independence in 1947.
The army has major stakes in the economy and wields considerable influence in deciding the South Asian country’s policy on foreign affairs and national security. No prime minister has ever completed his tenure.
Bajwa admitted that criticism of the military from political parties and the public is their right but warned against the use of undignified words against the army.
“Everybody should keep … in mind that there are limits to this patience,” he said. “I want to overlook this aggressive criticism towards myself and my army because Pakistan is most paramount for all of us.”