Pakistan is in the process of choosing a new army chief as the incumbent Raheel Sharif’s term is scheduled to end in November this year. The selection may signal Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s stand on relations with India. He won the last election promising, among other things, to improve his country’s ties with its eastern neighbour through increased trade and commerce. He seems to have tried a bit to fulfill his promise but has come a cropper because of a rabidly anti-India stand of the Pakistani deep state.
Besides India, in picking up a new army chief Sharif will fight the ghost of Musharraf whom he made the army chief in violation of the universal principle of seniority and got a coup and exile in return. In selecting Raheel Sharif’s successor, the Pak PM’s decision, therefore, couldn’t but be a guarded one.
Reports from Islamabad indicate that PM Sharif may like to make an early announcement about the next army chief— much like he did while appointing Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua in 1991.
If PM Sharif rejects the ‘apna banda’ approach and follows the universal principle of seniority, his choices are more or less well defined. Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Zubair Hayat is considered in Pakistan’s military hierarchy as the senior most followed by Multan Corps Commander Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, Bahawalpur Corps Commander Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday and Inspector General of Training and Evaluation Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. These four generals are from the 62nd Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) Long Course.
In addition, there are two more generals between Gen Hayat and Gen Ahmed: Heavy Industrial Complex Taxila Chairman Lt Gen Syed Wajid Hussain and Director General Joint Staff Lt Gen Najibullah Khan. They are said to be not ‘technically qualified’ to be appointed army chief since they have not reportedly commanded a corps.
Lt Gen Maqsood Ahmed, who is serving as a military adviser to the United Nations, is already on an extension and may not be considered eligible for promotion. Further, the appointment of a new Chairman of Joint Chiefs Staff Committee (CJCSC) has also to be made because this post will fall vacant on the same day as the army chief’s retirement. The simultaneous retirement of the incumbent four-star General Rashad Mahmood is seen as a complicating factor in the appointment of the next COAS as PM Sharif has to execute a delicate balance among senior commanders.
Theoretically, the CJCSC has to be the senior-most four-star officer from any of the three services — army, navy and air force. However, ever since the establishment of Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA), the army has kept its grip on the leadership because of its control over the key areas of nuclear command and strategic assets. The CJCSC is the deputy chairman of NCA’s deployment committee, which is headed by the prime minister.
The position, though a ceremonial one, is in principle senior to the office of the army chief. Therefore, a senior general may have to be appointed. It is generally believed that the government would not break the seniority order by appointing a relatively junior general as CJCSC.
Among the four serious contenders, Lt Gen Hayat is from the artillery and the serving CGS. As a three-star general, he was previously posted as director general of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which is the secretariat of the NCA, and corps commander Bahawalpur. His postings as CGS and DG SPD granted him an opportunity to work closely with PM Sharif. This possibly makes him an ideal choice for the post of CJCSC. Further, it is rare in the Pakistan army for someone posted at the SPD to revert to the army.
This may brighten the chances of Lt Gen Ahmed to become the COAS. He is credited with Gen Sharif’s successes in North Waziristan in Op Zarb-i-Azb. It is said the blueprint for the operation was laid down by Gen Ahmed as director general of military operations (DGMO). He participated in the Swat operation as a major general, having served in Waziristan as a brigadier. Due to his involvement with the operations directorate, which started when he was a lieutenant colonel, he is considered most qualified for the COAS post. He is currently leading a mechanised corps, though he is an officer from infantry – Azad Kashmir Regiment. Therefore, his elevation as army chief can’t be ruled out. The only thing that is said to go against him is that he is assertive and blunt.
Another candidate, Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday, is currently leading the Bahawalpur corps and was previously president of the National Defence University (NDU) in Islamabad. He served as GOC Swat during the operation there. He hails from the infantry’s Sindh Regiment.
The third and last candidate Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is seen as Pakistan’s best bet to improve ties with India as he is said to view extremism as a bigger threat to Pakistan than India. Currently, he is serving at the GHQ as Inspector General of Training and Evaluation — the position Gen Sharif held before becoming army chief. He has commanded the 10 Corps, the army’s largest, which is responsible for the area along the Line of Control (LoC). He also has extensive experience of handling affairs in Kashmir and the northern areas of the country. As a major general, he led the Force Command Northern Areas. He also served in the 10 Corps as a lieutenant colonel, where he was GSO. He has served with a UN mission in Congo as a brigade commander alongside former Indian army chief Gen Bikram Singh, who was also there as a division commander. He was also the commandant of the Infantry School in Quetta.
Media reports suggest he is not an attention seeker and remains well-connected with his troops. He is from the infantry’s Baloch Regiment. Three former officers from his Regiment have risen to be army chief — Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Aslam Beg, and Gen Kayani. His appointment as COAS could also help contain the tide of mounting insurgency in Pakistan’s largest and most restive province.
(This report is based on open-source intelligence)