In the first hundred days of his third stint as the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif has to take an important decision of making three new four star appointments, including those of the Army Chief, Naval Chief and Chairman Joints Chief of staff Committee.
Holding the additional portfolio of defence minister, PM Nawaz Sharif will also be considering approving a major reshuffle in army top brass in the first week of October as CJCSC, General Khalid Shamim Wyne, and two Corp Commanders, Lt General Khalid Nawaz Khan and Lt General Muhammad Alam Khattak prepare to call farewell to arms.
This will set in a major reshuffle in the top military brass and lead to promotions for the posts of CJCSC and atleast five Corps Commanders before the retirement of General Kayani.
In a couple of detailed background meetings with journalists, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has ruled out taking any more extensions when his six year tenure as Army Chief comes to an end in November this year.
General Kayani is the only COAS who was given an extension of three years by a civilian government five months prior to his retirement in July 2010.
Aides close to PM Sharif believe the decision will be taken on “merit” and “seniority,” giving enough leeway to the government to pick the next COAS from amongst the top generals by considering the two criterions to judge the professional competence of the officer.
Sources in the PM Office say the matter of appointment of service chiefs is highly sensitive and all cards are being kept close to the chest by the PM.
However, discussions have taken place on the issue in close door quarters of the Sharif camp.
Considering the way key appointments have been made in the civilian bureaucracy, it is doubtful if the PM has learnt any lessons of preferring loyalty over merit, with loyalty still being the top most priority for the Sharif brothers.
Loyalty was among one of the factors PM Sharif considered when his brother Shahbaz Sharif and trusted lieutenant Chaudhry Nisar advised him to overlook the seniority principle and appoint General Musharraf as the COAS in October 1998. The Sharif family had to pay heavily for the decision just a year later when his hand-picked general staged a coup d’état in October 1999 and put the then Prime Minister in the 16th century Attock Fort.
If the PM adheres merely to the seniority principle in appointing the next Army Chief, there is very little left to guess as to who will be the next Army chief.
If the seniority principle is applied sensu strictu, Lt General Haroon Aslam would be the senior most in October, followed by Lt General Rashid Mehmood. Technically, any of the Lieutenant Generals could be appointed as the COAS but practically that is not possible. The decision to appoint the COAS gets complex when seniority, career progression, professional competence, command abilities, general reputation and loyalty factors are considered in picking the next COAS.
Moreover, it might be under consideration if officers who have only five or six months left for retirement should be given three more years as COAS or officers who still have atleast a year of service left should be appointed so that a new battle hardened cadre of officers run the affairs of the Army.
To better understand this decision making, following are the brief profiles of atleast the top five senior most Lieutenant Generals, with the hope that the PM does not throw another surprise by going beyond the list of top five senior most three star generals in picking his next chief. If he follows such a course, it would set in a number of early retirements even for officers who have a few years of service left as they may not prefer to serve under someone junior to them.
1- Lt General Haroon Aslam: Lt General Haroon Aslam is a commando of the Special Services Group (SSG) of the Army who joined the Azad Kashmir Regiment in 1975 and the SSG in 1981.
Lt Gen Aslam enjoys a good professional reputation in the army. As GOC SSG in 2009, Lt Gen Aslam was amongst the first group of soldiers to land at the highest battle ground of Swat amidst heavy gunfire from militants. Leading from the front, Gen Aslam and his commandoes managed to regain control of Taliban strong hold of Peochar in Swat after battles which could serve as lesson in world’s military history in high altitude mountain warfare.
Promoted as a Lt General in April 2010, he commanded the Bahawalpur Corps and was posted as Chief of Logistic Staff (CLS) in January this year.
His appointment CLS raised a few eyebrows in the drawing rooms where the most favourite past time of a few officers is to speculate about promotions and postings. CLS is generally considered to be an unimportant position to be elevated as the COAS, especially for someone who has been enjoying the limelight in all the important positions throughout his career, especially after October 1999.
