Chief’s Choreography– Manoeuvring of Pakistan Army High Command by
‘A general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing the disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service to his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.’ Sun Tzu
The Pakistani army is the dominant institution of the country and it has significant control over the decision making process despite the installation of a democratic set up. In the last two years of General Pervez Mussharraf’s rule, the army’s reputation hit rock bottom. General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani was appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in October 2007 and over the last two years he has worked quietly to reassert the control of military high command over all-important areas.
The Army as an institution has always preferred to have a veto power on key policy decisions while not having the responsibility to directly manage a fragile and complex state and society.
Kiyani was faced with three challenging tasks when he took control of Pakistan army. First and foremost was getting control of the army itself by promoting, appointing and posting senior officers to key positions (details of these changes are discussed in a previous analysis, Hamid Hussain. Balancing Act – Change of Guard at Pakistan Army, January 2008 and Hamid Hussain. Careful Choreography - Next Round of Senior Officer Promotions & Postings in Pakistan Army, September 2008).
He moved out several senior officers put in place at key positions by General Pervez Mussharraf prior to handing over charge of the army to Kiyani (details of these changes by General Mussharraf prior to elevation of General Kiyani are discussed in a previous analysis, Hamid Hussain. Shuffling the Deck, September 2007). When Kiyani completed the process, Mussharraf was an isolated man and was pushed out of President House by the new civilian set up once a signal was given from army’s General Headquarter (GHQ) that they would not come to the rescue of Mussharraf.
It was reminiscent of a previous episode when in 1969 Field Marshal Ayub Khan faced with popular resentment was asked to leave President House by his own protégé Commander-in- Chief General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan once he got his own team in place.
The second challenging task for Kiyani was to shift the balance back to the army in dealing with United States. Traditionally, the U.S. Democratic Party favours working with the political forces of a country rather than relying solely on military leaders. When the Democrats with a majority in the U.S. Congress also got their man in the White House, there was a shift towards more constructive engagement with the political leaders of Pakistan.
The Kerry-Lugar bill was the outcome of this shift whereby future U.S. aid was geared more towards civilian sector. In addition, more direct funding was to be provided for strengthening of police and paramilitary forces of the country. The ultimate snub was a clause, which warned the Pakistani Army to keep its hands away from all levers of power and not to subvert political process. Some Pakistanis especially military officers allege that this clause was inserted at the request of the Pakistani political leadership in an effort to strengthen their hand against an omnipresent military. Outraged military brass publicly snubbed United States as well as Pakistan’s political leaders for committing this blasphemous act. In private conversations with visiting military and civilian leaders of United States, Kiyani made this point very clear. The ace card, which the military uses during its independent negotiations with foreign countries, and especially with the United States, is its complete control of country’s nuclear assets.
Washington’s main interaction with Islamabad is in the context of rise of extremism in Pakistan, conflict in Afghanistan and concern about security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets. All these areas are exclusively handled by the military therefore it was no surprise that Washington gave in quite easily accepting the dominant role of military in all affairs. This was a forgone conclusion in view of the nature of the history of U.S.-Pakistan relations. Similar understanding was reached with previous Pakistani military leaders including Field Marshal Ayub Khan (1958-69), General Muhammad Zia–ul-Haq (1977-88) and General Pervez Mussharraf (1999-2008).
The third task of General Kiyani was to work with political leaders in a way to get their support for ongoing military operations in tribal areas and Swat, but not allowing them to encroach on military’s domain. Kiyani has performed all these tasks deftly securing the military’s institutional interests without showing his hand. No wonder that in some circles he is dubbed as ‘master manipulator’ and a master of ‘poker face’. Many people interacting with him admit that it is very hard to guess what is on his mind as he shows no emotions and chooses very few words to express himself.
Kiyani will be retiring in November 2010 and now his main focus is on the coming change in the army’s top cadres. It is in this context that President Asif Ali Zardari comes into the picture. It is quite clear by now that the president will not likely win any popularity contest in Pakistan. The Army in general has no respect for him either. This is the main reason that president is not invited to visit any military installation. However, in the present set up with the president as supreme commander of armed forces holds the authority to appoint service chiefs. The Army does not want him to appoint the next army chief and this factor is contributing to increased pressure on the president from all quarters. The Army wants that the authority to appoint the army chief should revert back to the prime minister.
