Rising public scorn has rattled Pakistan Army to the extent that the army chief, General Qamar Bajwa and his influential public relations department are desperately trying to stem the tide of anger against military.
More than the public image, the social media campaign, spearheaded by former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party, has spread dissonance among the army leadership about General Bajwa’s failure to protect the army’s reputation.
The malicious propaganda campaign against the army included fake audio messages of retired senior military officers. One such message was from former Army chief, General Aslam Beg. He denied making “deplorable and vulgar“ statements against the army leadership. There have been no other denials yet.
Last time the army and its chief had become the target of such widespread public ridicule was during the time of General-President Pervez Musharraf in 2008. Scurrilous remarks against him and the army swept through mobile networks forcing the then chief, General Ashfaq Kayani to politely but firmly ask his boss to step down in the interest of the army.
Bajwa too has lost the game with the army making it clear that he would not get any more extension. Bajwa is already on one extension and, according to grapevine, has been keen on another extended tenure. But the skirmish with Imran Khan has put aside any such dream and Bajwa will make way for a new chief in November. There was too much bad blood in the army leadership over the first extension.
But before he leaves office, Bajwa has lot at hand to resolve, the most critical being his and the army’s image in public. From a soft spoken General, Bajwa has turned to a fire spewing one with uncharacteristic clarity and firmness. His recent criticism of Russia for the war on Ukraine and a commitment on the Pakistan Army’s traditional relationship with the US, Bajwa is laying out ground rules for the army as well as the civilian leadership, a clear indication that the army would continue to manage the politics of the country.
The slander has hurt Bajwa personally and he has been extremely vocal in his outburst. He accused the campaigners of creating wedge between the army and people. He said misinformation and propaganda threatened state integrity and would not be tolerated.
The army chief’s strong words were echoed by the ISPR Director General, Major General Babar Iftikhar who said the armed forces and their leadership were being targeted to create division and discord between the military and the people. He said maligning the armed forces was not acceptable. He cautioned the political parties against using rough language against the army and warned that such actions spread negativity about the military among the people, especially youth who were not so knowledgeable about geopolitical situation.
Although a manhunt has been launched to disrupt the slander campaign, the Pak Army’s image among people has taken a rough beating.