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07 - 13 Dec, 2013
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Will General Raheel prove a right choice for Nawaz
by TARIQ BUTT

Only time will tell whether or not the newly appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif, will be non-interfering and focused on his professional assignment in his three-year tenure. For the moment, it is all milk and honey at least for the point of view of the Nawaz Sharif government for the mere fact that it has nominated its choice general to the top slot in the fervent hope that he will be concerned only with military matters, would stay away from politics and would shun “guiding” the government in key national issues. It is premature to say whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Will General Raheel prove a right choice for Nawazdecision of not going by the book will produce the results he has desired.
It is but obvious that the premier disregarded the senior most general, Haroon Aslam, in making key appointments of the army chief and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) for his own unexplained considerations, which have not made public. But a concrete reason behind superseding Haroon Aslam, propounded though unofficially by some senior government leaders, hardly sounds convincing. They claim that the “unprecedentedly massive lobbying” spanning four months, done by the khaki, finished his chances of being elevated to any of the two top berths. Before the May general elections, Nawaz Sharif declared more than once that the senior most general would become the army chief if he would take such a decision as the prime minister. Clearly, he backed out of his pledge by bypassing Haroon Aslam.
One “disqualification” of the dejected general, who quickly stepped down honouring the military traditions of not serving under juniors, referred to at times is that while working as brigadier in the Military Operations Director (MOD) when Musharraf imposed martial law, Haroon Aslam had played a key role in arresting the then cabinet ministers. This is not a fair ineligibility but is an absolutely flawed assertion because not only he but Rashad Mahmood and Raheel Sharif and thousands of other officers were in the Pakistan army at that time and were deployed in different positions. However, it is also a fact that Haroon Aslam carries the distinction of leading a successful military operation against dreaded terrorists in Swat in 2009. This was the most important time of his military service when he took back Swat from Taliban, leading “Operation Rah-e-Rast”. In this campaign, he defeated Mullah Fazalullah, who was then running a parallel government with the help of his 4,500 terrorists in Swat. Fazalullah recently replaced proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud after the latter’s death in a CIA operated drone attack in North Waziristan. The TTP has hailed the decision of not making Haroon Aslam as the
army chief.
Nawaz Sharif lived up to his old tradition of not naming the senior most general as the army chief. In the cases of Pervez Musharraf, and Ziauddin Butt, who remained COAS hardly for a couple of hours on the fateful day of October 12, 1999, the premier had also selected these junior generals for the top office. What Musharraf did with him needs no elaboration. Immediately after his nomination, he started conspiring against the prime minister, and finally overthrew his government after the Kargil adventure. Before that, General Ziaul Haq, who too had been appointed by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the seventies, superseding several senior generals, turned out to be his hangman. These appalling instances prove that once appointed the army chiefs are nobody’s men, but act as per their own whims and on the calls and necessities of the institution they belong to.
Now when Nawaz Sharif has picked up his preferred general as the COAS and his favourite man, Mamnoon Hussain, as the President of Pakistan, he is a satisfied person as he fears no threats from these two top offices. Although under the Constitution, the president is just a showpiece and totally powerless, courtesy of the 18th amendment inserted by the previous regime, yet anyone occupying this office can create problems for the government in different ways, twisting laws and rules, if is hell-bent to do so. Keeping in view the way Mamnoon Hussain has so far acted, the premier faces no threats of interference from him. Nawaz Sharif believes that Gen Raheel Sharif will come up to his expectations of remaining preoccupied only with his professional job and leaving the key decision making in all fields to the civilian authorities.
The new army chief was on number third of the seniority list while Rashad Mahmood, who has been made the CJCSC, figured on number two. By giving the topmost office, only ceremonial, to Rashad Mahmood, the prime minister told all and sundry message that this general was not his preference number one but at the same time he did not want him to show the door. There is no doubt that his first and foremost pet was Raheel Sharif, who is brother of martyred Major Shabbir Sharif, Nishan-e-Haider, and belongs to the “martial stock” having many of his close relatives in the Pakistan Army. Although a junior has been accorded the all-powerful berth, it is a fact that the Constitution arms the prime minister with the discretion of opting for any general for the position. No accusing fingers have been pointed at the nomination, and there has been almost universal approval of the appointment across the political spectrum.
It will be interesting to see Gen Raheel Sharif performing in various aspects. His one-time boss, Musharraf, faces trial on high treason charge apart from his entanglement in four serious criminal cases including murders of Benazir Bhutto, Nawab Akbar Bugti and Lal Masjid Islamabad deputy cleric Ghazi Abdur Rashid and his mother, and detention of judges who were imprisoned after imposition of a state of emergency and suspension of the Constitution on November 3, 2007. Ashfaque Pervez Kayani, who was made the COAS by Musharraf, had tried to prevail upon him not to come to Pakistan early this year, but the former president did not listen to saner advice and flew back to test his luck in the political field. Since then, he has been under arrest, and when his bails in all the four cases were accepted, he has been arraigned for high treason. By and large, Kayani had distanced himself from Musharraf by letting him face the law. How Raheel Sharif will act in this respect is yet unclear. Undoubtedly, the new COAS faces many challenges, the foremost being in the anti-terror war, and keeping himself and the force away from politics.
Kayani, a relatively quiet man, has an unquestionable key role in easing out Musharraf, ending his eight-year old rule. He has the credit of supervising two general elections in a fair and free manner by using his dominant influence. His remarkable intervention had come just before the 2008 parliamentary polls when he had directed his commanders to ensure that there was no hanky-panky in the electoral process in favour of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q). He issued this order despite the wishes and orders of Musharraf to get his “king’s party” win. There were many occasions during the tenure of the previous blundering government of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) when he would have taken over but he refrained from such resort, keeping Pakistan on the democratic track. However, he elaborately interfered in the vital decision making process especially relating to India, Afghanistan and the United States. Even he had a powerful say in the domestic affairs. The government was helpless and was interested in other things than good governance.
Kayani also has the distinction of serving for two terms, in all for six years, as the army chief during the civilian rule. The last government granted him the tenure extension, not happily, but out of fear as every civilian administration has from the overpowering COASs. This was the rare reward, which was given to ensure continuity at the top level at a time when Pakistan was engaged in the anti-terror war. Speculation had it that the Nawaz Sharif government wanted to benefit from his experience by according some senior non-military position but he declined for his own reasons. He served the Pakistan army for over 42 years. His two terms as the COAS were incontestably extremely tough, testing and demanding. He needs rest now. •

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