Recently, pressure was exerted on president to give back the chairmanship of National Command Authority (NCA); a body responsible for nuclear and missile assets to the prime minister. The military has the keys to Pakistan’s ‘crown jewels’ and no civilian leader is allowed in this privileged club. The prime minister may chair the NCA but has no real say about country’s nuclear and missile program. These programs are under the firm control of the military with the Strategic Planning Division (SPD).
For his part, President Zardari believes that current campaign against him has the tacit blessing of the GHQ. This mutual mistrust and suspicion is aggravating relations between two important pillars of the state and in my view both parties have missed the narrow window of opportunity by their own ill thought actions. To some extent President Zardari has kept his side of the bargain by fully supporting the army in its operations against militants. The military could have used the good offices of the president to de-escalate the alarming situation in Baluchistan in view of good relations between the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Baluch nationalist leadership.
The ultimate loser in case of continuing strained relations between army and president will be the state of Pakistan.
In view of the peculiar circumstances, General Kiyani with his three-year tenure will end up promoting and posting a record number of senior officers. The first round of promotions and postings was done in 2008 when a number of key positions at lieutenant general and major general ranks were shuffled. In the fall of 2008, six officers were promoted to lieutenant general rank and in the fall of 2009, four additional officers were promoted to the same rank (prior to announcement of these promotions, an analysis of coming promotions was done in Hamid Hussain. Chief’s Call - Next Round of Promotions in Pakistan Army, July 2009) In early April 2010, five lieutenant generals will be retiring after completing their tenures thus opening five additional slots. In addition, due to an unprecedented situation his year, four additional lieutenant generals will be retiring as they will be reaching the age limit of 58 years although they have at least 2-3 years left as far as tenure is concerned. These officers are currently holding important posts including Chief of General Staff (CGS), Quarter Master General (QMG), DGISI and Karachi Corps Commander.
In the next few months, the whole senior brass of the Pakistan army will be changed. Newly promoted officers will be posted to key positions. In the last few months, new corps commanders have already taken command of Bahawalpur and Multan corps. New corps commanders will be appointed to important Mangla, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar corps. In addition, we will also see a new batch of Principal Staff Officers (PSOs) at GHQ including Military Secretary (MS), CGS and QMG. Most of these promotions and postings are a routine matter in any army including Pakistan army, but in view of the extraordinary powers of the military in all spheres as well as entitlements which come with these ranks, these changes become topic of speculation as well as lobbying and intense rivalry and competition among contending officers. Most of the time, it leaves a lot of bitterness and strained personal relations among senior officers (a cursory look at the memoirs and recent disclosures on electronic media by several senior officers provides ample proof of this conclusion).
In my view this is the single most important factor responsible for hampering professional development of senior officer corps of Pakistan army. The majority of senior officers are busy in this lobbying effort and engage in too much of socialization with the right group taking away the precious time, which could be used, for professional development and reading serious military affairs.
The most important event of 2010 will be the appointment of the army chief in the winter of 2010. Beleaguered President Zardari knows very well that he has only one card left in his hand and that is the authority to appoint the army chief. If he gives back this authority to prime minister, he will be a lame duck president. Currently, the army is happy to see the judiciary and media taking on the president thus keeping its own hands clean. The Army high command feels that an isolated president busy fighting his own battles against media, judiciary and political opponents will have less desire and time to interfere with military matters.
The Army is in complete control of president’s security and essentially controls all movements of the president as well as access of people to him. They feel this step is essential to prevent the president from making direct contacts with senior military officers. There is lot of competition and rivalry among senior officers for the important post of army chief and president being a shrewd person can play this game quite well.
The military hierarchy wants to continue with the current system and has working relations with prime minister and other political parties as long as long as the president is kept at a safe distance or preferably removed. Someone is busy doing the homework and it is no surprise that in January 2010, parliament’s constitutional reforms committee agreed to transfer the authority of appointing the service chiefs from the head of state to the head of government by amending article 243 of the constitution. If this change goes through then the president will bound to consult the prime minister before appointing the chiefs of the army, the navy and the air force. The decision was taken unanimously which means that all political parties were on board. The committee rejected two suggestions; first one dealing with the issue that the service chiefs should be appointed after parliamentary approval and second that the service chiefs should not be given extensions and should be retired after completing their term in office.
Despite all his shortcomings, the elections were a fair process and gave Pakistanis an unprecedented opportunity to elect the president and it would be unwise to try to remove him by unconstitutional means. The only way president can be removed is by impeachment and if that cannot be done then he is bound to react if he is provoked beyond certain limits. He may not be the smartest chap in the room but he can surely do a lot of damage in view of some powers in his hands.
