The announcement and confirmation of the new Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) as well as new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) on November, 24, 2002 has helped bring an end to the most undesirable media speculations, public anxiety and political exploitation by all stakeholders; a big sigh of little relief indeed. Since April 2022, the establishment had remained under sharp criticism by the ousted PTI and supporters, besides crafty exploitation by the incumbent PDM Government by blowing hot and cold against the army leadership off and on and by shifting the onus of misdeeds to the Army and ISI. The situation continued to become more and more complicated with otherwise avoidable indulgence in undeniable denials by military and political elite alike. For the first time in Pakistan, the public seemed to be pitched against the army. Needless to mention that the armies no longer march on bellies but on the public support and high morale. Thus an honest and true introspection is considered indispensable instead of oft-repeated tradition of pushing it under the carpet. It ought to be an exercise that should ensure comprehensive punitive, remedial and futuristic steps that ensure no repeat of such a depressing, dark and disastrous episode ever again in the country.
The new COAS General Asim Munir is a professional soldier and a capable man with wholesome experience of both hardcore operational and intelligence domains. So he would not need any tutoring or lengthy power point briefings to know what he ought to do on priority. However, as a veteran I am tempted to draw his attention to few important points, which need his immediate as well as a deliberate attention. The top priority for the new COAS shall be to build (or restore) apolitical image of Pakistan army in letter and spirit. For that he will have to create his own team by shedding away the old legacy. All those responsible for degrading the image of the army wittingly or unwittingly should be replaced forthwith. The role of ISPR needs to be redefined and restricted to covering and projecting the tri-services professional activities. It may just be more prudent that all men serving in uniform stay away from the media spotlight including print, electronic and social media. The Ministry of Defence may be requested to issue fresh instructions to the political parties and parliamentarians for exercising refrain from mentioning the armed force institutions or personnel in their political or non-political parlance for undue mileage; the violators may be subjected to the law to set an example. The movement of military vehicles and especially the so called VIP movement should stop looking extravagant and gun touting. That will send a good signal as regards our inner front being safe and secure and also set an example to be followed by the political, judicial and bureaucratic elite.
Men in uniform should use military vehicles for official use only and for necessary official duties in the markets, private vehicles should be used. Army Logistic System as well as Army Medical Corps needs serious reforms as was undertaken by UK in 1993-94; as present, tail is wagging the dog. A veteran faces humiliation in visiting a military hospital. The names like DHA and Askari for commercial use also entail reconsideration including their expansion; better names and better rehabilitation modules may be explored. Corporate models are available that may prove to be more economical for provision of accommodation, transport and medical services to serving and retired military personnel; no need to reinvent wheel, just see around what modern Armies are doing. The code of conduct of most of the retired military guys on rehabilitation jobs is seen as pathetic as their performance, which is without any performance or behaviour check. A six monthly feedback by the users/ visitors may be put in place.
Large size Army messes need to follow the Turkish model for optimal and respectable services akin to at least a four-star hotel. A strict code of conduct needs to be enforced to keep those in uniform away from politics as well as from media. Lesser the military footprints visible in the civil society, the better for the professional image. The pride in army uniform has been undermined by unabated cheap imitations by para-military, civil armed forces and even private security companies; concerned branch in GHQ may be tasked to take care of this decay in a short time. It would be better if the exclusive army uniforms and associated items are manufactured and provided through CSD alone on production of service ID cards and all private suppliers be discontinued who are mainly responsible for this decadence. The civil-military interaction for essential corporate purposes must be put under tight intelligence scrutiny and surveillance. The employment of senior retired army officers by corporate elite, land and builders’ mafia merely for non-technical reasons is also bringing a bad name and need a policy decision.
On the operational side, the defence of the geographical boundaries through optimum operational readiness including meaningfully sharping of our conventional arsenal in tune with the latest technologies got to be the main focus. The obsolete concepts, weapons and equipment require replacement that must be done by optimizing indigenous production as done by modern countries e.g. Germany, Japan, UK, France and China rather than reliance on import. Pakistan Army has remained embroiled on the Western Front for over two decades; it is high time that army be pulled out from former FATA and security duties be handed over to the civil-armed forces and the police. The international borders have to be guarded in strength with a fist instead of five spread out thin fingers. Additionally, the fenced borders have to be strengthened by high tech equipment like ground surveillance and air surveillance radars, UAV/armed drones, and backed up by the Army aviation and Pakistan air force. The formations need to get back to their respective locations based on the latest threat perception from any direction.
The new CJCSC General Sahir Shamshad being the custodian of Pakistan’s unconventional military capability i.e. the nuclear and missile capability, is again a thorough professional soldier who is surely expected to withstand any national or international pressure against any compromise on Pakistan’s survival kit no matter what is the cost. The enhancement of tri-services capabilities with greater synergy shall be the focal point for his three years tenure. Besides, pulling away tri-services from all activities considered non-professional though in the name of welfare i.e. running commercial shops, party halls, private practices by doctors in military hospitals, housing societies and educational institutions is considered gone way beyond the welfare or rehabilitation purposes and is a sore point for the old hands. Last of all, the compromised respect of the military veterans especially in the last one year need to be restored forthwith as they remain a treasure trove of experience, wisdom, forthrightness and guardians of the military’s disciplined face, customs and traditions.