New Delhi: The views expressed in India about Pakistan’s new army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, merely skim the surface. There are the realists who believe nothing will change in respect of Pakistan’s hostility towards India marked by a broken ceasefire on the western border and the Line of Control. Realists are usually not wrong but are equally rarely solution finders.

Then there are those who visualize improved India-Pakistan relations with a “moderate” general succeeding a hawk, Raheel Sharief, as the army chief. This line of thinking is largely based on Pakistan media reporting. The Pakistan media says Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief chose General Bajwa because he keeps a low profile and is committed to civilian supremacy of government.

No Pakistani general has the stomach for a coup. The generals have seen coups fail in their objectives with depressing regularity. The last general to lead a coup, Parvez Musharraf, lost his credibility and status to an elected government, faced virtual house arrest for years, and had to almost plead to be allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment. Based in the United States, he shows no inclination to return to Pakistan. He commands little to no respect or following in the Pakistan military. All this is rather recent history to deter the most anti-democratic generals.

So neither General Bajwa nor any of the four other officers who were superseded to give him the top post would have any inclination for military rule. This factor alone cannot have made Bajwa’s appointment more apposite than those others who were passed over. That leaves the “moderate” element. There is no hint in the Pakistan media of what constitutes “moderation” in Pakistan’s army chief. Would he be “moderate” on India? Would the Pakistan army under him no longer distinguish terrorists as “good” and “bad”? Would he battle the Islamist hard line generally and make Pakistan a “moderate” Islamic state? The Pakistan media has not provided answers to any of these questions.

It is possible that Nawaz Sharief has exercised his own judgement as regards what constitutes “moderation” and chosen General Bajwa on the basis of his conviction. Such convictions have gone horribly awry previously. Z. A. Bhutto chose Zia-ul-Haque to head the army passing over several thoroughly professional generals. Bhutto called Zia his “monkey general”. At the first opportunity, Zia ordered Bhutto to be hanged. Musharraf was chosen by Nawaz Sharief because he was a Mohajir and could, therefore, in theory, be controlled and manipulated. Musharraf deposed Nawaz Sharief and send him to a long exile to Saudi Arabia. This writer does not trust the instincts of Pakistani Prime Ministers to select genuinely moderate army chiefs.

The thing to really know is this. Is it possible to have a “moderate” Pakistan army chief who values peaceful ties with India? Is it even conceivable that the institution of the Pakistan army can be moderate in its ideology and in its thrust towards India? These issues need urgent consideration, analysis and understanding to chart out a knowable future of India-Pakistan relations.

The Pakistan army generally operates on the principle of collective leadership. The collective leadership is represented by the army’s

collegium of corps commanders. While individual chiefs do have certain exclusive domains, the collective will of corps commanders unfailingly expresses itself on strategic matters like ties with India, eliminating anti-India terrorism from Pakistani soil, and so forth. Musharraf had to bow to this will when he took minute-to-minute directions from the Pakistan army on his talks with the then Prime Minister, A. B. Vajpayee, in Agra. Musharraf said as much to the press.

Is this collective will of the Pakistan army influenceable from without in the direction of moderation and peace? Should this not privilege discussions and analysis over focussing narrowly on the likely nature and attitudes of an incoming Pakistan army chief? Perhaps they should. But influencing collective will and groupthink are rarely easy. In this case, however, it has to be tried with the twin objectives to make the Pakistan army moderate and peaceable. In the best situation, India cannot have a role here, because it has been so excessively demonized in the Pakistani popular narrative.

The West has tried to mould Pakistan army collective thinking and will but to meet warped objectives. The anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, the creation of the Taliban as a vehicle to control Afghanistan and enable the extraction of Central Asian oil and gas, the US aid to the Pakistan army to prevent further 9/11-like attacks, the employment of Pakistan army terrorist assets against Iran at the behest of the United States and Saudi Arabia, etc, have warped the Pakistan army so far as to make it a monster force. The West and Saudi Arabia have heavily contributed to the creation of a Frankenstein army in Pakistan and it is only natural that it has run amok.

Elected Pakistani governments, unfortunately, have rarely grappled with these complexities regarding its military. Since its independence, Pakistan has not elected one statesman to restore the credibility of the civilian government. The fault, to an extent, lies with Pakistan’s founder, M. A. Jinnah, who focussed less on nation-building than on pimping Pakistan’s geography to the highest bidder. The decease has spread without check in the decades since.

Influencing the Pakistan army’s collective thinking still remains, however, the solitary solution to disrupting its march to doom. If the West engages with the Pakistan army with moderation and peaceableness as its end objectives, it might be able to turn the clock back. Its reason to do so sooner than later might be to put some sort of cap on Pakistan’s burgeoning nuclear weapons inventory, whose fast rising numbers increases the dangers of theft and loot by terrorist groups with terrible consequences for the West. This engagement will only draw meaning if it is spearheaded by Pakistan’s civilian government. Nawaz Sharief has no moral standing to be able to influence the Pakistan army’s collective mindset towards peace and moderation. That awful disability should indeed spur Pakistanis to elect a statesman who can lead the Pakistan army fully and finally into the barracks and commence the process of nation-building.

If General Bajwa does turn out to be “moderate”, that would be nice. But don’t count on it to be able to change the Pakistan army’s collective thinking. It is doubtful if Pakistanis even appreciate the problem at hand.

Editor’s Note: The government should employ military choppers to deliver speedy cash to remote rural locations hit by demonetization. Trusting to road transport alone and private logistics is risky and impedes relief.