ISLAMABAD - The two top generals who are the probables for the most coveted military slots stay very much ‘in the game’, with the premier scheduled to make a related announcement sometime soon after landing in Pakistan upon completing his important visit to the United States.
Lieutenant General Haroon Aslam and Lt-Gen Rashad Mahmood are the respective candidates for filling in the upcoming vacancies following the retirement of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) General Khalid Shameem Wynne and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on October 7 and November 28.
According to official sources, the Prime Minister Secretariat recently returned a summary moved by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on the CJCSC appointment, on the grounds that certain official procedures were not followed. This reportedly happened shortly before the PM Nawaz Sharif had left for his US visit.
A fresh summary containing the names of Lt-Gen Haroon Aslam, Lt-Gen Rashad Mehmood and Lt-Gen Raheel Sharif has been moved to the PM Secretariat, a senior government functionary, requesting anonymity, shared with The Nation. The summary would be put up before the PM for his signature to have the new CJCSC appointed, shortly after his landing in Pakistan, the official said.
The PM spokesman and federal information minister, Senator Pervaiz Rashid expressed ignorance about the issue, saying the things would come out clear in the coming days. “I don’t know if any such development has taken place. I need to look into the issue before making a statement on an important official matter,” he said, when approached and asked about the reported return of the MoD summary by the PM Secretariat. “Everything would be clear in the coming days. All we need to do is stop speculating and be patient,” he remarked.
An internal announcement within the relevant military circles regarding the elevation of General Haroon Aslam, presently the Chief of Logistics Staff, as the CJCSC is expected by this weekend, once the PM signs the related summary. Moreover, the government reportedly would announce the name of General Rashad Mahmood, the incumbent Chief of General Staff (CGS), as the next COAS in the days to follow.
Raheel Sharif, who holds the portfolio of Inspector General, Training and Evaluation (IG T&E), can be appointed as Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCAS) if government is to ‘go by the book’ and accommodate all the three generals. The VCAS position, which contains the appointment of a four-star general, has not been made functional since November 2007 when the then VCAS General Ashfaq Kayani was elevated to the COAS rank by the outgoing Army Chief General Parvez Musharraf.
Being one of the most-hyped issues these days, the appointment of the new COAS and CJCSC has been marked with reported twists and turns. While the defence pundits, journalists and politicians float different names for the two positions, the final word has yet to come from the PM who has kept his cards close to his chest.
Regarded as a close confidante of General Kayani, Lt-Gen Rashad Mehmood would become second senior-most general in Pakistan Army after Haroon Aslam once Ashfaq Kayani and Khalid Shameem reached the retirement age.
This, according to a retired general, makes Mehmood the strongest probable for the COAS position. “I think Nawaz Sharif would avoid adventurism. He’s learnt from past and I don’t think there would be any superseding this time. Going by the book and accommodating the top generals sounds to me a very convenient option.”
In terms of seniority, Rashad Mehmood is followed by Raheel Sharif, Tariq Khan (Corps Commander Mangla) and Zaheerul Islam Abbasi (Director General Inter Services Intelligence).
Vis-à-vis the CJCSC appointment, the name of Naval Chief Admiral Asif Sandila was doing rounds in the privy circles till recently. However, a credible military insider does not give much credence to this piece of information. “The government may have considered his (Sandila’s) name but ground realities do not support the occurrence of any such possibility,” he commented on Monday.
The positions of CJCSC and the four services chiefs have equivalent ranks and statuses, the military official said. “Although, the CJCSC has an edge over the three services chiefs in terms of organisational protocol, all these positions have equal status but a service chief would not be interested in accepting an equivalent post that has more of a ceremonial role and that is quite less powerful and lucrative compared to heading an armed force.” Till 2001, Parvez Musharraf had remained CJCSC for three years while heading the military as COAS at the same time.
Since then, the army generals Aziz Khan, Ehsanul Haq, Tariq Majeed, and Khalid Shahmeem Wynne each saw three-year appointments for the said post. The CJCSC-ship had last gone outside Pakistan Army in 1997 with the elevation of Air Marshal Farooq Feroz Khan as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.