The military has probably war gamed all the likely scenarios and also covered some administrative bases. The Secretary of the Ministry of Defence usually signs off the final official notification issued by the president in the appointment of the army chief. The current defence secretary is retired lieutenant general Syed Athar Ali and in the worst case scenario is that he maybe the last stumbling block (in 1999 coup, then defence secretary retired lieutenant general Iftikhar Ali Khan was given the file of prime minister’s orders of replacing General Pervez Mussharraf for his signature and official notification. Iftikhar played safely and went to his office with the file but didn’t sign it. He was no fool and was expecting some reaction from the senior brass. He waited to see which way things settle. This point was also not lost on officers involved in the coup. A military intelligence officer was sent to pick up the Defence Secretary and he was taken to the military operations directorate, which was the centre from where the coup was being coordinated. )
General Kiyani has two possible options. First option is that he reaches an understanding with President Zardari where he gets a one-year extension as army chief. If Kiyani is not considering this option then he will try to arrange the cards in such a way that his choice for army chief’s post has the best chance in the winter of 2010. Most likely his choice is current DGISI Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha. The problem is that in the normal course of action Pasha will be retiring in March 2010 (the tenure for a lieutenant general is three years in the rank or reaching the age of 58 whichever comes first). Pasha has less than a year in the rank but will be reaching the age limit in March 2010, eight months before the retirement of General Kiyani. This impediment can be overcome if Pasha is given one-year extension of service, which will make him leading contender for chief’s post in coming winter.
Kiyani may be thinking on these lines as retirement date of current corps commander of Peshawar based XI Corps Lieutenant General Masood Aslam was in September 2009 but he has been asked to continue in view of ongoing operations in North West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P.) under his command. This may have been done to set the precedent so that no one objects if extension is given to Pasha. If Pasha is given an extension of service in the next 2-3 weeks then this will clearly indicate that Kiyani wants him to be the next chief. The other reason to allow Aslam to continue may be the fact that Kiyani has already selected the individual to command Peshawar corps but the officer is waiting in the wings at major general rank. In early April 2010, in the next round of promotions this desired officer maybe promoted to lieutenant general rank and then posted to command Peshawar Corps.
In my view, two possible contenders for this post are Major General Tariq Khan (if he survives internal fights and pass medical fitness) and Major General Waheed Arshad. In my view, Tariq will be a better choice as he has been in the thick of the battle for the last few years; first as General Officer Commanding (GOC) of a division which operated in Waziristan and then as Inspector General of Frontier Corps (IGFC) of N.W.F.P.; paramilitary force operating against militants in tribal areas along with regular troops. There is room for criticism for some of his operational plans but he deserves some credit for handling an extremely difficult situation in N.W.F.P. in 2008-09 and pushing back militants from major centres.
Serious contenders for army chief post are now only three officers; Lt. General Khalid Shamim Wayen (Quetta corps commander), Lt. General Nadeem Taj (Gujranwala corps commander) and Lt. General Ahmad Shuja Pasha (if he gets an extension prior to his retirement. Another thing going against Pasha is that he has not commanded a corps; usually a pre-requisite for army chief post contender. Kiyani after giving him extension can transfer him to the command of a corps for few months thus fulfilling this criteria but this aberration will be quite obvious and may not sit well with many officers). Lt. General Muhammad Yusuf is also a senior officer but in my view he is out of the race when Kiyani recently brought him in as president of National Defence University from Bahawalpur Corps.
If Kiyani is thinking that after handing over the charge to next man he will hit the golf course then I see no problem. However, if he is thinking about some role for himself then there is potential for conflict even if Kiyani’s own hand picked man is selected. To prove this point one need to look at two exhibits. Exhibit A is of General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan; groomed and selected by Field Marshal Ayub Khan who sent Ayub packing in a matter of hours and Exhibit B is how General Kiyani; groomed and hand picked by General Pervez Mussharraf facilitated the departure of the later out of President House when he became a liability to military’s institutional interests.
If Kiyani is thinking about some continuing role for himself then his only choice is to get himself selected as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) prior to his retirement. There is no problem in pursuing this course, as current CJCSC General Tariq Majid will be retiring in October 2010, few weeks before Kiyani’s retirement. CJCSC is essentially a ceremonial post with no real power. Kiyani knows very well that once appointed, the army chief is the boss and everyone looks to him and who can understand this better than Kiyani in view of his special relations with former army chief General Mussharraf over the last several years?
