With the Presidential succession smoothly out of the way, the stage seems set for the most eventful decision Nawaz Sharif may have to make during the rest of his tenure, that of selecting Pakistan’s next Army Chief.
Gen Kayani’s term ends on November 28, 2013. Even before that, the position of Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, currently held by Gen Khalid Shamim Wyne falls vacant on October 08, 2013. Though ranking higher than the COAS, it is a largely ceremonial post. In January, 2013 Gen Kayani reshuffled his Lieutenants Generals giving some indication about his own preferences on who could be his successor.
Lt.Gen Rashad Mahmood, till then GOC, IV Corps, Lahore was brought in as Chief of General Staff. An important staff position, it could be a stepping stone to the top slot. Not only is Rashad Mehmood from Kayani’s parent arm, the Baluch regiment, he served as his deputy in ISI. He is believed to have good relations with the Sharifs. In an earlier incarnation, he served as Military Secretary to President Rafique Tarar, good friend of Nawaz Sharif’s father, late Mian Mohd Sharif. However, seniors in Pakistan do not rate him very highly professionally.
Lt. Gen Haroon Aslam is the senior most in Rashad Mahmood’s batch. From the Azad Kasmir regiment, he has held some crack assignments earlier, including that of DG, Special Services Group (SSG), Cherat but in the January 2013 reshuffle, then GOC XXXI Corps, Bahawalpur he was moved out as Director General, Logistic Staff, considered a backwater job. Another drawback could be his role in the October, 1999 coup when he was one of Musharraf’s aides in the Military Operations directorate.
Another senior General of the same batch, Raheel Sharif (of the Frontier Force regiment) is Director General, Inspectorate of Weapons Evaluation & Training (IWET). This too is a routine staff job. He was till recently Corps Commander, XXX Corps, Gujranwala. Pakistani military analysts feel there is nothing exciting about Raheel but rumours suggest Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baluch, one of Nawaz Sharif’s Ministers is backing him. Lt Gen Tariq Khan, currently I Corps Commander, Mangla is the best rated in this cohort but he is too junior. Below him is Lt Gen Zahirul Islam, current DG, ISI who also served as one of Kayani’s deputies there.
Though disliked in the past for his penchant to dabble in army postings, Nawaz may be reluctant to go by the advice of his aides or delve too deep in the Army list on his own. Once bitten twice shy, he may be more careful this time not to disregard the consensus within the Army. He could adhere to the seniority principle and appoint Haroon to the CJCSC slot, clearing the deck for Rashad Mehmood to become Chief.
The key challenge facing the country is internal, against the Tehrik e Taliban. The recent All Parties’ Conference has reflected a rare agreement between the civilians and the military on how to deal with them. Though holding out a vague threat of firmness against recalcitrant militants, no one wants to fight their own brethren, for fear perhaps of fuelling too widespread dissent within. The Army’s attitude towards India as Pakistan’s primary threat in the long term is unlikely to change whoever becomes the next Chief.