LAHORE - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is to appoint in the days ahead the new Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Chief of Army Staff as the holders of the two top military offices, Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne and Gen Ashraf Parvez Kayani, are due to retire on October 6 and November 28, respectively.
If the prime minister abides by his commitment made in various interviews, seniority will be the major consideration. However, if he uses his discretion and gives weightage to loyalty to the person of the prime minister, he can assign the job even to a junior lieutenant general.
Mr Sharif had said in various interviews that he had learnt a lesson from his bitter past experience and decided that the most senior general should be appointed as the new army chief.
The principle of seniority had been sacrificed for expediency when Gen Musharraf had been entrusted with the responsibility in 1998 after the forced retirement of Gen Jehangir Karamat. At the time the prime minister had been told by people like Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan that Gen Musharraf being Urdu speaking did not have the roots in the army and thus would pose no threat to the elected government. And since the PML-N chief always values the opinion of Chaudhry Nisar because he hails from a family of military people, he went by his advice without giving a second thought to the implications of such a decision.
However, it did not take Gen Musharraf long to prove that the prime minister’s assessment about his influence in the institution was not well founded. The general not only overthrew the PML-N government but also banished the entire Sharif family to Saudi Arabia for seven years. (Gen Musharraf has been detained at his Islamabad residence for the past several months because he is wanted in several cases. However, it is still not clear when the promised Article 6 proceedings against him will start).
Now that Mr Sharif is back to power for a third time, longevity of his rule is his main consideration. For this purpose, he is appointing his loyalists on important positions, ignoring the criticism coming from various quarters.
Most people believe that the seniority principle should be adhered to while making appointments in the armed forces. And if the prime minister chooses a junior general as the head of the army, it will amount to expressing no-confidence in the very system which brings officials to senior positions. If somebody has attained seniority after meeting all requirements of the system, his integrity and competence should be trusted.
According to the seniority list, after Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne, the Chairman CJSC, and Gen Kayani, the COAS, Lt Gen Muhammad Alam Khattak (Commander XII Corps Quetta) is the senior most official. However, he will not get a chance to be elevated to either of the two top offices as he is due to retire on October 4 i.e. two days before the retirement of Gen Wynne.
This leaves Lt Gen Muhammad Haroon Aslam (Chief of Logistics Staff) and Lt Gen Raashad Mahmood (Chief of Gen Staff) as the senior most generals who can be appointed against the offices to be vacated by Gen Wynne and Gen Kayani.
Interestingly, Gen Haroon and Gen Raashad have the same date of retirement: April 9, 2014. However, in army, the former is senior to the latter.
Gen Haroon has a very rich experience of working in various positions. He commanded Infantry Division, Pakistan Rangers (Punjab), elite Special Services Group and Bahawalpur Corps. He is also on the faculty of the National Defence University, War Wing, and is regularly invited to deliver lectures at PAF War College.
Lt Gen Mahmood had been a Corps Commander. As Chief of General Staff, he deals with operational and intelligence matters at the General Headquarters with directorates of Military Operations and Military Intelligence falling under his purview.
He is regarded as a very competent general knowing his job well.
In case the prime minister did not give importance to seniority, the generals who can be considered for the post may include: Lt Gen Raheel Sharif, Inspector General Training and Evaluation; Lt Gen Tariq Khan, Commander 1 Corps Mangla; Lt Gen Muhammad Zaheerul Islam, ISI DG; Lt Gen Salim Nawaz, Commander XXX Corps, Gujranwala and some others.
At a time when the US is planning to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and tensions between Pakistan and India are escalating, the decision about the new COAS and the CJCSC will be very important.