Who will be Pak­istan’s next Army Chief? This is the big ques­tion - and one that will not be easy to set­tle for the Prime Min­is­ter, con­sid­er­ing the many di­men­sions it rep­re­sents.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee S. G. Ji­la­nee is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and the for­mer edi­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

The search for the Next Army Chief

Pak­istan’s chief of army staff, Gen. Ash­faq Parvez Kayani is due to re­tire shortly, af­ter a sixyear stint in the of­fice. He has al­ready been on a three-year ex­ten­sion.

Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif is also De­fence and For­eign Min­is­ter. He is on record say­ing “he wants to dis­en­tan­gle the mil­i­tary from pol­i­tics.” Hold­ing the port­fo­lios of De­fence and For­eign Af­fairs to him­self is in sync with that pol­icy. In fact it has al­ways been his fond de­sire to bring the mil­i­tary un­der civil­ian con­trol. Its pur­suit in the past led to the ouster of Gen. Kara­mat and the ugly show­down with Gen. Pervez Mushar­raf.

No doubt the mil­i­tary has med­dled less in pol­i­tics un­der Gen. Kayani. He has earned the re­pute of a “prag­matic leader will­ing to ease the

mil­i­tary’s grip on po­lit­i­cal af­fairs and pub­licly en­dorse democ­racy.” For his low-key man­ner, he is la­beled “Quiet Gen­eral of Pak­istani pol­i­tics.” And his pub­lic state­ments in sup­port of the coun­try’s tran­si­tion to democ­racy have been re­as­sur­ing, such as his state­ment in a speech just be­fore the May elec­tion, say­ing that “a bad democ­racy was bet­ter than the best kind of dic­ta­tor­ship.”

Yet, hasty con­clu­sions may be un­war­ranted. “Ev­ery­one says that un­der Kayani the army is now trans­formed and we can trust in its demo­cratic cre­den­tials. But let’s not jump the gun,” a source in the govern­ment was quoted say­ing. “One era of soft mil­i­tary lead­er­ship does not make for a last­ing legacy. The civil­ians will have to work hard to make sure ev­ery­one knows their lim­its.”

That no doubt is as re­al­is­tic a sum­ming up as pos­si­ble. The mil­i­tary needs to prove over time that the change of heart is real, be­cause, even un­der Kayani some gen­er­als have been heard grum­bling qui­etly over his “soft at­ti­tude.” It re­mains to be seen whether the new army chief re­sists the pres­sure from his col­leagues to win back the “lost ground” and ex­ert his au­thor­ity over the civil­ians or suc­cumbs to it. Even a diplo­matic source in Is­lam­abad was quoted say­ing that “There are no guar­an­tees the cur­rent sta­tus quo will last be­yond Kayani.”

Ac­cord­ing to some ob­servers the “new crop of gen­er­als is not even re­motely as pa­tient as (Kayani), with re­gard to the screw-ups of civil­ian lead­ers.” They fore­see a “su­per-as­sertive army chief” try­ing to restore the for­mer grandeur of his in­sti­tu­tion as his top pri­or­ity.

But only a gen­eral re­moved from re­al­ity could en­ter­tain such am­bi­tion. The gen­eral’s patina has eroded over the years due to a se­ries of mis­ad­ven­tures. The 1971 de­ba­cle and the Kargil faux pas had al­ready low­ered them in pub­lic es­teem. The Supreme Court rul­ing last year that “the mil­i­tary must stop in­ter­fer­ing in pol­i­tics,” gave an­other blow to their am­bi­tion. But Osama bin Laden’s killing on Pak­istani soil was the coup de grace. For the or­di­nary cit­i­zens it was a gross vi­o­la­tion of sovereignty, while the Abbottabad Com­mis­sion called it a “national hu­mil­i­a­tion” that the army had failed to pre­vent.

More­over, any gen­eral hav­ing ideas about re­viv­ing past “glory” would lead him into a col­li­sion course with the prime min­is­ter. That would be dis­as­trous, be­cause Nawaz has been known to bat­tle with pres­i­dents to as­sert his writ. With one he went down fight­ing; the other he sim­ply eased out.

The prime min­is­ter has to fill two top va­can­cies; one for the army chief, the other for the chief of gen­eral staff. Tech­ni­cally, Kayani would sub­mit a short list of three names for each po­si­tion. But the prime min­is­ter is not re­stricted to choose one of them. He may, if he wishes, se­lect some­one from out­side the list like his pre­de­ces­sor, Bhutto. Yet, such pos­si­bil­ity is re­mote.

Pick­ing Gen. Kayani’s suc­ces­sor is there­fore go­ing to be a “hel­luva” chal­lenge for Nawaz Sharif; in­deed the defin­ing mo­ment of his third term. He may adopt the Bug­gin’s turn method un­der which the job would go to the most se­nior. Or, he may ap­ply the merit yard­stick. But that would be a gam­ble as hap­pened in the past. Or, he may even grant Gen. Kayani a third three-year ex­ten­sion. But this would be un­likely, be­cause ex­ten­sions at the top block the chance of ju­nior of­fi­cers from pro­mo­tion that leads to frus­tra­tion and un­der­mines morale.

Un­der­stand­ably Nawaz would like a man he could trust and who, like Gen. Kayani, keeps the army aloof from med­dling in pol­i­tics. More im­por­tantly, the new pick should be trusted to sup­port the prime min­is­ter’s for­eign pol­icy ini­tia­tives at the top of which is fence-mend­ing with In­dia, un­like Pervez Mushar­raf, who was plan­ning Kargil while Nawaz was wel­com­ing the In­dian prime min­is­ter in La­hore.

How­ever, a trust­wor­thy per­son is not the same as a yes-man. Pick­ing a “yes-man” may be tempt­ing. But it has proved delu­sional with tragic con­se­quences in the past. Bhutto ap­pointed Zi­aul Haq over the heads of sev­eral of his se­nior of­fi­cers, be­cause he had ap­peared very docile. And Nawaz Sharif, like­wise, chose Mushar­raf. How it worked out is his­tory that should never be al­lowed to re­peat it­self.

And last, but not the least, if the choice also re­ceives a nod from Amer­ica that would be a plus point. The U.S. is with­draw­ing its troops from Afghanistan. The process will be com­pleted by the end of next year. Pak­istan has a cru­cial role to play in “post-oc­cu­pa­tion” Afghanistan. Many prob­lems are loom­ing, in­clud­ing in­ternecine con­flict lead­ing to full­blown civil war and In­dia’s ex­pand­ing clout with the Afghan govern­ment through eco­nomic as­sis­tance.

While the govern­ment would be work­ing out a pol­icy to counter In­dia’s ex­pand­ing in­flu­ence in Afghanistan, the next army chief will have to give the best ad­vice to the prime min­is­ter with re­gard to the mil­i­tary strat­egy on th­ese volatile is­sues.

Is­lam­abad grapevine is cur­rently abuzz with spec­u­la­tions. A guess­ing game is go­ing on in the draw­ing rooms of Is­lam­abad. Those in the race in­clude Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Rashad Mah­mood, the cur­rent chief of gen­eral staff, Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Tariq Khan, who is con­sid­ered prag­matic on US re­la­tions, and Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Ha­roon As­lam, the most se­nior of­fi­cer af­ter Kayani.

On whose head the crown ul­ti­mately rests re­mains to be seen.

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