A Matter of Choice
Will seniority drive the Prime Minister’s choice for the next COAS?
When the incumbent COAS, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, retires on Nov. 28, 2013, who will Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif replace him with? This is a question that is probably weighing heavily on the PM’s mind these days, considering that his decisions to appoint the army chief in his earlier stints as Prime Minister were not very judicious ones. Every time, the Prime Minister appointed an army chief, something went amiss, whether it was General Jehangir Karamat, General Pervez Musharraf or Lt. General Ziauddin Butt. In fact, one of them, namely General Pervez Musharraf, even deprived Nawaz Sharif of his premiership just after about a year of becoming COAS.
Perhaps those were times of great political elation for Nawaz Sharif, what with his heavy mandate, and he did not care much about such things as ‘seniority’ in the services and the need for application of the ‘seniority principle’ regarding appointment of service chiefs.
Not anymore. Nawaz Sharif is now Pakistan’s first ‘third time’ prime minister and a more careful one at
that. Under the Constitution, it again falls upon him to name the new service chiefs as well as the next CJCSC. And, as the story goes, he is bent upon following the seniority principle this time rather than going by the tenets of loyalty – a trait that has otherwise been close to the hearts of the Sharif Brothers.
It is being rumoured though that the Prime Minister may just shift gears and name a general who may not be at the top of the seniority list but a favorite of the Americans – someone like General Tariq Khan, who was awarded the Sword of Honour on completing the 55 PMA Course at the top of his class. At the senior level, he was promoted as a three star general in October 2010. He is from the Armoured Corps and was serving as Inspector General FC Khyber Pakhtunkhwa before taking over as Mangla Corps Commander. Since his days as a Brigadier, Lt. General Tariq Khan has had an illustrious track record and is known in the army as a “fighting commander.”
As for playing up to the Americans, it is said that Gen. Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani got his three year extension from the then Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani at the behest of the US CJCSC, Adm. Mike Mullen. The American admiral happened to be very friendly with Kiyani and since this was the peak of the involvement of US and Pakistan armies in the war in Afghanistan, Mullen recommended that the general should continue as Pakistan’s army chief.
The Pakistan Army continues to be a part of the on-going conflict in Afghanistan and it is a fact that most ISAF forces will be stationed there until at least the middle of 2014. In light of this, there has been some talk of Kiyani getting a further extension of one year but the general has himself said to have declined any such offer. Being a son of the soil of the Punjab, he knows that even if a small quantity of yogurt (dahi) is added to a whole bucket of pure milk, the next morning the entire bucket will become yogurt and the milk would have lost its purity. So it’s a choice between yogurt and milk for him!
If Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were to go by the seniority principle, then giving an extension to the incumbent Chief would only negate that principle. This would be further aggravated if aspects such as ‘loyalty’ or ‘merit’ were to be considered by the Prime Minister.
In such circumstances, Nawaz Sharif is left with no other choice than Lt. Gen. Haroon Aslam, who is the top general on the seniority list at present and also has all that it takes to lead the Pakistan Army. As the senior most general, he is said to be a professionally competent officer who has held many prestigious appointments in his four decade long military career, including the command of the Infantry Division, the Pakistan Rangers (Punjab), the Special Services Group (SSG) and the Bahawalpur Corps.
Lt. Gen. Haroon also has rich experience in counter-terrorist warfare. When the Army GHQ in Rawalpindi was stormed by terrorists some years back and a large number of army personnel were taken hostage, it was this general who moved in with his Anti-Terrorist Unit and launched a very successful operation.
With these qualifications under his belt, Lt. Gen. Haroon Aslam should be Nawaz Sharif’s best bet as COAS as the country is currently pitted against both internal and external enemies. It is hoped therefore that the Prime Minister’s decision will be driven purely by considerations of seniority in appointing the next COAS and that he will not sacrifice the army’s natural line of command at the altar of personal choice.