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Hindustan Times
November 28, 2013
Pakistan's history does not bear out the faith its Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has reposed in his decision to promote General Raheel Sharif as the army chief superseding two other claimants.

The experiment had boomeranged in the past on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who helped Zia-ul-Haq jump the queue and Sharif himself when he ignored seniority to elevate Pervez Musharraf.

History repeated itself in 1999 when Musharraf did to Sharif what Zia had done in 1977 to Bhutto; the only difference being that the former was sent to exile after a brief imprisonment, and the latter to the gallows.

A coup isn't a possibility in Pakistan today where an otherwise divided polity is united against the army's intervention to derail democracy. The tussle now is over making the balance of power tilt genuinely in favour of the elected regime.

The veto, if any, must rest with the prime minister, not the chief of the army staff (COAS). The big question, therefore, is whether Raheel - whom Sharif appointed by discarding the succession line scripted by the outgoing chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani - can or will deliver on this score.

The senior-most Lieutenant General, Haroon Aslam, was Kayani's choice as chairman, joint chiefs of staff committee  (JCSC) with the second in line, Lt General Rashad Mehmood, as the new chief. But Sharif sent Aslam home and gave Mehmood the slot of chairman, JCSC.

For his part Kayani had dumped Raheel to a semi-retirement slot. Though not surprising for the Indian establishment, his rise brings with it the challenge to show himself as his own man.

And for that to happen, he cannot be seen as playing second fiddle to the civilian regime on issues on which opinion is strong within the army rank and file.

The army Kayani led had the final word on issues relating to US-Pak, Indo-Pak and Af-Pak. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for Raheel to cede ground, leave alone manage a paradigm shift, in the existing separation of powers in the foreign policy sphere.

He'd have to at least seem to be safeguarding the army's traditional turf while engaging with the PM.

For New Delhi, Raheel's appointment could be good news if he indeed favours shifting the army's focus to internal security from the perceived threats from India.

His reported priorities match those of Sharif who knows well that he cannot revive Pakistan's rapidly sliding economy without peace within and on the borders with India.

It's for that reason perhaps that he has chosen Raheel who, many Pakistani experts believe, could make a good peace-time general. But the Mangla corps commander, Lt General Tariq Khan, was best rated in terms of soldiery. He figured fourth on the seniority list after Raheel.