Friends or Foes?

Written by S. M. Hali  •  Cover Stories  •  June 2013 PDF Print E-mail

What dynamics will the new Prime Minister develop with the military forces and what challenges will he face?

The clock has turned full circle and fourteen years after having been unceremoniously deposed and exiled, Mian Nawaz Sharif has assumed the mantle of power. During his previous rule as Prime Minister, Sharif had an uneasy relationship with the military. He sacked three services chiefs, was forced to play along the Kargil misadventure, ultimately swallowing the bitter pill of approaching the US President to mediate a ceasefire. Unfortunately, when he chose to sack his own handpicked Army Chief in an unconstitutional manner on October 12, 1999, attempting to replace him with Lieutenant General Ziauddin Butt at the whims of his father, “Abba Jee”, he paid the ultimate price of being unseated and suffered incarceration.

Mian Sahib has been bitter in expressing his disdain for the Army but he will have to behave like an elderly statesman after becoming the chief executive of Pakistan. The circumstances have changed exponentially since his previous term. The country is embroiled in a deadly war on terror (WoT), which has taken a heavy toll of human life and there have been doubts as to the ownership of the war. So far the political dispensation had delegated the responsibility of executing the WoT to the military. In his historic address on “Youm-e-Shuhada” (April 30, 2013), General Kayani, the current Army Chief, who is serving an extended second term, had announced that the WoT is Pakistan’s war and must be fought to the logical end. Mian Sahib made major promises in his election campaign about extricating Pakistan from the WoT, re-ascertaining Pakistan’s sovereignty and bringing Pak-U.S. relations on an even keel. The scarlet thread here is restoring the civil-military balance in favor of the civilian dispensation.

Even before he took oath of the premiership, Mian Sahib received a three-hour briefing from the Army Chief on the ongoing WoT and military matters. Nawaz praised the role of the army in strengthening democracy and providing security during the elections. The PML-N president also presented the National Charter to General Kayani, who gave the former assurance of his full cooperation. This was the first meeting between General Kayani and Sharif since the PML-N emerged victorious in the May 11 general elections.

While pursuing his avowed goal of restoring civil-military relations, Mian Nawaz Sharif will be plagued by a number of pitfalls.

First, he will have to curb the urge of immediately clipping the wings of the military as General Kayani has enjoyed unprecedented powers for nearly six years. In 2012, Forbes magazine named him the 28th most powerful person in the world. Fortunately, for Mian Sahib, General Kayani’s term of office expires on November 28, 2013. There may be pressures on him to extend General Kayani’s term of office at least till 2014 end, when the U.S. and NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, but Sharif should desist from this. In his nomination of Kayani’s successor, the PM should avoid repeating his previous mistake when he appointed General Pervez Musharraf, sacrificing seniority and merit to a supposedly benign personality and the apolitical background of Musharraf.

During the election campaign, Nawaz Sharif claimed that after becoming PM, he will be the army chief’s “boss” while General Kayani would be replaced by the next “senior-most” general when he retires in November. If we go by Mian Sahib’s words, the current Army seniority list reveal Lieutenant Generals Muhammad Haroon Aslam and Rashid Mahmood as being the senior most. In the beginning of the current calendar year Lt Gen. Muhammad Haroon Aslam, who had been serving as Corps Commander Bahawalpur, was given the charge as Chief of Logistics at GHQ and Lt Gen. Rashid Mahmood was appointed as the Chief of General Staff (CGS), which is the senior most position in the army after the COAS. It is among the most important and coveted positions within the military, since the CGS is the institution’s operations and intelligence head. Both are due to retire on 9 April 2014.

At present, the Pakistan Army has 2 full generals, 23 lieutenant generals and around 160 major generals. Seven lieutenant generals, including Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif, Inspector General Training and Evaluation (IGT&E), GHQ, Lieutenant General Tariq Khan, Commander, I Corps, Mangla, Lieutenant General Muhammad Zaheerul Islam, DG Inter-Services Intelligence (DG ISI), Lieutenant General Salim Nawaz, Inspector General Armaments (IGA), GHQ, Lieutenant General Khalid Rabbani, Commander, XI Corps, Peshawar, Lieutenant General Muzammil Hussain, Commander, XXX Corps, Gujranwala and Lieutenant General Sajjad Ghani, Quarter-Master General (QMG), GHQ, are due to retire on 1 October 2014 while General Khalid Shameem Wyne, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) is also due to retire on 6 October 2013 and a suitable replacement from one of the three Services is mandatory.

Once Mian Sahib has nominated the new Army Chief, he should make sure that the incumbent remains subservient to the civilian leadership as the constitution of Pakistan requires.

The second challenge that Mian Sahib faces is the case of General Pervez Musharraf. The shoe is now on the other foot. It is the General, who is currently incarcerated and facing trials while Mian Sahib is back at the helm of affairs. He will have to be magnanimous as most of the cases against the General are trumped up and flimsy. It would be befitting to let the judiciary give General Musharraf a fair trial and drop the cases if they have no substance.

The third challenge will emerge when Mian Sahib attempts to restore better relations with India. The Pakistan Army, whose raison d’être is maintaining vigil against an Indian threat, will be wary and may oppose peace overtures. Mian Sahib needs to strike a meaningful balance between the need to normalize relations and war preparedness. After all India’s new war doctrine “Cold Start” is Pakistan-specific. In the recent past, Indian forces have upped the ante across the Line of Control, violating it on numerous occasions and despite claims to the contrary, remain poised in a hostile posture towards Pakistan.

Overall, Mian Nawaz Sharif will have to restrain his natural impetuousness to dominate the military and call the shots in daily affairs. He would be best advised to keep the military in its rightful place, respect its professional competence and not interfere in its working. After all, the military is a pillar of the state and should be a source of strength to the elected government and not be allowed to become its Achilles’ heel. 

Group Captain (R) Sultan M. Hali, now a practicing journalist, writes for print media, produces documentaries and hosts a TV talk show. He is currently based in Islamabad.

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