Who will be Pakistan’s next Chief of the Army staff (COAS)? Getting that right is more difficult than cracking the Rubik’s Cube – without algorithms. Sans the sporadically followed seniority principle, there are no time-honoured precedents to guide the selection of the new incumbent.
Many professional and extraneous factors will influence Nawaz Sharif’s choice, unless, of course, Gen. Raheel Sharif accepts an extension. The sitting chief is due for retirement next month. He had earlier said incumbents shouldn’t overstay their time in a disciplined force.
But the chances of Gen. Raheel being persuaded to continue aren’t ruled out by analysts in Pakistan. They foresee instead a change of guard in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to bring in the Karachi Corps Commander, Lt. Gen Naveed Mukhtar in place of Lt Gen. Rizwan Akhtar.
The sitting ISI Director General was in news for a ‘showdown’ he had with Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif. Being moved to Karachi as Corps Commander wouldn’t be a demotion for him. But the swap will place Gen. Mukhtar (said to have family relations with the Premier) in line for the army chief’s office.
Gen Mukhtar retires in October 2018. An extension in Gen. Raheel’s tenure will open up space for his elevation. “Others in the reckoning now will superannuate before the present incumbent demits office,” said a Pakistani expert on military affairs.
Of the five Army chiefs he appointed over the years, Premier Sharif had troubled relations with four: Asif Nawaz Janjua, Abdul Waheed Kakar, Jehangir Karamat and Pervez Musharraf. Though ‘several times bitten and many times shy,’ he’d be better advised against playing favourites. More powerful as they are than their appointers, army chiefs can’t be seen as playing second fiddle to them.
“Generals dislike being lackeys of civilians. They’ve to be accepted in their own right,” said a veteran from the Zia era. On merit and seniority, Gen. Raheel’s successor should be from among Lieutenants General Zubair Hayat, Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, Javed Iqbal Ramday and Qamar Javed Bajwa. One among them could be next Chief and another, if senior to the chosen general, be made chairman joint chiefs of staff committee.
If elevated, Gen. Hayat, an infantry officer who’s chief of general staff (CGS), will become very powerful. One of his brothers is a major general in the ISI and another, a lieutenant general, is chairman, Pakistan Ordinance Factories. That could go against him among his peers, leave alone the civilian bosses. Another minus: his proximity to former chief Ashfaq Kayani.
Unlike Gen. Hayat who hasn’t led operations in a conflict zones, Gen Nadeem has enviable credentials. Now the Multan Corps Commander, he was CGS and director general military operations. Under Gen Raheel, he planned the zarb-i-azab operation in North Waziristan.
The downside: his blunt demeanor, friendship with Gen Musharraf and reports of his spouse’s contretemps with a senior’s wife. But soldierly traits he has aplenty.
The profile fits Gen Bajwa as much. Having commanded the 10 corps along the LoC, he holds the position from where Gen. Raheel was elevated in 2013 – Inspector General of Training and Evaluation.
For his part, Gen. Ramday of the Bahawalpur corps has links with Premier Sharif’s PML(N). That would make him look bad as the successor to Gen. Raheel who had no known political links. From our perspective, the change at the helm won’t alter their army’s approach to India.