ISLAMABAD – Top Pakistani general Qamar Javed Bajwa, who retired as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) on November 29, 2022, has arguably become the most controversial general in Pakistan’s contemporary history. He’s accused of orchestrating the regime-change operation, which resulted in ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan from power on April 10, 2022.
The next project Gen Bajwa allegedly did was installation of a coalition government in Pakistan, which failed miserably to address the South Asian country’s political and economic problems and the country plunged into chaos. Almost a year on from the day when the regime-change operation was successfully completed, Pakistan remains highly unstable politically and economically with inflation rising to nearly 47 percent and the threat of financial default looming large. The prevailing political uncertainty in the country has brought down Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves to nearly $4 billion that were said to be around $20 billion before the regime-change operation was launched.
Shahid Maitla, who introduces himself as a Pakistani journalist currently based in Islamabad, recently sat for an interview with Gen Bajwa and asked him questions about the issues that every concerned Pakistani would like to know about. Here is the English transcript of Maitla’s interview with Gen Bajwa:
Confessions of General (Retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa (Part 1)
Maitla: Had Shehbaz Sharif decided to resign as prime minister?
Gen Bajwa: I went to see Shehbaz Sharif after the success of the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan on April 10, 2022. I asked him about his plan and he said the government wants to enact two or three laws and then announce elections within four to six weeks. I too wanted elections so that the next government can make decisions with a fresh mandate. However, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and Asif Ali Zardari said during their meetings with Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officials that they wanted the new government to complete the remaining one-and-a-half-year of the five-year tenure. Besides this, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed started saying two things repeatedly: one, you should leave only after holding the elections and second, Imran Khan wants to meet you so please meet him.
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Shehbaz Sharif and Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan came to my house on May 9, 2022, and said that they have decided to hold the elections. Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan said that he has talked to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and they will complete the census and redistricting of electoral constituencies by August 5, 2022. The government has decided that it will hold the elections on September 5, 2022, if it doesn’t have to present the budget. And if it has to present the budget, it is ready to hold the elections on October 5, 2022. Hence, the date for elections was decided and this decision was conveyed to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The PTI was asked not to announce the long march.
After that, Shehbaz Sharif left for London. On May 19, Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan came to my house again and he told me that Nawaz Sharif has decided to go into the elections and Shehbaz Sharif will resign tomorrow. Shehbaz Sharif had even got his exit speech written by Irfan Siddiqui. He had to quit on May 20, 2022. Before Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan left, ISI Director General Nadeem Anjum too arrived at my house. He said who will hold talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Qatar on May 25 if Shehbaz Sharif resigns tomorrow? Please ask the government to put Shehbaz Sharif’s resignation on hold for 10 days so that talks with the IMF are held. Also, we will get 10 days to form the interim government.
Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan said Nawaz Sharif has made the decision that Shehbaz Sharif will resign tomorrow, therefore, I cannot talk to him in this regard. It’s better if you or the ISI DG talk to him. I asked the ISI DG to ask Nawaz Sharif to give us 10 days. The ISI DG talked to Nawaz Sharif and convinced him that Shehbaz Sharif will resign after 10 days.
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The ISI DG conveyed this decision to PTI leaders Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pervez Khattak and Asad Umar and asked them not to announce the long march, but they said Imran Khan wouldn’t agree. Imran Khan was holding a public meeting in Multan on May 20, 2022, but he didn’t announce the long march. The ISI DG stopped the long march announcement after hectic efforts. Imran Khan wanted the elections announced immediately. He announced a press conference in Peshawar on May 22, 2022.
The ISI DG once again talked to Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umar and Pervez Khattak and asked them to wait for only 10 days for IMF talks and the interim set-up. They said Imran Khan is not agreeing to this. Imran Khan’s press conference was in the afternoon and Shah Mahmood Qureshi was sitting beside him. I sent a message to Shah Mahmood Qureshi, asking him to stop Imran Khan from announcing the long march. Shah Mahmood Qureshi told Imran Khan that they want to talk, but Imran Khan refused to talk. This scene was seen on TV screens as well. This was my last effort to stop the long march.
Who ‘Stopped’ Imran Khan’s Long March?
Imran Khan announced the long march. The PML-N leadership came to me in the evening and told me that now they will take Imran Khan head on. Despite this, I talked to Shah Mahmood Qureshi the next day and asked him to sit with the government for talks, but he said Imran Khan is not ready to do so; he wants Shehbaz Sharif’s resignation immediately. I said you don’t have majority so who will hold talks with the IMF if the government is dissolved?
Gen Bajwa says he has an audio of this conversation.
The long march failed. I sent my helicopter on the long march day to pick Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umar and others and brought them to Raja Pervez Ashraf. They held talks with Raja Pervez Ashraf, Ayaz Sadiq and others. The PTI had one-point agenda and they wanted a date for elections. Raja Pervez Ashraf told them to return to the assembly first and then they will take the talks forward. This is how these talks failed.
