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Challenges for the new army chief

Updated November 26, 2016

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.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2016