‘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.
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.