‘I would ex­pect the in-com­ing COAS to be highly pro­fes­sional and less po­lit­i­cal’.

Lt. Gen. (R) Talat Ma­sood pro­vides his views about the ap­point­ment of the new COAS.

Southasia - - COVER STORY -

Why is the se­lec­tion of COAS or CJCSC a point of such pub­lic de­bate in Pak­istan? Can’t it be done as a mat­ter of course?

I wish it was so but Pak­istan is still in demo­cratic tran­si­tion. Its po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions are weak and the Army is rel­a­tively the most or­ga­nized and pow­er­ful in­sti­tu­tion in the coun­try. For more than half the life of the coun­try the Army has been di­rectly rul­ing it and even when civil­ian gov­ern­ments have been in power its in­flu­ence is over-arch­ing, es­pe­cially in crit­i­cal for­eign pol­icy and se­cu­rity is­sues. And the threat of coup, though greatly min­i­mized, is om­nipresent.

The COAS’s im­por­tance is fur­ther en­hanced in view of the se­ri­ous ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal se­cu­rity chal­lenges that Pak­istan con­tin­ues to face. On the ex­ter­nal front, de­spite se­ri­ous ef­forts on the part of Pak­istan, re­la­tions with In­dia re­main tense. The pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan poses a po­ten­tial threat on our Western bor­ders and needs heavy de­ploy­ment of troops and close co­or­di­na­tion with the U.S. mil­i­tary and NATO lead­er­ship. In ad­di­tion, the in­ter­nal threat has ac­quired men­ac­ing pro­por­tions and the army’s role in fight­ing the on­go­ing in­sur­gency in FATA is cru­cial. The mil­i­tary is also the cus­to­dian and op­er­a­tor of our nu­clear arse­nal and one of the largest con­sumers of the national bud­get.

Th­ese mul­ti­fac­eted re­spon­si­bil­i­ties de­mand that the COAS and CJSC are lead­ers of high pro­fes­sional and per­sonal at­tributes ca­pa­ble of lead­ing the armed forces both in war and peace. Does it also mean that the Army still has a key role to play in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the coun­try – a role that goes much be­yond its con­sti­tu­tional duty?

Surely not, but democ­racy is a process and un­less a true bal­ance be­tween civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions is not es­tab­lished, the army will con­tinue to in­fringe on the civil­ian do­main. Much would also de­pend on the com­pe­tence of the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship. If the civil­ian govern­ment’s over­all per­for­mance is good, is not per­ceived to be cor­rupt and in­spires con­fi­dence in the peo­ple, then it be­comes dif­fi­cult for the army to cross con­sti­tu­tional bound­aries. We wit­nessed this phe­nom­e­non be­ing val­i­dated in Turkey and par­tially in In­done­sia. Strength­en­ing of the civil­ian in­sti­tu­tions- par­lia­ment, ju­di­ciary, bu­reau­cracy and me­dia con­trib­utes to keep­ing the army at bay. Though you are a re­tired army gen­eral your­self, but have you al­ways been happy the way the Pak­istan armed forces, es­pe­cially the army, have brought their in­flu­ence to bear on civil­ian mat­ters?

To the con­trary, I am one of the few gen­eral of­fi­cers that have openly and con­sis­tently op­posed the mil­i­tary’s in­volve­ment in civil­ian af­fairs. I sin­cerely be­lieve that armies that cap­ture state power do great dis­ser­vice to the coun­try as well as to their own in­sti­tu­tion. Let me briefly an­a­lyze this for you.

When the army seizes power, it le­git­imizes it­self by weak­en­ing other state in­sti­tu­tions. The ju­di­ciary is its first vic­tim. Judges with a high level of in­tegrity who are not pre­pared to give le­gal cover are re­tired or dis­missed. Sim­i­larly, only com­pli­ant politi­cians are co-opted to give a façade of democ­racy,

fur­ther weak­en­ing the po­lit­i­cal par­ties. By de­sign, po­lit­i­cal par­ties are kept weak- a la the IJI. Even the bu­reau­cracy is not spared. Bu­reau­crats lose their freedom to ex­press an hon­est opin­ion and be­come sub­servient to the mil­i­tary’s au­thor­ity. In the long term, this has grave con­se­quences for the coun­try as it se­ri­ously af­fects the qual­ity of lead­er­ship in all ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions.