In October 1999, the then Brigadier Haroon Aslam was serving as Director Military Operations and was part of the earlier meetings and plans to secure the PM House and the President’s House.
Like other officers who were instrumental in implementing the counter-coup, General Musharraf promoted Brigadier Haroon Aslam to the rank of a Major General in January 2005. Major General Aslam served as GOC Quetta and in April 2007 was given the important task of DG Rangers Punjab by Musharraf. As DG Rangers Punjab, Lt Gen Aslam was instrumental in reaching a number of agreements with his Indian counterparts for release of prisoners and issues related to human and drug smuggling and coordinated patrolling of the international border.
If the decision to make CJSC or COAS is made purely on seniority principle, Lt General Haroon Aslam would top the list after retirement of Lt General Khalid Nawaz Khan and Lt General Muhammad Alam Khattak in first week of October.
However, the final decision will be made by PM Nawaz Sharif who is likely to hold the portfolio of the Defence Minister atleast till high level appointments are made in the defence forces.
Lt General Haroon Aslam is due to retire on 9th April 2014, approximately six months after October when the incumbent CJSC is due to retire.
2- Lieutenant General Rashid Mehmood: As far as promotions are concerned, Lt General Rashid Mehmood has been sharing the glory with Lt General Haroon Aslam on two important occasions, on the same day.
The then Brigadier Rashid Mehmood was serving in the United Nations when General Musharraf decided to promote him as a two star General in January 2005. Lt General Rashid and Lt General Haroon Aslam also shared the glory once again when General Kayani promoted both as three star generals in April 2010. However, similarity between the two top generals, who are being tipped to be the senior most in October for appointment as CJCSC and COAS, ends there.
Lt General Rashid is said to enjoy good reputation with the Sharif family, courtesy the former President Rafiq Tarrar and his stint as Corps Commander Lahore when he interacted with the Sharif brothers in official capacity. Lt General Rashid, who also served as Military Secretary to ousted President Tarrar, was given the strategically important post of Chief of General Staff (CGS) earlier in January.
Belonging to General Kayani’s Baloch Regiment, promotion of Lt General Rashid as CGS is being considered as Army Chief’s choice by the incumbent COAS as many an army chief was promoted from the same post including General Yahya Khan, General Mirza Aslam Beg, General Asif Nawaz and General Jahangir Karamat, to name just a few.
One of the reason given for Lt General Rashid being a hot favourite for the post of COAS is his stint prior to being the CGS as Corps Commander Lahore. The tenure as Corps Commander Lahore helped to create a good impression in the mind of Sharif brothers as junior Sharif frequently interacted with Lt General Rashid in his capacity as Chief Minister.
Prior to this, in the crucial and active phase of the war against terror, the then Major General Rashid Mehmood served as Deputy DG ISI to coordinate intelligence operations while some of his contemporaries were active on the war front and leading the troops from the front.
However, it is said that giving the important portfolio of CGS to Lt General Rashid, General Kayani has stacked the deck of cards favourably for an officer of his own regiment by giving him the prized position of looking after both military operations and military intelligence. In view of this, it is not difficult to guess the institutional recommendation might favour Lt General Rashid.
But it remains to be seen if PM Nawaz Sharif would decide to go by General Kayani’s choice and appoint Lt General Rashid as the COAS or pick his own chief for some other considerations of merit and professional competence other than the seniority principle alone.
Moreover, the PM will also have to consider the political fallout of appointing someone who served as Corps Commander Lahore when the same criticism is being faced in political and bureaucratic appointments.
Also, it is rare that two successive Chiefs are appointed from the same regiment. Till the PM takes the final decision, all the analysts are putting their bets on Lt General Rashid as the next successor to General Kayani or atleast to be the CJCSC. Lt General Rashid would still have five months of service after retirement of General Kayani on November 28, 2013.
3- Lt General Raheel Sharif: Third in the seniority list post October retirements, Lt General Raheel Sharif is younger brother of Nishan-i-Haider Major Shabbir Sharif Shaheed.
