The Pakistan Army has made clear its commitment to the coming elections, and to their being held on time. The DG ISPR, Maj Gen Saleem Bajwa, while interacting with the press on Thursday in Rawalpindi, argued that the Army had been supporting the political set-up for the last five years, and that it had nothing to gain from a delay in the election. Though it might go against the grain, this statement should be taken as definitive, and should put paid to all the conspiracy theories which predict a delay in the polls, which have quickly pointed out various events which were supposed to precede such a postponement. At the same time, the sentiment he expressed was only natural, and showed, if it needed showing, that the people in the military felt the same as the rest of their countrymen, and shared the sentiment that elections should be free, fair and timely. While it is true that the military track record, in which it has imposed martial law no less than four times, inevitably raises suspicions whenever the military shows any signs of an interest in political matters. However, it would be unnatural if military men, who are also citizens of the country, were to take no interest in the question of whether an election was to be held on time or not, especially since the putative postponement was supposed to involve their institution.

While talking about a related matter, that of the Balochistan situation, General Bajwa’s denial of any Army links with the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, which has claimed responsibility for the bomb blasts last week and a month before in Quetta, and where protesters have demanded military intervention. He said that the military was prepared to act in aid to the civil power, but the decision not to call the forces was a political one, as would be that of restoring a civilian government. When General Bajwa said that the ISI had carried out 130 intelligence operations in Balochistan, and prevented several terrorist incidents during the last four months, he was implicitly defending it from being part of what had been called an ‘intelligence failure’ by Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi as behind the recent blasts. There is an additional complication, in that the Supreme Court, in an earlier hearing into missing persons, a problem which has really disturbed the province, blamed the intelligence agencies for it. General Bajwa, however, said the ISI was operating according to its mandate.

While the military is not supposed to muscle its way into politics, it is also unreasonable to expect its members to view important events in national life from one angle or the other. The events in Quetta have attracted attention from all sections of society and it would be too much to expect Army personnel not to have a view on something in which their institution was being mentioned. As there should be no question of any derailment of democracy, General Bajwa’s statement of neutrality is to be welcomed.