Ex­pe­ri­ence has shown that de­fense of the coun­try too has suf­fered when mil­i­tary has been in power. Clas­sic ex­am­ples are the 1965 and 1971 wars and the Kargil episode. The rise of mil­i­tant groups in the coun­try, as a blow­back of the use of asym­met­ric forces to coun­ter­vail In­dia’s mil­i­tary and eco­nomic pre­pon­der­ance or to ex­pand in­flu­ence in Afghanistan, is also a con­se­quence of the failed poli­cies pur­sued by mil­i­tary rulers.

Who has been your favourite Pak­istani COAS in the past – and why?

I had no par­tic­u­lar fa­vorite but of course some I held in high es­teem com­pared to oth­ers. The best thing about the Army and, for that mat­ter the armed forces in gen­eral, is that th­ese are merit-based or­ga­ni­za­tions. Any­one reach­ing the rank of COAS has fil­tered through a cas­cade of sieves. None­the­less, the in­volve­ment of the army in pol­i­tics and the dis­pro­por­tion­ate power that it en­joys made some Chiefs lose their bal­ance and con­duct them­selves in­ap­pro­pri­ately.

As a young of­fi­cer, Gen­eral Ayub Khan im­pressed me. He stood out among the gen­er­als and was pro­fes­sion­ally one of the bet­ter ones from the lot of se­nior Mus­lim army of­fi­cers that mi­grated to Pak­istan. He was mod­ernistic and for­ward look­ing and had an air of el­e­gance about him. But, like most of his suc­ces­sors, he was tac­ti­cal and made the grave er­ror of over­throw­ing a civil­ian govern­ment and sup­ported the in­cur­sion into Kash­mir that led to the 1965 war.

Among the re­cent Chiefs, Gen­eral Wa­heed Kakar, Gen­eral Je­hangir Kara­mat and Gen­eral Kayani stand out. Th­ese Gen­er­als led the army ad­mirably well. They fo­cused on im­prov­ing its com­bat

ef­fec­tive­ness, han­dled civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions with tact and in­flu­enced national events more pos­i­tively.

What qual­i­ties do you think makes the ideal COAS, es­pe­cially in the cur­rent Pak­istani con­text?

I would ex­pect the in-com­ing COAS to be highly pro­fes­sional and less po­lit­i­cal. The range and mag­ni­tude of threats that Pak­istan faces re­quires the Army Chief (and the Chiefs of the other two Ser­vices) to pre­pare the forces un­der their com­mand to a high pro­fes­sional level by train­ing and equip­ping them for fight­ing con­ven­tional, ir­reg­u­lar, cyber and nu­clear wars.

Re­gret­tably, most of our pre­vi­ous Chiefs’ think­ing has been lin­ear and sel­dom have they taken a broader view of their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, es­pe­cially while ad­dress­ing civilmil­i­tary re­la­tions or in­flu­enc­ing ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal se­cu­rity pol­icy is­sues. Ide­ally, I would ex­pect the fu­ture COAS to take de­lib­er­ate steps to stay away from as­sum­ing di­rect or in­di­rect po­lit­i­cal power and bring about a gen­uine trans­for­ma­tion of the old mind­set that the army some­how is priv­i­leged to cap­ture power on its own choos­ing.

The coun­try to­day is be­set with enor­mous se­cu­rity chal­lenges that de­mand the COAS to ini­ti­ate in­ter­nal re­forms within the army and en­force high stan­dards of train­ing and dis­ci­pline. The Army Chief should have the vi­sion and strate­gic fore­sight to lead the or­ga­ni­za­tion into the 21st cen­tury. He should com­mand the re­spect of his subor­di­nates and su­pe­ri­ors by dint of his pro­fes­sional abil­ity and per­sonal in­tegrity.

