Armed forces

India, Pakistan and a Tale of Two Army Chiefs

General Qamar Javed Bajwa and General Bipin Rawat have very different roles and challenges ahead. One controls the polity, while the other is controlled by it; one has complete freedom to function, while the other is hemmed in by politicians and bureaucracy.

Indian army chief General Bipin Rawat and Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Credit: Indian army/Pakistan army

Indian army chief General Bipin Rawat and Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Credit: Indian army/Pakistan army

General Qamar Javed Bajwa assumed the mantle of Pakistan’s army chief in November, while General Bipin Rawat took command of the Indian army last weekend. General Rawat was commissioned in 1978,  General Bajwa in 1980. Both had served almost simultaneously in the same mission in Congo, the difference being that General Rawat commanded the North Kivu Brigade and General Bajwa the South Kivu Brigade. The force commander was an ex-Indian army chief, General Bikram Singh. Both generals are from the infantry. While General Bajwa superseded four generals to assume his chair, General Rawat superseded two. This is possibly where the similarity ends. Both have very different roles and challenges ahead.

The Indian army is the world’s largest volunteer army and in strength, the third largest, while Pakistan’s is the sixth. In Pakistan, the army chief is the most powerful individual in the nation. Although appointed by the prime minister, Pakistan’s army chiefs assume more power than the prime minister and at times have even overthrown the same individual who appointed them. General Bajwa was chosen to lead Pakistan’s army because of his views on supporting civilian governments. His professionalism and capability were secondary considerations. General Rawat was chosen solely for his professionalism, capability and experience of having served in every sector, rather than his approach to democracy. He will remain away from politics and have no role in national decision-making.

The Indian army controls the Assam Rifles, the sole para-military force in the nation. All other central forces are directly under the home ministry, some of whom may be under the army for operational control only when deployed along the borders. Other than the Assam Rifles (officered by the army), each central force has its own cadre. The Pakistan army, on the other hand, controls every para-military force in the country. Therefore, it wields complete power, as every armed force is under its command. Hence, directly or indirectly it is responsible for restoring order during civil unrest. This control gives the Pakistan army chief his power and the capability to launch coups.

The Pakistan army chief is the sole authority to decide the nation’s foreign policy towards India and Afghanistan, as also national security. It is his ISI that controls terror groups, who would up or lower the ante against India and Afghanistan based on his directions. It is he who takes the final call on the ongoing policy of ‘bleeding India by a thousand cuts’. His counterpart in India has no such authority. He has no link with national intelligence agencies including  RAW, as they report directly to the NSA. He can only strategically plan to defeat Pakistan’s designs in Jammu and Kashmir and ensure the LoC remains secure and inviolable.

In case of any war like scenario, the power to control the nuclear button in India is with the prime minister and the cabinet. The Strategic Forces Command, which controls all nuclear assets, functions directly under the PMO. General Rawat has no role to play in this regard. In Pakistan, it is General Bajwa who, de facto, will take a call on whether the nuclear card is to be employed and at what level. This is not a call that the civil government gets to take, whatever the formal status the prime minister may enjoy in the country’s Nuclear Command Authority.

General Rawat inherits a secular army where religion and caste have no place. The basic document of the soldier has no mention of caste and all members of a unit celebrate every religious event together. The Indian army does not preach hatred towards Pakistan and a soldier is only exhorted to do his duty for the motherland. General Bajwa, on the other hand, inherits an army whose sole obsession  is obtaining control of Kashmir. The army is taught to hate India. Religious minorities have no place in their army. It is an army based on religious fundamentalism, which is difficult to change. This impacts any civil government decision to commence peace talks.

In India, any decision taken by the government involving the army is termed as politicising the army, as has happened in the case of appointing General Rawat as the new chief or seeking credit for last year’s ‘surgical strikes’. In Pakistan, it is the army, which at times, is called in to broker peace between warring political parties. The army can alter politics in Pakistan, whereas the government can politicise the army in India.

While the Indian army, backed by a sound economy, has commenced modernisation, its demand for a reasonable share of the union Budget for upgradation has never been met. The Pakistan army, on the other hand, can demand and get. However, a poor economy places severe restrictions on its modernisation, compelling it to depend  on largesse from China and the US.

The Indian army is currently battling an insurgency in J&K and the Northeast. It has two active borders to defend, both neighbours being hostile. Pakistan, on the other hand, is responsible for activating the Indian border and the J&K insurgency, while employing a major part of its force to battle armed groups in different parts of the country. Further, with a militarily weak nation like Afghanistan on one border, it has only one active border to protect.

The Indian army has suffered in status, pay and allowances at the hands of the polity and bureaucracy. It has yet to gain the benefits of the latest pay commission. Even its allowances and status have been lowered to the level of the central police forces, way below the bureaucracy and IPS. The Pakistan army demands and gets its increments. Every other government service is below the army in standing and stature. The army reigns supreme in Pakistan. For instance, in retaliation to the killing of an army major, the Pakistan army demolished a business centre in Wana, South Waziristan.

General Rawat will continue to follow his predecessor in handling problems faced by army veterans including OROP and their rehabilitation. The Pakistan army welfare foundations, on the other hand, control thousands of business ventures in the country, ranging from petrol pumps to industrial plants with a turnover of over $20 bn. It re-employs its soldiers and officers in plum posts in its internal ventures. Their army chief heads their army welfare foundation.

In summary, both chiefs face entirely opposite scenarios. While one controls the polity, the other is controlled by it, while one has complete freedom to function, the other is hemmed in by politicians and bureaucracy, and while one is the most powerful individual in the country and essential for approving foreign policy and security issues, the other is kept away from decision-making. This is the difference between a near military state Pakistan, compared to a democratic India.

Harsha Kakar is a retired army officer and a strategic writer based out of Lucknow. He can be followed on Twitter @kakar_harsha

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  • R Joseph

    This the difference between a professional army and a politicized regular army.

  • Alok Asthana

    Well brought out. Wonder seriously if an apolitical army ( not so much lately, though) and such a weakened, stymied Army Chief is to India’s advantage or disadvantage. In my view, it is to India’s serious disadvantage.