Rana Sanaullah had taken all the measures to stop the long march. We were completely neutral. We didn’t interfere. Rana Sanaullah succeeded in stopping the long march.
PTI’s Victory In July 17 By-elections
Maitla: Were you behind PTI’s victory in the July 17 by-elections?
Gen Bajwa: No. We didn’t interfere at all. We didn’t make even do the slightest interference in any election after February 2021. By the way, these days elections are not rigged on the election day; they are managed in advance. Imran Khan won the elections due to his popularity. The main reason the PML-N lost the elections was its decision to award tickets to PTI defectors.
Maitla: At lunch, I asked, were you behind the 63-A verdict given by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial?
Gen Bajwa: I had no role in this verdict. Chief Justice Bandial is a weak person; he can’t handle pressure. Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar prevailed over Chief Justice Bandial. The two of them were behind this verdict. Justice Munib wrote this verdict. This verdict is wrong and in violation of the constitution. This verdict of the Supreme Court caused a large-scale devastation in the country, which is still suffering from instability, especially Punjab. Even these judges know this decision is flawed and they want to reverse it, but they don’t know how to reverse it.
Court Verdicts And The TikTok Factor
Maitla: Are there pro-PTI judges in the Supreme Court? Are the families of Supreme Court judges too pro-PTI and do they influence their decisions?
Gen Bajwa: Absolutely yes! Some judges are pro-PTI. Judges’ wives and other members of their families like the PTI. They influence the decisions of these judges. Judges in our country are very coward; they are too afraid to give verdicts. They fear TikTok before giving a verdict. Judges’ verdicts in favour of the PTI too are driven by fear. Pressure increases if videos disrespecting court verdicts go viral on TikTok.
Maitla: You saved Imran Khan from disqualification in the Bani Gala case?
Gen Bajwa: Lt-Gen Faiz came to me one day and told me that Imran Khan does not have the required documents in the Bani Gala case. He will be disqualified. What should be done? Chief Justice Saqib Nisar too said who will be left behind to run the country if Imran Khan is disqualified. I too thought who will become the prime minister if Imran Khan is disqualified. Imran Khan didn’t have the 40 years old receipts. Banks had closed. Imran Khan was saved from disqualification. Jahangir Khan Tareen was disqualified instead.
Hamza A Failure, Shehbaz A Weak PM
Maitla: Was the establishment against the decision to make Hamza Shahbaz chief minister?
Gen Bajwa: I conveyed my strong displeasure to Shehbaz Sharif when Hamza Shahbaz became the chief minister. I said you made your own son the chief minister; you didn’t find anyone else in your party? He listened to me with his head down, but said nothing. Even strongest of the remarks do not affect Shehbaz Sharif. He doesn’t react at all. Hamza Shahbaz is extremely incompetent. Salman Shahbaz is sharp and competent. Shehbaz Sharif is a weak prime minister and he is unable to run the government. Ministers don’t listen to him; they don’t bother about him. The situation will improve after senior Sharif returns.
Maitla: Did you send Salman Shahbaz abroad?
Gen Bajwa: No. Rather, I asked Lt-Gen Faiz how did Salman Shahbaz go abroad? He said even he didn’t know how it happened.
Later, Shehbaz Sharif started enjoying the prime ministership. Lt-Gen Faiz came to me once again after some time and asked me to meet Imran Khan. I told Lt-Gen Faiz to ask Imran Khan to come to my house. Lt-Gen Faiz said you can meet him at the Presidency.
President Arif Alvi too was asking me again and again to meet Imran Khan. I went to the Presidency and I was surprised that Imran Khan met me very warmly as if he has no complaint about me and nothing serious has happened. I was thinking he would complain, but he was completely normal. I was surprised by his hypocrisy because he would criticise me strongly in the public. I said, you call me Mir Jaffar and Mir Sadiq. Imran Khan refused outright and said he uses these titles for Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif. Then he asked me to topple their government, send them home and hold elections.
I said you are not in the assembly. The government is standing only on two seats. You should go to the assembly; it will benefit you. Imran Khan asked me to topple the government and hold elections. I called President Arif Alvi inside since he was sitting outside and asked him to tell him how can we topple the government. And toppling the government would not benefit him unless he goes back to the assembly. President Arif Alvi tried to convince him, but this meeting remained fruitless.
Gen Bajwa Calls Imran Khan Playboy
Maitla: Why did you call Imran Khan a playboy?
Gen Bajwa: I was very angry when I met Imran Khan for the second time because he was consistently lying against me. I told Imran Khan to control his tongue and rein in his lies otherwise I too have a lot to say. I told him to stop lying. Imran Khan asked, what will you do? I said, haven’t you been a playboy? Even your videos are available. If you won’t control your tongue, don’t complain then. This meeting ended in bitterness.