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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.—File Photo
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s proverbial honeymoon period is over he will be faced with critical decisions like succession in the army command and rotating the ceremonial chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee among other services.

When these decisions are to be made, Prime Minister Sharif, who is in office for a record third non-consecutive tenure, will find himself at the same crossroads he has been at twice (in 1993 and 1998) – in fact thrice if his botched attempt to appoint Gen Ziauddin Butt as army chief in 1999 is also counted.

On both previous occasions he chose men (Gen Waheed Kakar and Gen Pervez Musharraf) who sent him packing months later. Nevertheless, the choices were relatively easier in 1993 and 1998.

He now has to look for a man who can deal with the multi-dimensional threats to national security, turn around the country’s fortunes in the fight against terror and, more significantly, work with the civilian leadership in redressing the civil-military imbalance believed to be at the root of many of the ills the country faces today.

Last but not the least, the new army chief also has to be in sync with Mr Sharif’s vision of normalisation of ties with India.

If his previous words are taken into account, the prime minister does not have a tough choice to make: “I’ll go by the book. I’ll go by the merit. Whosoever is the most senior would occupy the job. The next one, the next in line.”

This would give Mr Sharif a panel of three generals who would then be in service: Lt Gen Haroon Aslam, Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood and Lt Gen Raheel Sharif.

According to the rules, names from this panel would be sent to him by the defence ministry, which at the moment is headed by Mr Sharif himself.

Mr Sharif, who according to insiders will be cautious this time around in picking the next man, has already started screening the candidates. In this task he is being helped by the old duo – ‘heir apparent’ Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar — that made the choice for Gen Musharraf in 1998.

The two have been meeting the people concerned and one such meeting that was noted by many was their visit to Rawalpindi Corps Commander Lt Gen Khalid Nawaz.

No one is privy to the discussions in the Chaklala Garrison. Is there a move afoot to grant Gen Nawaz an extension before he retires in October and subsequently make him the army chief or was the visit just aimed at consultations about the prospective candidates? No one can say with surety.

Gen Nawaz is a relative of Raja Zafarul Haq and belongs to a village — Nara Matore — located in the suburbs of the federal capital.

When silence is the order of the day in matters as sensitive as the selection of the next army chief, using simple arithmetic sequencing comes in handy.

Mr Sharif’s choice in 1993 was Gen Kakar who was then fourth on the seniority list and in 1998 he picked Gen Pervez Musharraf who was number three on the seniority list.

Can one say that this time around he would go for the man who would be number two (Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood) and technically also on the panel that would be presented to the prime minister.

The speculation that Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood would make it to the office is also supported by some ground realities. Gen Mahmood was earlier this year elevated to the coveted office of Chief of General Staff. Eight of the last 13 army chiefs had served as CGS prior to becoming a four-star general.

Gen Mahmood has served as Lahore Corps Commander which may go in his favour as the Sharifs are in favour of those who have worked in Lahore — an inclination that is reflected in their key bureaucratic appointments. And don’t forget the general too hails from Lahore.

Moreover, Gen Mahmood has remained military secretary to former president Rafiq Tarar.

Gen Mahmood comes from Baloch Regiment, the parent arm of Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and as a major general he had served under him in the ISI as deputy director general.

In Gen Mahmood’s appointment as the CGS, who is in charge of operational and intelligence matters at the General Headquarters, Gen Kayani has already indicated his personal preference, if one were to read it that way.

He also remained aide-de-camp (ADC) to former army chief Gen Aslam Beg, who was held responsible by the Supreme Court in the Asghar Khan case for creating the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad and engineering the 1990 polls. The 1990 elections brought Nawaz Sharif into power at the centre for the first time.

The other person, who is not much discussed among the likely Gen Kayani’s successors, but is seen as a safe choice by the Sharif camp is Lt Gen Raheel Sharif, who is currently Inspector General Training and Evaluation at the General Headquarters.

A careerist like Gen Mahmood, he previously served as Corps Commander in Gujranwala and held the prestigious position of Commandant Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul.

Gen Sharif is the younger brother of Nishan-i-Haider recipient Major Shabbir Sharif.

Curiously, very few are willing to bet on Lt Gen Haroon Aslam, even though he would be the senior most at the time of Gen Kayani’s retirement on November 28, provided the seniority list is not affected by any extensions.

Theoretically, he should be Mr Sharif’s choice if we go by: “The next one, the next in line”.

Gen Aslam is presently posted as Chief of Logistics Staff at the General Headquarters.

The current postings of Gen Sharif and Gen Aslam – slots that are seen in military service as positions where senior generals cool their heels prior to retirement — are why many do not consider them to be serious contenders for the slot.

Gen Aslam has had a brilliant career in military service where he remained Director General Military Operations, commanded Special Services Group (SSG) and then became Corps Commander in Bahawalpur, before being dispatched to the wilderness of logistics.

