General-Ashfaq-KayaniPassing the baton 

Editor’s note: S M Hali is not only a regular contributor to Opinion Maker but is also member of the Advisory Board of Opinion Maker. His this article has been published as the cover story of South Asia Magazine.

S. M. Hali 

One of the most challenging decisions, Mian Nawaz Sharif has to take in the coming weeks, by virtue of his constitutional powers, is finding suitable replacements for the Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee (CJSC) and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). General Khalid Shameem Wynne, the current CJCSC is due to retire on 6 October 2013, while the extended term of office for the present COAS, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani is terminating on November 28, 2013.

In normal circumstances, the appointments should have been a routine procedure but considering Nawaz Sharif’s previous unpleasant experiences in the selection of the COAS, it is imperative for him to take the right decision. He has traversed this road thrice, each ending in a fiasco for him. His 1993 choice of General Abdul Waheed Kakar, number four in seniority, forced the President and Prime Minister to resign, precipitating the 1993 general elections, which Nawaz Sharif lost.  In 1998, Sharif opted for General Parvez Musharraf, third in seniority—in a bid to secure his back—appointing a COAS sans political backing. Kargil happened and Nawaz Sharif’s third attempt at appointing an Army Chief after “sacking” Musharraf was botched when he tried to prop up Lieutenant General Ziauddin Butt, from the backdoor—resulting in a coup d’état deposing, incarcerating and exiling Nawaz Sharif for ten years.

The incessant terror attacks, Indian hostilities at the LOC spurning peace overtures by Nawaz Sharif, US troops’ drawdown from Afghanistan and foreign relations imperatives necessitate a clear understanding between the civil and military obligating prudent decisions.

The appointment of the new CJCSC which would occur earlier and may be less complicated since the PM has to select a suitable officer from the three Services. Conceivably, without rocking the boat for either the current Naval or Air Chiefs, who are midstream of their allocated terms, it would be practical to preclude inter-Service rotation and appoint the senior most serving Army officer to the post of CJCSC, which is mainly a ceremonial post devoid of power.

The Army seniority list depicts Lieutenant General Haroon Aslam on top. If Mian Sahib is to be taken for his word: “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”, then Haroon Aslam is the choice for CJSC or COAS. The aspects, besides seniority, which enhance his eligibility, are that he has served as the Director General Military Operations, Commanded the XXXI Corps at Bahawalpur and ably led the daring Operation Rah-e-Rast in 2009 in Swat. Fighting bravely in Piochar Valley, he liberated that area from local and international terrorists. The characteristics of his career, which may raise questions in the mind of the PM, are that he commanded the elite force Division, the Special Services Group (SSG). Having suffered at the hands of another Commando, General Parvez Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif may be inclined to sideline him. Another relatively negative consideration maybe the current assignment of Lieutenant General Haroon; he is the Chief of Logistics Staff (CLS), which is virtually considered the boondocks.

The second General in line of seniority is Lieutenant General Rashad Mahmood, who was earlier this year elevated to the key post of Chief of General Staff (CGS). Eight of the last 13 army chiefs had served as CGS prior to becoming a four-star General.

Rashad’s acceptability stems from various factors. He commanded the IV Corps at Lahore—base of the Sharifs—hails from Lahore and may have curried favours with them. Additionally, he served as Military Secretary to the Sharif’s choice of President, Rafiq Tarar. He belongs to the Baloch regiment, parent arm of the current incumbent COAS, having served as his deputy in ISI and being positioned as CGS by Kayani, perhaps to ultimately replace himself as the Army Chief. Rashad also remained aide-de-camp (ADC) to former Army Chief General Aslam Beg, who was declared culpable by the Supreme Court in the Asghar Khan case for crafting the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and manipulating the 1990 polls, which catapulted Nawaz Sharif into power at the centre for the first time.

Rashad may lose out on the factor of “familiarity breeds contempt” and the Sharifs may be more comfortable with someone who has less pull on their reins as we witnessed in their choice for the next President, ignoring Sartaj Aziz and Ghaus Ali Shah.

This leads us to number three, the safe bet: Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif, currently the Inspector General Training and Evaluation at the GHQ.  He too is a career officer like choices Numéro uno and deux Haroon and Rashad, having commanded the XXX Corps at Gujranwala and held the prestigious post of Commandant Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul. Valour runs in his family, he is the younger brother of Nishan-i-Haider recipient Major Shabbir Sharif Shaheed.

Glancing down the seniority list, at number four is the dark horse in the race: Lieutenant General Tariq Khan, Commander of # 1 Strike Corps Mangla, who has successfully led counter-insurgency operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as Inspector General of Frontier Corps, is respected by even the Americans, who had conferred upon him the military award of US Legion of Merit in recognition of his gallantry. By crowning Tariq Khan, Nawaz Sharif, desirous of edging closer to the US, may opt for someone respected by them as well as augment the PML-N government’s resolve to combat terrorism under a veteran of the war against militancy. Tariq hails from Waziristan and may be an asset even if negotiations were to take place with the miscreants.

One should not completely rule out number five, Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam, currently the Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence.

There were two more options available; one to extend Kayani’s term by another year till the 2014 drawdown of international forces of international troops from Afghanistan. The chances of this option are remote as Mian Sahib would like to see the back of General Kayani, who in 2012, was named by Forbes magazine as the 28th most powerful person in the world and Nawaz Sharif has vowed to keep the Army subservient to the civilian dispensation.

The second alternative was to extend the service of Lieutenant General Khalid Nawaz and promote him to replace Kayani as COAS. Nawaz Sharif, who is retaining the portfolios of Defence and Foreign Ministries with himself, had directed his confidants, Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar to call on Khalid Nawaz furtively. It may be mentioned that Khalid Nawaz, a relative of Raja Zafarul Haq, may have been a consideration as he was due to retire in October 2013 but General Kayani apparently preempted the move by retiring him on superannuation and replaced him as Commander X Corps with Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa on August 13, 2013.

The best options for Nawaz Sharif would be to appoint Haroon Aslam as CJCSC, and Rashad Mahmood as the next COAS. He would thus maintain seniority, retain the services of the other outstanding general officers till they retire, who would not be forced to resign if superseded by junior officers and also keep the Army morale in place and perhaps not rue later for “the road not taken!”