Promoted as a Lt General in October 2010, he was first entrusted to command the Gujranwala Corps and later appointed as Inspector General Weapons, Training and Evaluation. As a two star general, he commanded the 11th division in Lahore and was later posted as Commandant Pakistan Military Academy Kakul.
It was a surprise for some when Major General Raheel Sharif was promoted as a three star general as it was thought he had already reached the peak of his career.
However, some sources say, Lt General Raheel Sharif is known to Lt General (retired) Abdul Qadir Baloch, a close confidante of PM Nawaz Sharif.
If the PM consults his cabinet for the suggestions, Lt General (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch is said to be favourable to an officer who served under him and is known as a simple career officer.
However, this relationship would not be given much weight when the PM takes the final decision based on considerations of merit, professional competence and dynamism to tackle the challenges of militancy and withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan. He is expected to retire in October 2014.
4- Lt General Tariq Khan: Winner of Sword of Honour in 55 PMA, Lt General Tariq Khan was promoted as a three star general in October 2010. An officer of Armoured Corps, he 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 an illustrious track record as a “fighting commander.”
Belonging to Tank in South Waziristan tribal Agency, Lt General Tariq Khan is credited with making significant gains in the war against militants in the restive tribal areas and making FC a fighting force to reckon with. He has tried to remodel the FC into quick reaction force commando units.
Officers and men hold him in high esteem for being with them on the battle fronts and his ability to quickly take decisions.
Anyone visiting the tribal areas and talking to army soldiers hears tales of valour of Lt General Tariq Khan, especially in routing out the militants from Bajaur, South Waziristan, Dir, Mohmand, Swat and Buner.
From 2008 onwards, when 14th Division was moved under his command from Okara to fight militants in Waziristan, the military made significant gains to reclaim the territory lost to militants.
Commanding the FC in the difficult operations to clear militants from Bajaur, Lt General Tariq Khan was found leading the operation from the front lines, standing with young Captains and Majors to clear Loi Sam and other areas in the militant strong hold on Pak-Afghan border.
In South Waziristan, he broke the myth of invincibility of militants and re-established the lost credibility of Army and FC as a fighting force in the area.
Prior to that, Lt General Tariq Khan commanded the First Armoured Division in Multan in 2006-2007 where he was posted following a successful stint as Pakistan’s representative in US Central command in 2004-2005.
Lt General Tariq is the only Pakistani Army officer in addition to General Kayani who was awarded the US Legion of Merit for his outstanding performance in joint Pak-US Operation Enduring Freedom. Prior to that, two Pakistani naval chiefs, Admiral Shahid Karimullah and Admiral Afzal Tahir had also received the prestigious award.
When it comes to pure merit, operational command, battle experience and professional work for uplifting the units, Lt General Tariq may be considered as a powerful choice by PM Nawaz Sharif.
If the PM decides to opt for Lt General Tariq, he would be able to ward of allegations and criticism of giving all important political and bureaucratic posts only to those who have some linkage with Lahore. Moreover, as the US and international forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, it would be beneficial to have a COAS who has hands on operational field experience of formulating policies to effectively deal with the menace of militancy and the larger issues involved in Afghanistan’s transition.
5- Lt General Zaheer-ul-Islam: Belonging to a politically well-established Janjua clan of Punjab, Lt General Zaheer-ul-Islam is currently the eyes and ears of the Army chief and the PM in his role as DG ISI. He has already served as Corps Commander Karachi before taking up the current assignment.
Before being as Corps Commander Karachi,Lt General Zaheer-ul-Islam had served twice in ISI and also as Chief of Staff in Army’s Strategic Forces Command. Belonging to Punjab Regiment, Lt General Zaheer-ul-Islam would be fifth in the seniority list after the first week of October.
It is doubtful if PM Nawaz Sharif would again appoint another ISI Chief as the Army Chief. However, the reports of his organisation may play an important role in helping the PM reach the important decision of appointing the new Army Chief.