His role in Operation Rah-i-Rast (Swat), where he bravely took on Taliban insurgents in their stronghold of Peochar was and is widely appreciated.

His colleagues in the military simply say that “there are issues”, but throw no light on why a high-profile general has ended up in a dead-end job.

And if this was not a disadvantage enough, others feel that Mr Sharif may not have the stomach for another commando after his tryst with Gen Musharraf.

Other than Gen Nawaz, whom many are not counting on because his apparent retirement date comes before the succession takes place, the other dark horse in the race is Lt Gen Tariq Khan, Corps Commander of Mangla.

His fellows describe him as a ‘seedha fauji’ (a real soldier) and a hard-task master.

He successfully commanded counter-insurgency operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as Inspector General of Frontier Corps.

Other than stories of his gallantry in confronting militancy, what also goes in his favour is that the Americans speak very highly of him. He is a recipient of US Legion of Merit.

The cornerstone of US policy of the PML-N government, according to a Sharif’s top foreign policy aide, is to reinvigorate the Pak-US military relationship.

Gen Khan’s choice could help the government’s goal of strengthening military ties with the Pentagon.

Besides, the battle-hardened general is seen by defence analysts as the government’s best bet to give fresh impetus to the fight against militancy and dealing with the challenges that could arise after the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan.

Spymaster Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam (director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence) also holds an outside chance.

The other interesting move to watch would be the prime minister’s decision about the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

The current Chairman Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne retires on October 6. The position is largely ceremonial at present and yet it has remained with the army for the past 16 years, even though in practice it has to be rotated among the three armed services.

The government is thinking about restarting the rotation, which may dent the oversized army clout.

Comments (25) Closed

zia khan Jul 21, 2013 09:28am

It does not matter whosoever is selected by Nawaz Shariff as next army chief but we need Kayani to see off the Americans from Afghanistan. He has the experience of dealing with naughty Americans and NATO. Kayani will be an asset for PML-N government. He can be defense secretary or advisor to the prime minister like Sartaj Aziz. By doing this it will be win win for Pakistan, army and the government.

indian Jul 21, 2013 09:44am

interesting indeed

Hussain Naqvi Jul 21, 2013 10:00am

A worth reading analysis by Baqar and his foresaid about the choice of PM's selection of the toplevel slot in the Army. This is the third term of Sharif and expected not repeat his earlier follies this time.He must adhere to the principle of sequence of seniority list and should not violate the rule by giving extention to the retiring General as this will amount to deprive the others to avail their right.

sabeeh omer Jul 21, 2013 10:49am

Nothing less than seniority and merit should be the instrument to gauge who qualifies for the coveted position of the next Chief of the Army Staff. There should be no more extensions on the grounds of kinsman-ship,pressure from within party stalwarts and the senseless argument that prevailing conditions warranted a continuity of policy (as in the case of Gen Kayani). Too many times in the history of our country a general far lower down in the rank of seniority was elevated to the top-most position perhaps with the comfort that he would stand by the Prime-Minister as a devoted servant-only to be stabbed in the back. Mr. Prime Minister, he should lead who is most qualified to lead irrespective of beliefs, political affiliations and/or vision. As democracy flourishes so would the culture that the military in general and the military chiefs in particular are subservient to the government of the time. Fear no one but the Lord and take an honest decision.

muzammil ullah khan Jul 21, 2013 12:40pm

Mr PM ,Just appoint the senior most General . Hand picked fellows will show you the door once again as was done by Kakar and Musharraf . Morsi hand picked a General in Egypt and Morsi is under protective custody . It is a no brainer but with advisers like Ch Nisar you will again make a bad choice which may land you in trouble !!

Zaheer Abbas Jul 21, 2013 01:44pm

It is a very crucial decision so give it real broad and deep importance/thinking. The next army chief should be a person who could best meet the national and international challenges. He should not be picked only to protect a person or one institution or vested interests of few he rather should be brought to think and care for whole country and nation. People have witnessed the results of picking a general for personal interests so avoid it this time please. As post of army chief is extremely tough one, he should be very strong mentally, physically and spiritually. He should be quite brave, fair and intelligent; should be ready to act and not reluctant. He should be a happy choice of both army/military and civilian administration. Don't prefer here your personal choice rather bring a person of principles and required qualities who cares for every Pakistani and institutions.

ahmedj Jul 21, 2013 02:47pm

Regardless of their military career, the best choice would be an officer from a known respectable family background and an academic gentleman. We do not need another "fauji" or a "commando" at the top slot as the requirement is different. For such an important post one has to be with sane and reasonable mind to command. What all needed is Wisdom and Knowledge.

