Pakistan and whole world are waiting for nomination of the next Army Chief. General Qamar Javed Bajwa is due to retire after his extended tenure of six years on 28 November 2022. Pakistan PM, Shahbaz Sharif rushed to London with his Defence Minister, Khwaja Muhammad Asif, to confabulate with his exiled brother, former PM Nawaz Sharif. The issue is both tricky and of far-reaching consequences, which had forced Shahbaz to extend his stay in London and postpone his return, despite ongoing domestic chaos due to attack on former PM Imran Khan during Haqiqi Azadi March. The foremost item on their agenda has been to decide on the next Army Chief. It is well known fact that despite being under attack, Army continues to retain primacy in running the affairs of state and controls the ‘deep state’ and miltestablishment.
General Zia for ten and General Musharraf for seven long years as President, concurrently double-hatted as Army Chief, reflecting the real power of Pakistan COAS as also insecurity. Army House in Rawalpindi has an interesting history having been PM (including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s) residence. It was handed over to the Army, when new PM’s residence, came up in Islamabad. Amongst its occupants, few like General Zia-ul-Haq and General Pervez Musharraf continued to rule the country from the same house. Musharraf’s luggage was moved out, while he was on extended foreign lecture tour, 18 months after his retirement as COAS and six months, after having relinquished Presidential appointment.
The appointment of next Chief has become complicated because of Imran Khan’s long march. The timing of second edition of Haqiqi Azadi March, even after abandoning of the first one, in less than 48 hours on 26 May, allegedly is to influence the choice of the next COAS. Imran would like his favourite, Lt Gen Faiz Hamid, currently Bahawalpur Corps Commander to replace General Bajwa. Imran had resisted his removal as DG-ISI and being sent as Peshawar Corps Commander. General Hamid had orchestrated Haqqani faction hijacking control of Taliban. The other issue is that senior most in the list of hopefuls is Lt Gen Asim Munir, who during his tenure at the helm as DG-ISI, blew the lid off ‘gift gate’ scandal, that tarnished Imran’s image.
Consultations with Nawaz Sharif seem logical on account of his being the real power centre behind his younger sibling. Nawaz in his three tenures of ten odd years had pivotal role in appointment of five Chiefs besides scuttled move to replace General Pervez Musharraf with General Ziauddin Butt. In fact, five out of last ten Army Chiefs have been appointed by him. Notwithstanding his experience, Nawaz has not been able to garner loyalty from his choices. The first one appointed by him General Asif Nawaz Janjua died in harness due to cardiac arrest, though now conspiracy theories have come up alleging arsenic poisoning. He had frosty relations with Imran. The next, General Abdul Waheed Kakkar, superseded four seniors. General Kakkar forced both President Leghari and allowed Supreme Court to remove PM Nawaz without favoring him.
In his second innings as PM, he had serious difference of opinion with suave and decorated, General Jahangir Karamat appointed by late Benazir Bhutto. He resigned in huff before completing his tenure. Nawaz’s next choice, General Pervez Musharraf was in the mode of ‘Apna-Banda’ (my choice). Musharraf, a Mohajir and artillery officer, junior most in panel was appointed by overriding two senior Infantry Generals. It unleashed host of problems and chaos leading to Kargil war and finally military take over.
Nawaz Sharif in his third tenure, appointed General Raheel Sharif superseding General Haroon Aslam. It is to credit of General Raheel that he didn’t take an extension, though an appropriate sinecure for him as head of International Islamic Task Force was managed by Nawaz through Saudis. General Bajwa besides being the junior most carried the cross of allegations of his family having Ahmediya links. Ironically, like Musharraf, Bajwa orchestrated replacement of Nawaz with selected PM Imran Khan. To be fair to General Bajwa, he has been even handed and didn’t spare Imran Khan either. Things have come back full circle with Bajwa now backing Sharifs.
As per Supreme Court mandated norms, the Chief is to be appointed by PM and can serve up to 64 years. His initial tenure is three years, which can be extended. Technically, General Bajwa now 61 years old can be given another extension. There is already strong lobby rooting for his extension to provide stability at least till next national assembly election, due in October 2023. General Bajwa has stated that he wants to retire and is on his farewell rounds to various formations. It is being reported that necessary ordinance to give him an extension is waiting on the desk of President Alvi. General Nadeem Raza, JCSC is due to retire on the same day, giving government flexibility to accommodate two out of eligible hopefuls. Though coalition government, Sharifs may not consult others like Zardari.
The possible panel is headed by Lt Gen Asim Munir, who technically is on the cusp of eligibility, as he is superannuating few days, before General Bajwa. It is being rumored that he may be given four-star rank and appointed Vice Chief, giving him additional three years and making him eligible. Imran’s ‘gift-gate’ during his tenure as DG-ISI resulted in his being shifted out after eight months, the shortest tenure. The other candidates are- Shamshad Mirza, Azhar Abbas, Nauman Mahmood, Faiz Hamid and Mohammed Amir. The only non-infantry officer is Mohammed Amir from Artillery. Three out of six (Munir, Nauman and Hamid) have served in senior hierarchy of ISI and Azhar has been CGS, who exercises control on intelligence, besides operations.
Considering their past experience, Sharif’s are keeping cards very close and may opt to go along with General Bajwa’s recommendations and seniority. But ‘Apna-Banda’ affliction is Nawaz’s known weakness, so surprises can’t be ruled out. The ultimate reality is whoever becomes the Chief is likely to grow in his appointment and become the real power centre or the king.
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