Choosing the next Pakistan army chief

BHOPINDER SINGH

Officially, the Pakistani Military has taken over leadership of Pakistan thrice (1958-71, 1978-88, 1999-2008).
Unofficially, it has been under the Khakhi coloured Dock Marten boots since 1958, barring the post-71 phase of Pakistan’s
‘worst hour’ till the return of the ‘establishment’ (read, Pakistani Military) with General Zia-ul-Haq in 1978.
Each of three times that the surly and burly Generals took over the Pakistani leadership, they had double-crossed the
same political power that was responsible for their ascendancy to Generalship. Biting the same hand that feeds, is a
consistently repeated phenomenon. The trend started with the then Defence Secretary Iskandar Mirza lobbying for the
junior-most Maj Gen Ayub Khan to become the first native Commander-in-Chief of Pakistani Army (despite Ayub’s name not
even figuring in the nomination list). Later as President, Iskandar Mirza, abrogated the constitution and declared Martial Law
with General Ayub Khan as the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) – within 20 days of the move, General Ayub
bumped Iskandar Mirza and banished him to England! Decades later, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto superseded seven senior Generals
to appoint the junior-most Lt Gen in seniority, Zia-ul-Haq, as the Army Chief. Despite his junior-most status, Zia also had a
dodgy track record, creepy nature and above all, and reputation of being overtly obsequious and beholden to Zulfiqar Ali
Bhutto – in less than a year of becoming the Army Chief, General Zia declared Martial Law and a couple of years thereafter,
sent his initial benefactor to the gallows! A couple of decades later, General Zia’s political protégé Nawaz Sharif, too sprung
a similar surprise when he appointed an ostensible ‘safe’ Pakistani Army Chief in General Pervez Musharaf, superseding
two seniors. History was to repeat for the third time with General Pervez Musharaf deposing the man who made him the
COAS and banished the hapless Nawaz to Saudi Arabia!
Interestingly each of the three civilian governments that were dethroned in the coup d’états represented the 3 varied
persuasions of Pakistani politics – Musharaf had removed PML-N dispensation, Zia had removed the PPP dispensation and
Ayub had removed an illiberal-authoritarian strain (closest in instinct to Imran Khan’s PTI) in bumping-off Iskander Mirza.
Also, each of these Military usurpers were from the so-called ‘minority/safe’ ethnic denominations as Ayub was a Hazara
from Haripur (and not a Pathan as popularly postured), while both Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharaf were Mohajirs
(immigrants from ). These ultra-ambitious Generals were not from the traditional Punjabi (Rajput/Jat) or Pathan
ethnicity that makes the bulk of Pakistani soldering stock, yet their institutionalised bearing allowed them to roughshod the
well-entrenched politicos.
However even when the civilian politicians ostensibly ruled the roost, the decisive imprint of the ‘Army House’ in
overruling the politicians, who were in fact responsible for their appointment as Chief of Pakistan Army, is consistent. Nawaz
Sharif has the dubious record of having rocky relations and getting outwitted by all six Chiefs that he had ‘handpicked’ – first
Gen Waheed Kakar forced Nawaz to resign, next was Gen Jehangir Karamat who was forced into premature retirement,
third was Gen Pervez Musharaf whose revenge needs no reiteration, fourth was Gen Pervez Kayani who unilaterally gave
himself a second term, fifth was Gen Raheel Sharif who gave Nawaz sleepless nights with his popularity and talks of an
extension (though didn’t take) and the sixth, is the current Gen Qamar Bajwa who in 2018 was singularly responsible for
dumping Nawaz and ‘selecting’ Imran Khan as Prime Minister!
Today, ironically it is the same Gen Qamar Bajwa who has done a complete 360 degree turn by flirting with Imran’s PTI
(till Imran got too big for his own boots) and then returned to the coalition of PML-N and PPP. The Pakistani ‘establishment’
or Military has always been its own entity with no permanent loyalty to any political leader, partisan flag or ideology – it has
sided tactically with PML-N, PPP or even PTI as it deemed topically necessary, but never subscribed or rooted itself into
any partisan preference, for long.
With this backdrop, topicality suggests that the next Chief (as confirmed by Gen Qamar Bajwa in Washington DC, hence
believable) will certainly not be from Imran’s preference e.g., Lt Gen Faiz Hameed (previous DG-ISI, believed to be close to
Imran). It is also clear that the Sharif brothers, though in a coalition with PPP may not take to kindly to a perceived PPP
loyalist like Lt Gen Mohammad Amir (once the Military Secretary to Asif Zardari). It will also stay away from appointing
anyone with known religious conservatism as the ‘establishment’ fears a redux to Zia’s ‘shariaization’. Even suggestions of
manipulating the system to accommodate any contender would be avoided, and that may cost Lt Gen Asim Munir to be left
out. The law of elimination leaves the field to the likes of Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Lt Gen Azhar Abbas and Lt Gen
Nauman Mehmood to fill the posts of the Chief of Army Staff and the nominally more senior, Chief Joint Chiefs of Staff
Committee. All three are supposedly experienced professionals with no known partisan loyalty or overt religiosity — thus
affording farcical optics of the ‘final word’ to the civilian politicos in Islamabad, whilst having the institutionalised clearance
from the ‘establishment’ in Rawalpindi GHQ. THE PIONEER

(The writer, a military veteran,
is a former Lt Governor of Andaman
& Nicobar Islands and Puducherry.
The views expressed are personal)