In recent past, a personality like Jehangir Karamat is one good example and In the list above we have another good choice. I pray the best man is chosen at a time when Pakistan needs a loyal son.

For the post of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Traditionally it is supposed to be rotated within the three Armed Forces. However, for the past few years the appointment is kept with the Army. This time the Army should not assume this office and honour the custom.

Razi Jul 21, 2013 06:09pm

Indeed. An excellent article to read and ponder. But then any person is allowed 3 mistakes.. on the lighter side

Gerry D'Cunha Jul 21, 2013 08:25pm

Mr PM - once bitten twice shy - don't judge the generals to be loyal to you - judge them by their seniority and honest service

AbbasToronto Jul 21, 2013 09:04pm

In these matters it is not difficult to predict the future.

Iskandar Mirza chose Ayub, Bhutto chose ZIa, Nawaz chose Musharraf, Mursi chose Sisi - all went to show their masters the door.

Nawaz better leave the post vacant, or else expect a new Pak PM by this time next year.

Sarwat Hasan Jul 21, 2013 09:16pm

There is no independence, PM and the minister of defense is the same person so the decision can't right. It's a farce. All the auditors will agree with me.

Syed Hasanain Jul 21, 2013 09:25pm

Good analysis indeed. It will be a critical decision for Pakistan

TamzaK Jul 21, 2013 09:39pm

ahmedj: "known respectable family background and an academic gentleman. "

What in earth are you talking about! Soon you will be saying "from the right tribe", or from the next province. We MUST get away from such thinking. Gen Karamat may have appeared good, but I dont think he had the awareness of national security at heart; his advisors were often people from countries who dont have Pakistan security as their first priority.

It seems to me that the longish comments are from former military people. While 'rotation' is a good thought, the army is the largest entity, and should get more representation.

syab ktk Jul 21, 2013 11:59pm

so crucial decision but PM has to look for the best candidate who are affiliated with the given seat.

Badar Jul 22, 2013 12:26am

A good analysis. However, does because one served as Lahore Corps Commander should not make one a Sharif favorite (one hopes that'd not be a factor)

Seems like many good choices for next COAS. Sharif should follow the merit and chose the best from top three. Also next Joint Services Chief should not be from Army. Wrong pattern.

Syed Husain Jul 22, 2013 03:43am

A very well written article. For this selection, my recommendation to PM Sharif is: Select a general who is who is God fearing, the senior most in line, qualified for this position, who is honest and has a clean record and does not have a potential or ambition to overthrow the civilian government. That is asking for a lot. What the heck, why not?

S. A. M. Jul 22, 2013 07:53am

Sincerely hope that he brings in another Musharraf.

L Ahmad Jul 22, 2013 08:41am

We need a commander who can mould and implement peace in the region rather than beating his chest & drums for a war cry. Unfortunately, Fauji mentality is war before peace, so a humble and sound minded person would be the most deserving for the job.

jawed sheikh Jul 22, 2013 12:52pm

Jawed/karachi We should go by principles the senior most person shud get the post. In India Nehru once was to appoint a chief of air staff. The summary sent to him contained the name of an officer who was supposed to be senior most and nehru appointed him. But then that officer came to nehru and told him that another officer was senior to him and it was incorrect that he was the senior most. Nehru immediately took back the decision and appointed him the air chief. Of course the officer who had told Nehru of the error became 2nd in command, sometime later the air chief died in a air crash and this officer then became air chief. its all about honesty and upholding principles

Mian Shahid Mehmood Jul 22, 2013 02:17pm

Only the rule 'seniority cum fitness' should be followed while making selections in army, judiciary or anyother organ of the state. This will create certainty and fair play.

Dr Kadar Khan FRCS Jul 22, 2013 03:41pm

Good analysis.Thrilling suspense. Good luck to all deserving candidates, pakistan's future remains in your hand until our politicians show maturity and competence to steer the country in the right direction and noy relying of military to bail them out. Worthy of a Bollywood Thriller? Many thanks.

MSA Jul 22, 2013 03:52pm

@Syed Hasanain: Even more critical for future of Nawaz.

SHAFIQ Jul 23, 2013 01:53pm

An extention of service is a form of corruption whoever practise it. It shows indefference to the rule of law unless it is embedded in the law. The USA changes her defence forces leader every three to four years without any danger to the security of the country. The Rule Of Law is the invioable rule of democratic dispensation.
Officers who can not be trusted show the promotion system of the organisation. Get it right then you will not face the issue. Shafiq

SHAFIQ Jul 23, 2013 01:56pm

@L Ahmad: There are not many in our unfortunate country those understand what humble means. Well in our army forget it. Shafiq

ramanan Jul 23, 2013 05:20pm

One more knight in the shining armour to protect the idealogical frontiers of Pakistan ! Let us welcome him who ever it may be!!