Would Nawaz Sharif pre­fer a pro­fes­sional sol­dier for the post of COAS or some­one with more vis­i­ble civil­ian con­nec­tions?

We hope that Nawaz Sharif has learnt from his own ex­pe­ri­ence that he had to pay a heavy price for se­lect­ing the COAS on the ba­sis of civil­ian con­nec­tions and nar­row po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions. More­over, it would be a gross dis­ser­vice to the na­tion not to se­lect pro­fes­sion­ally the best among equals in face of the enor­mity of threats that Pak­istan faces.

Do you think this time Nawaz Sharif will take ex­tra care in choos­ing the COAS?

As we have dis­cussed ear­lier, the role of the mil­i­tary and the army in par­tic­u­lar, is very cen­tral in Pak­istan’s con­text. The COAS has to suc­cess­fully lead an army that has to com­bat mul­ti­ple threats. The COAS should be sup­port­ive in re­dress­ing the civil-mil­i­tary im­bal­ance and rise above nar­row in­sti­tu­tional in­ter­ests that trump larger national goals. I am sure the PM will make sure that he does se­lect a gen­eral for the post of COAS who is not po­lit­i­cally am­bi­tious and more fo­cused pro­fes­sion­ally. In his se­lec­tion cri­te­ria for army chief, Nawaz Sharif will pre­fer some­one among the gen­eral of­fi­cers who has an apo­lit­i­cal ap­proach that al­lows the nascent civil­ian govern­ment to foster demo­cratic growth.

In the cur­rent cir­cum­stances, when Pak­istan is at war with an in­ter­nal en­emy, do you think the new COAS should bring some­thing ex­tra to the job?

Ex­pe­ri­ence in counter-in­sur­gency op­er­a­tions would be an ad­van­tage. The abil­ity to work closely with the civil­ian lead­er­ship would be crit­i­cal. Gen­eral of­fi­cers who have com­manded a Corps and also served as CGS or have been in im­por­tant staff ap­point­ments at GHQ should be pre­ferred. He should also gen­uinely be­lieve in civil­ian supremacy.

Are the Pak­istan Armed Forces now pro­fes­sion­ally equipped to com­bat the in­ter­nal en­emy, as this is a dif­fer­ent kind of war?

Ini­tially our army was trained and equipped for con­ven­tional wars. Ever since we ac­quired the nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity, our troops are be­ing trained to also op­er­ate in a nu­clear en­vi­ron­ment. Fight­ing in­sur­gency and mil­i­tant groups is rel­a­tively a new phe­nom­e­non. The army has grad­u­ally adapted to com­bat this new threat and ini­tially some for­ma­tions were trained and equipped for this par­tic­u­lar war­fare. And now it is a part of ba­sic train­ing and for­ma­tions are giv­ing it high pri­or­ity. There is, how­ever, a lot of scope for im­prove­ment both at the doc­tri­nal level and in the field of train­ing. Many troops have fallen vic­tim to IEDs and this could be min­i­mized with bet­ter train­ing tech­niques and dis­ci­pline. With im­proved in­tel­li­gence, greater co­or­di­na­tion and sup­port of lo­cals, com­bat ef­fi­ciency in coun­terin­sur­gency op­er­a­tions could be en­hanced.

The post of CJCSC is sup­posed to ro­tate be­tween the three mil­i­tary arms. Does it mean we will get a non-Army CJCSC this time?

Ini­tially, when the Joint Chiefs of Staff or­ga­ni­za­tion was cre­ated, there was a tacit un­der­stand­ing that the post of the Chair­man would be ro­tated be­tween the three ser­vices. This prac­tice con­tin­ued for a while un­til Gen­eral Mushar­raf set it aside. By do­ing so he could fa­vor his most pow­er­ful con­stituency the army, fur­ther con­sol­i­date his hold over the mil­i­tary and con­trol dis­tri­bu­tion of re­sources within the three ser­vices. Ro­ta­tion will en­cour­age bet­ter in­te­gra­tion and co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Ser­vices.

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