Sharif readies to choose next Pakistan army head

  • Imtiaz Ahmad, Hindustan Times, Islamabad
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  • Updated: Sep 13, 2013 03:51 IST

With the exit of Asif Zardari and the election of Mamnoon Hussain, the stage is now set for the appointment of the new army chief and also the chief of the joint chiefs of staff committee. One is the most powerful position in Pakistan and the other is a ceremonial appointment that wields almost no power.

It is said the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is a position for possible army chiefs who were unpalatable to the then president or PM.

The same tradition may be followed by prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who currently holds both portfolio of defence minister and minister for foreign affairs.

While Sharif has talked about seniority and competence as the only two criteria for appointment to the position of army chief, the person who fits the criteria is also someone who participated in the coup against Sharif in 1999.

As things stand, Chairman of the joints chiefs committee Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne retires in early October and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani also exits by November.

In between all this, the retirement of the army’s two senior most generals - Khalid Nawaz and Alam Khattak in October makes the prime contender for the post of the COAS the next senior most general, Haroon Aslam.

Aslam, currently Chief of Logistics Staff would be followed in seniority by Lt Gen Rashid Mehmood, the chief of general staff and Lt Gen Raheel Sharif.

But Haroon Aslam, a former commando, was also part of the team that ousted Sharif from his position in 1999 and brought Gen Musharraf to power.

Given this, some analysts say another tradition may be considered in which it is the chief of general staff who is considered as the army chief in waiting.

Observers say Gen Aslam may be appointed to the joint chief position while Gen Rashid Mehmood may be brought in as army chief. The current CGS, Gen Mehmood has the best of both worlds. On the one hand he is said to be Kayani’s man as well as being close to the Sharifs given that he has served as corps commander Lahore and also hails from that city. Many say that Sharifs would prefer a Punjabi as army chief and one from Lahore is an added bonus.

If merit is to be the criteria, then Gen Aslam is the foregone conclusion. A commando by training, Aslam has served in the Military Operations Directorate and with his new appointment as the CLS after serving as corps commander, is ready for promotion as a four-star general.

It is now up to Sharif to make a decision. On previous two occasions, Sharif preferred loyalty over merit when he appointed Gen Waheed Kakar and Gen Musharraf as army chiefs in 1993 and 1998.

The choice to appoint an army chief is a double edged sword. The former ruling Pakistan People’s Party had the chance to appoint the new army chief in November 2010 but instead it opted to extend the tenure of the incumbent army chief.

Some say Sharif may opt to select someone else. Third on the seniority list is Raheel Sharif, whose career is known to be devoid of any surprises.


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