A Mat­ter of Choice

Will se­nior­ity drive the Prime Min­is­ter’s choice for the next COAS?

Southasia - - COVER STORY - By Omar Ahmed

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.

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