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Challenges for the new army chief

Updated Nov 26, 2016 11:24am


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THE change of command in the Pakistan Army is happening next week and the incoming chief ought to be in the saddle soon at which point the media paroxysm will die out for a bit. Yes, only for a bit.

You can bet your bottom dollar it won’t be long before hysteria is built up again by sections of the media which believe that interfering in the affairs of the state, overstepping his professional domain, and even toppling elected governments is an integral part of an army chief’s job description.

The new chief would do well to keep his telly switched off. As it is there is a complicated, challenging agenda that he has to start addressing practically within hours of his elevation — without the noisy and continuous entreaties to intervene from a stable of TV anchors that only serve as a distraction and an irritant.

There is a complicated agenda the new chief has to start addressing practically within hours of his elevation.

First and foremost will be the need to ask the government to give the lead so a measured response is evolved to the Modi-Doval-led Indian attempts to test Pakistan’s patience by constantly provoking, prodding and poking it with artillery fire along the Line of Control, and drawing blood, including that of civilians.

At the heart of Pakistan’s response would have to be the calculation as to which country can least afford an escalation at this time. India’s enormous market and the investment opportunities in a huge country have been seen as New Delhi’s major selling points since the turn of the century.

But New Delhi’s intransigence by seeking no accommodation with the Kashmiris and its attempt to bulldoze all opposition to its rule in the occupied valley using the most brutal methods somehow appear at cross purposes with its policy of presenting itself as a safe haven for investment.

Given the subcontinent is home to both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, turmoil in India-held Kashmir and regular hostilities across the Line of Control can potentially escalate into something that the authors of the cavalier approach of the Modi administration may not have considered.

Side by side with evolving a well-thought-out and gamed approach to Indian hostilities, the new army chief will need to move quickly to consolidate the gains of his predecessor’s operation in North Waziristan Agency. The past few weeks have seen fresh spurts of terrorist violence, including IED attacks, in the South Waziristan and Mohmand agencies.

Equally pressing is the need to look at the people and groups involved in the increasing attacks on targets in Balochistan that are being claimed by Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami and the militant Islamic State group. This is a real threat as, after the killing of Malik Ishaq and other effective intelligence-based operations by the Counter-Terrorism Department of the Punjab police, many elements of the sectarian terrorist group Lashkar-i-Jhangvi are said to have moved to Balochistan.

Similarly, the unresolved issue of the status and freedom afforded to jihadi groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad which may not have targeted Pakistan or its forces but that have fallen from the position of ‘asset’ and ‘force multiplier’ to outright liability, must be focused on.

Yes, liability, because with their actions, these groups can cause the government and the army to be sucked into an unwanted and unwise confrontation with India on unfavourable terms and at a bad time. Is it hard to imagine what another Mumbai-like murderous act of insanity could trigger today?

Pakistan really needs to up its game even further in terms of intelligence gathering and monitoring of these groups, even if civil and (particularly) military authorities consider that action against them is not a viable option as we speak.

One has heard of mainstreaming plans. While there can be no two opinions that anyone in the country who has not broken the law has the right to be part of the mainstream regardless of their ideological and political moorings, the suggestions going around to induct some of the militants into the security forces fills me with foreboding.

This foreboding is particularly strong as those who make the suggestion forward no statistics or data from anywhere in the Muslim world where deradicalisation has been so successful that ‘former’ jihadis have joined the disciplined security forces and given up on their agenda completely. Many Pakistanis will need to be reassured that it will not be a case of out-of-the pan-and-into-the-fire.

Last but certainly not least, the incoming chief will need to task his intelligence chiefs with inquiring into the motives of the head of a faction of the Jamiat Ahle Hadith, Sajid Mir, who made a crude attempt via social media to sow discord in the defence forces.

Sajid Mir first raised a total red herring about the faith of one of the senior lieutenant-generals whose names are being mentioned as possible successors to the army chief and warned the government and military against appointing the said officer.

Then, he gleefully declared in a subsequent video statement that he had now received assurances from the government and military high command that his view was mistaken and that the officer’s faith was not subject to question. This man is a member of the Senate from Punjab on a PML-N ticket.

At a time when thousands of our finest, young soldiers have laid down their lives battling the sort of bigotry and intolerance this elected leader seems to be comfortable with, he shouldn’t remain immune from the clutches of the law. It needs to be ascertained whether these were his own thoughts or if he was representing a deeper rot elsewhere.

There is a whole slew of challenges before our civilian and military leaders. They’d be best advised to focus on delivery in their respective spheres and not lock horns pointlessly with each other while Pakistan’s adversaries have the last laugh.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2016

Author Image
Abbas Nasir is a former editor of Dawn.

