WEB DESK: Attempting to justify his many self-granted extensions, General Pervez Musharraf started a needless controversy campaigning for an extension almost a year before General Raheel Sharif’s three-year term as CoAS was over in November 2016.
Describing “speculation about extension in service of the CoAS as baseless,” DG ISPR Lieutenant General Asim Salim Bajwa quoted Raheel Shareef categorically quashing the suggestion, “I don’t believe in extension and will retire on the due date”.
General Raheel Sharif should have no illusions, despite having performed as an Army Chief well “over and beyond the call of duty”, that the government has any intention whatsoever of extending his tenure. The many rumours being aired, including the motivated canard of increasing the term from three to four years by an Act of Parliament, are age old ploys politicians use to keep complacent those they feel a threat from. Mired in a controversy, not the least being the Panama leaks, PML (N) is desperate to maintain status quo till Raheel Sharif retires in November 2016. Even a hint of acceptance would be catastrophic, Raheel Shareef’s well-earned credibility will take a fatal nosedive.
My article “On Extensions and Expectations” of July 22, 2010, said, “General Waheed Kakar’s ensuring of comparatively free and fair elections in 1993 saw Ms Bhutto triumphant. Echoing the sentiments of a broad mass of politicians and citizens alike, a grateful Ms Bhutto beseeched General Kakar (in 1996) to take an extension as CoAS. To his undying credit he set a tremendous precedent, “Prime among the many reasons for my saying ‘no’ (said General Kakar) is that it sets off a chain reaction that blocks promotions in the army.
However loyal and sincere the senior military hierarchy may be, potential aspirants will feel deprived of their turn at attaining the top slot for which rightfully they have had ambitions (and worked for) throughout their career,” unquote. Thankfully selections on merit over the past few years have ensured no dearth of competent professional general officers available.
The government should take the opportunity to correct the anomaly for which the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) was created in 1975. To quote my paper on “Fighting 21st Century Wars”, “Having very little geographical depth for large-scale manoeuvres, any war with India, a life-and-death struggle with an implacable foe, will be fast and furious for a limited period. While it will be influenced by the air and the sea, it will finally be won or lost on the ground. Technically the senior-most service officer in an integrated Armed Forces, the creation of an all-powerful Chairman JCSC was meant to exercise overall control over the defence services.”
To quote the article of May 13, 2010 further, “Our nuclear forces, ie, Special Plans Division (SPD), etc and Cyberwarfare must be grouped together as “Strategic Forces” as a separate Service. Standardising both men and material all para-military forces must be centralised under one authority constituting a “Homeland Security Command” (HMS). A Deputy Chairman JCSC and the Commander Strategic Forces should be four star generals (or equivalent) to be rotated between the Navy and Air Force. Being 36 (now 42) years out of date, current and better military minds than mine can work out services integration and the modalities of making JCSC effective.”
When renowned defence analyst Stephen Cohen posed me a loaded question at a talk last year at the Atlantic Council in Wash DC, a “yes” or “no” answer to whether General Raheel Sharif should get an “extension” when his tenure as CoAS expires? My short answer to that was, “No! To make it the effective institution General Raheel Sharif should instead head a reformed JCSC.”
Services Chiefs have previously been elevated to Chairman JCSC, eg, Adm Sirohey, Air Chief Marshal Farooq Feroze, etc. Having commanding credibility and stature, presiding over postings and promotions of Major Gens rank equivalent and above gives the Chairman effective authority. This procedural change can be done within the Defence Ministry; it does not need an Act of Parliament. Since a great majority in the nation wants him to continue doing what he has been doing for the country, General Raheel Sharif would be ideally suited to make the vitally necessary transition to a unified command headquartered in GHQ.
This could be the “win-win” situation for Pakistan. The reality is quite different, despite Mian Nawaz Sharif having an electoral mandate, the PML (N) hierarchy has an ingrained complex about Army Chiefs, intent on selecting their “favourite” superseding other deserving officers. Unfortunately this “love-fest” invariably goes sour very soon because of their very feudal penchant of not tolerating “employees” who don’t jump to do their bidding without question. Mian Sahib cannot seem to understand that whichever favourite he selects to become the CoAS, he will not be a pushover. The CoAS’ chair represents the combined feelings of the rank and file of the Pakistan Army.
I did support the Kayani extension once it became a fait accompli so as not to allow motivated interest create any controversy. This was before the “talents” of his very talented brothers became common public knowledge. My article of May 13, 2010 must have raised alarms bells in the Kayani camp, it triggered immediate arm-twisting by the “hitman” specially tasked to fast forward Kayani’s re-appointment.
To protect and sustain his brothers’ shenanigans, the land grabbed far beyond his general officers entitlement and the wealth he could not have acquired on his salary, Kayani was not about to risk leaving the CoAS’ chair for the “effective Chairman JCSC experiment”. A clearly reluctant PM Yousuf Raza Gilani announced on primetime TV Kayani’s “three-year extension” just short of midnight in July 2010, five months earlier than in November.
This government is very unlikely to continue tolerating the upright and correct soldier Raheel Sharif in any capacity beyond November 2016. For them the next 120 days should come sooner rather than later. For all intents he is a lame-duck CoAS unless something extraordinary happens, and that is always a possibility in Pakistan. The PML (N) has an unerring ability to provide the “casus belli”.
To coalesce political power to confront any possible “threat” to the government, the PML (N) is reported to have struck a deal with political criminals to free their associates in crime. Could the possibility of our country “constitutionally” becoming a criminal state arouse our patriotic instincts?
In the very unlikely event that an “extension”, is offered one can only render the same advice to Raheel Sharif given to General Kayani on May 13, 2010, just say no!
(The writer is a defence and security analyst)
Source: Business Recorder