Raheel Sharif’s exit causes hype about Pak’s next army chief, but change in policy not expected

There is plenty excitement on both sides of the border about the successor of Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s army chief set to complete his current tenure on 29 November. The selection process involves the prime minister asking the General Headquarters (GHQ) for the personal dossiers of the top six lieutenant generals, through the defence ministry. The prerogative for making recommendations is that of the defence minister. However, according to Pakistani media, Khawaja Asif, the defence minister appears following “hands-off policy vis-à-vis the army’; which may be sensible in his reckoning considering any wrong move may cost him his chair at a future date given the power the army has. Once the prime minister gets the list of the top lieutenant generals, he usually holds a one-on-one consultation with the army chief to get latter’s recommendations before announcing the next chief.
Interestingly, the position of chairman joint chief of staff (CJCS) also is falling vacant on the same date – November 29, for which also the selection process is the same as that of the army chief. So, Nawaz Sharif is required to make choices; both of the next army chief and of the next CJCS. Raheel Sharif had announced as early as January 2016 that he will retire on schedule, which was a bit unusual. Earlier, Pakistani media had reported that the Pakistani government was considering that tenure of all service chiefs (army, navy, air force) be made four years instead of existing three. That would have given Raheel Sharif another 12 months in office. Then there is an appeal pending with the Supreme Court to order conferring the title of field marshal on Raheel Sharif for rendering services towards national security and successfully launching Operation Zarb-i-Azb against militants. Earlier, this appeal filed on October 18 was rejected by the Rawalpindi of the Lahore High Court.
Raheel Sharif’s popularity, as that of his predecessors, is looked after by the inter-services public relations (ISPR) headed by major general rank officer. According to Aqil Shah, author of ‘The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan’, “ISPR makes savvy use of social media and funds glitzy hyper-patriotic videos, songs and films, with the active collaboration of artists, actors, movie directors and writers. The ISI… metes out both sticks and carrots to journalists. Any journalist who dares question the picture-perfect image of Raheel Sharif or the military’s policies in, say, Balochistan can only do so at his or her own expense”. Also, few months back, posters had appeared in Pakistan requesting Raheel Sharif to contest next elections.
Nawaz Sharif has had plenty experience in selecting the army chief – this would actually be the fifth time he would do so. But the nightmare of once going deep by ignoring seniority and choosing Musharraf would obviously continue to haunt him.
Should Nawaz go by seniority, the top eligible contenders (having commanded corps) in descending order of seniority are: one, Lt Gen Zubair Hayat, Chief of General Staff; two, Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, Multan Corps Commander; three, Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday, Bahawalpur Corps Commander, and; four, Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Inspector General Training and Evaluation. Their resumes have following high points:
Zubair Hayat is from Artillery and has served as director general of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which is the secretariat of the NCA. He has also served as corps commander Bahawalpur.
Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed is from Azad Kashmir Rifles and has served as CGS. His considerable operational experience includes: served in Waziristan as brigadier; participated in Swat operations as major general; made blueprint for Operation ‘Zarb-i-Azb’ when director general of military operations (DGMO) and briefed PM Nawaz Sharif at GHQ, after which Nawaz approved it in principle.
Javed Iqbal Ramday is from Sindh Regiment and was GOC Swat when he was wounded because of sniper fire. Thereafter he seved with National Defence University, Islamabad for four years as commandant-cum-chief instructor and later as president.
Qamar Javed Bajwa is from the Baloch Regiment and commanded 10 Corps responsible for areas along the Line of Control (LoC). As a major general, he led Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) deployed opposite Jammu and Kashmir including Ladakh and Siachen. His present appointment of Inspector General of Training and Evaluation at GHQ was also held by Raheel Sharif before being appointed army chief.
There is another complexity for Nawaz Sharif in selecting the next army chief and the CJCS simultaneously. The CJCSC normally is the senior-most four-star officer from any of the services (army, navy, air force) but post the establishment of the national command authority (NCA), the army has been staking claim to overall leadership since it controls key areas of nuclear command and strategic assets, even as CJCSC is deputy chairman of NCA’s deployment committee headed by the prime minister.
While all the above candidates are eligible for becoming the next army chief, latest inputs from Pakistani media posit Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday, Bahawalpur Corps Commander as the front runner as he is one of Nawaz Sharif’s favourites and Ramday’s family having political affiliations. But all this may yet be speculation. There is no news of any one-on-one discussion between Nawaz Sharif and Raheel Sharif on the next army chief as well.
But irrespective of who becomes the next army chief in Pakistan, how would it affect India? It has been proved time and again that the abiding aim of the Pakistani military-ISI is to ensure it has permanent veto power over the country’s civilian leaders, and this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. The belief that democracy is growing stronger in Pakistan is an illusion. The polity is actually powerless against the military. Remember Asif Ali Zardari ordering the ISI to be brought under the interior ministry, and made to eat his words within 24 hours to reverse his decision? Raheel Sharif is the most powerful man in Pakistan today. If he is retiring, it is of his own volition. The power of the military over Pakistan can be gauged from the fact that despite warrants issued against Musharraf, no concrete action could be taken.
With the change in leadership in America, the US ‘may’ take a re-look at its US policy but the strategic aims of China and Pakistan are coalescing with regard to Afghanistan. That is why Pakistan’s export of terror has shot up across both sides of her borders. China has already stepped in to make up any reduction of US assistance to Pakistan. The recent gift of three attack helicopters from China to Pakistan to strike across her borders and perpetuate the genocide in Balochistan, is just one small indication. The thought that Pakistan’s policy towards India with the next Pakistani army chief may be somewhat conciliatory would be utopian. On the contrary, Pakistan’s stance may harden further. Yes, there may be deceptive interludes to show Pakistan wants to mend fences, as Sartaj Aziz coming to attend Heart of Asia summit at New Delhi may portray, but these would revert to the usual ‘stab-in-the-back’ eventually.

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