He tweets @abbasnasir59.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (25) Closed

J.Niaz Nov 26, 2016 06:14am

Excellent analysis. The new chief will have his work cut out for him.

Jalaluddin S. Hussain Nov 26, 2016 09:01am

Your entire article makes a lot of sense.

MAlvi Nov 26, 2016 11:20am

The new army chief's most important job will be to mobilize the civilian government to take control of maintaining law and order, and get rid of the terrorism problem.

Shalone Nov 26, 2016 11:27am

Let us hope the new chief reads this piece. But his first duty is to ask the elected government what the priorities are for the army and he should follow that policy without if and but.

Zafy Nov 26, 2016 12:53pm

A good read.

ALTAF Ahemed Ansari Nov 26, 2016 02:12pm

Excellent analysis!!!!!!!!!!!!! Who ever comes in the shoes of Gen. Raheel , will have to prove himself. Because, after a popular and efficient man, one hase to do over time to escape from the public disappoint.

Jim Nov 26, 2016 05:41pm

For the new army chief a task will be to start a dialog with the army on the eastern border, that will solve many of the problems. It's only because the two armies don't talk to each other that these one set of issues keep repeating.

Ahsan Nov 26, 2016 07:01pm

Welcome General.Bajwa as the new COAS of Pakistan Armed forces. I am sure you will take this challenge in the best of spirit and exceed all limits as achieved by your predecessor. GOOD LUCK

DrTK Nov 26, 2016 07:11pm

"It needs to be ascertained whether these were his own thoughts or if he was representing a deeper rot elsewhere." This should be the first priority to weed out the bigotry that has done so much damage to Pakistan. Pakistan must become a Nation of decent people, not a carricature of a mad Mullah, no matter what Modi does. We should not give any space at all to the so called "assets" who must be made to disappear from this land of the pure if we are to progress. Above all, State instutitions must be strengthened at all levels. And finally, there should be no more place for liars, charlatans, and theives in positions of high office in Government! Can we do it?

Shakeel Ahmed Nov 26, 2016 07:37pm

I note comments from other readers endorsing army's role in day to day running of Pakistan. Whereas this should all be the civilian government's doing the job. The army belongs to the barracks.

Combating terrorism is again not the army's responsibility. It is the ideology and extremist mindset that needs to be combated. And that is the civilian democracy government's job. Period.

Muzaffar Ali Nov 26, 2016 07:53pm

The way we see the problem is the problem! Same goes for India. They too stuck in a rut.

Lets broaden our horizon for solutions.

vijay Nov 26, 2016 08:30pm

@DrTK good luck

vijay Nov 26, 2016 08:30pm

good luck

MSH NATH Nov 26, 2016 10:18pm


There is a definite opportunity for the country to open its eyes and steer away from the madness that brought the country to its present state. If the country analyze where the country is and where it ought to be, then it becomes clear that its biggest threat is internal forces that are either primeval or puppets in the hands of interests other than that of Pakistan as a nation. The political machinery and the new Army Chief could seize the opportunity to build the Pakistan that is a responsible nation, standing on its own leg, for the welfare of its people as a tolerant international player contributing to peace and stability and maintaining a pragmatic approach towards things that outside its boundaries.

Dr.Noor islam Nov 26, 2016 10:32pm

Fabulous words !! Hoping for the best.

salman Nov 26, 2016 10:34pm

Root out terrorism in Pakistan and focus on improving the life of poor Pakistanis. So long you differentiate good terrorist versus bad terrorist Pakistan will continue to suffer and international isolation. Good luck to Mr. Bajwa and Pakistan.

Ahmed Hassan Nov 27, 2016 01:09am

Very good article. Let the new COAS first reign in and eliminate groups like JeM and LeT for peace along the LOC.

AHA Nov 27, 2016 02:45am

A real honesty is needed in handling all these hardline groups. Good luck

Rp Nov 27, 2016 12:44pm

@Shakeel Ahmed - you nailed it Mr. Ahmed!

Muhammad Nov 27, 2016 12:50pm

Correct. The new chief is also expected to start clean-up operations in Punjab to weed out extremism.

Abdullah Nov 27, 2016 01:38pm

First things first,the new general needs to first visit China and pay his respects to Chinese President and the Chief of PLA.

A shah Nov 27, 2016 03:03pm

I must say the previous general was nothing short of disappointing. Let's hope this one is better.

muhammad kashif iqbal Nov 27, 2016 04:21pm


Afzal shigri Nov 28, 2016 07:36pm

Correct. Without an efficient civilian law enforcement machinery the long battle ahead cannot be sustained. He must play his role to build the civilian structure that is depoliticised and operationally independentent.

Sajjad Khan-Sherwani Nov 29, 2016 01:21pm

He will overthrow the government if the politcal class does not behave in accordance with accepted norms & standards of conduct.