If Kiyani is looking at this option then he will definitely want to increase the power of CJCSC. One choice could be to have CJCSC sit on the promotion board of senior officers of all three services arguing that being the senior most officers overseeing all three services it is quite natural for him to have these powers. Senior officers in addition to army chief have to look towards CJCSC also thus increasing his influence. If CJCSC is given a say in selection of service chiefs and promotion of senior officers then he can swing things in his favour at two important forums; the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and NCA thus directly influencing the decision making process with some weight behind him. This will invariably dilute the power of army chief.
In my view this is a bad option because it will inevitably result in clash between army chief and CJCSC. Once a new army chief is selected, he should be in charge of running his own organization. However, this power should not be arbitrary and absolute but tempered with restraint and geared towards institutional rather than personal interests. It is important to focus on working relations between different centres of power inside the military i.e. corps commanders and heads of military’s intelligence organizations as well as balance of power between military and civilian authority. Swinging from one extreme to the other will add instability to an already precarious situation.
The senior ranks of the army are not monolithic and there are personal, service arms, ethnic and social groupings inside the army. These differences need to be taken into account when important decisions are being considered as far as army is concerned. People can have different perspectives as well as preferences and this is an accepted factor as far as selection of senior officers is concerned. However, institutional interests must be held above personal wishes. Lieutenant General Masood Aslam should have retired on his due date and allowing him to continue at current post will cause resentment among officers down the line. He has performed to the best of his abilities in a difficult time and military operations under his command should be evaluated carefully. In some areas he has done well while in others things could have been better. In addition, he has gone through a personal tragedy when his young son was killed in attack on the mosque in Rawalpindi in December 2009. He has kept his composure and continued the task but we are all humans and this was one more reason that he should have been given farewell on time.
On the same note, I am of the view that no extension should be given to any officer. In the past, this issue caused resentment and breakdown of even professional relations between senior officers. It gives the impression of favouritism and tinkering with the accepted norms to push a particular officer and creates resentment among officer corps.
The playing field should be level as far as promotion to senior ranks and selection of army chief is concerned. In my view normal institutional process should be allowed to function and it is not appropriate to tinker with extensions, promotions and postings to push favourites. We all know very well that modern armies are large bureaucracies, which encourage conformation for smooth function of the organization.
The only test for a general is war and nothing else. No one expects a Rommel or Guderian emerging from Pakistan army ranks. To date, all heads of the Pakistani Army were average officers who rose to higher ranks after going through normal command, staff and instructional appointments. Most senior officers are average and one can choose from among the available lot without sacrificing much. The appointing authority can choose anyone among the top three or four senior lieutenant generals and he will be no better or worse than the others. The new chief will work to secure Pakistan’s as well as military’s interests. Every senior officer including the chief has the right to select his own team as long as he adheres to prevalent professional standards and accepted norms. Once, the chief starts to play with rules to favour one over the other then there are bound to be repercussions. In the past allegations of such foul play caused resentment and estrangement among senior officers, which is not good for the smooth functioning of the institution. Pakistani Army officers usually accuse civilians of interfering with army affairs but it is the unfair tactics of senior officers for career advancement, which caused the greatest harm.
Unfortunately the ‘indispensability syndrome’ is quite prevalent in Pakistan. All major political parties are run as personal and family business. They cry hoarse about democracy but nominate lifetime chairpersons and leaders groom their children to inherit not only the personal wealth but also the political party.
Senior military officers also get grandiose ideas in their heads and sometimes suffer from the disease of ‘infallibility’ . The only antidote for such ideas is frequent visits to the nearest graveyard, which will confirm to the visitor that every graveyard is filled with the ‘indispensable’ folks. There is no denying the fact that military is the dominant institution in Pakistan completely controlling not only military but also nuclear, missile, foreign policy and domestic arenas. The army as an institution should understand and respect spheres of influence of other organs of the state and try not to interfere in smooth functioning of other institutions. It is an accepted norm that internal matters of the army should be dealt through army chief but it is also important that army chief should clearly understand his own limitations and not extend himself resulting in the imbalance which can not only threaten the current delicate set up but can also cause serious fissures in the military. In current difficult times more transparency in decision-making process is the need of the hour rather than engaging in intrigues fuelled by mistrust and suspicion among decision makers. A working relationship between army, parliament, prime minister, president and judiciary is must to avoid further polarization of society.
'War is won outside the borders of the state, but the general’s merit is established within it'. Tai Kung’s advice to King Wu, 11th century B.C.
Dr. Hamid Hussain is an independent analyst based in New York.
Chief’s Choreography –Manoeuvring of Pakistan Army High Command by Hamid Hussain
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