On September 22, Gen Raheel Sharif announced the much awaited re-shuffle of three-star Generals in the Pakistan Army, promoting six Major Generals. They will replace five retiring Lieutenants General, including two of his peers – Lt Gen Tariq Khan, Corps Commander, I Corps, Mangla and Lt Gen Zahirul Islam, Director General, Inter-Services Intellgence (ISI).
This is Raheel Sharif’s first re-shuffle done on his own steam and bears his distinctive stamp.
Minor changes affecting some other Generals did occur in December, 2013, shortly after Raheel’s own ascension as Army Chief. Under this chain, Adjutant General, Lt Gen Javed Iqbal went to Bahawalpur as Corps Commander, XXXI Corps while Lt Gen Zamirul Hassan replaced him. Ikramul Haq, erstwhile VCGS went as Inspector General, Training & Evaluation (vacated by Raheel). Lt Gen Zahid Latif became GoC, Air Defence Command.
Two other important changes were made, replacing Lt Gen (retd) Khalid Kidwai with a serving Lt Gen, Zubair Hayat as Head of the Strategic Plans Directorate (SPD) and bringing in Lt Gen Obaidullah Khattak as GOC, Strategic Forces Command. These changes may have reflected influence of other senior Generals in the collegiate leadership and accommodated some of former Chief, Gen (rtd) Kayani’s blue-eyed boys.
Among the changes made this time, appointment of the new DG, ISI is easily the most important. This needs the Prime Minister’s approval. The coveted slot, often deemed the second most powerful in the Army has gone to Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, a professionally well regarded officer of the Frontier Force regiment (Piffers), the Chief’s own arm. Rizwan was previously DG, Pak Rangers, Sindh and has done stints as GOC, 9 Div, Kohat and as a Brigadier in South Waziristan. His place in Pak Rangers, Sindh is taken by Maj Gen Bilal Akbar (Arty) who was GOC, 11 Div, Lahore.
After the current agitations of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri in Islamabad, a politically weakened Nawaz Sharif seems to have quietly fallen in line to approve this selection.
Rizwan Akhtar’s choice obviously reflects the Chief’s comfort level at a moment when Imran Khan changes tack from the politics of dharnas limited to Islamabad to wider scale protests in other major cities. Raheel Sharif would want a trusted man at the helm in ISI, to keep tab on these political shenanigans.
Much has been said about the new DG, ISI Rizwan Akhtar’s views on the need to improve relations with India, articulated in a US Army War College paper in 2008. We need to remember, this is regurgitation of the known Pakistani line touted in the context of improving US-Pak relations, that US pressure on India would help resolve the Kashmir issue in Pakistan’s favour. It should not generate undue enthusiasm that ISI would be ready to give up its strategy of using non-state asymmetrical options against India just yet.
Promotions to the top in the Army are skewed and the current selection supersedes 15 Major Generals, including two within the ISI – Maj Gen Naveed Ahmed, Sector Commander, Sindh and Maj Gen Sohail Abbas Zaidi, DG Technical. They may have to be shifted elsewhere, considering their peers have been slotted into supervisory positions. Among those left out are Maj Gen Iqbal Asi, GoC 19 Div currently deployed in anti-terror operations in Swat, Maj Gen Shahid, Inspector General, Frontier Corps, Baluchistan and Maj Gen Tariq Ghafoor, GoC, 14Div, Okara, who also had Intelligence experience.
Among the Major Generals promoted, Lt Gen Mian Muhammad Hilal Hussain (Arty) replaces Lt Gen Tariq Khan as GOC, I Corps, Mangla, Lt Gen Hidayat ur Rehman goes in place of Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani as GOC, XI Corps, Peshawar, Lt Gen Ghayur Mahmood takes over from Lt Gen Salim Nawaz as GOC, XXX Corps, Gujranwala and Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar (AC), who was Deputy DG, Counter Terrorism in ISI becomes GOC, V Corps, Karachi in place of Lt Gen Sajjad Ghani. Lt Gen Nazir Ahmed Butt (FFR), who was Commandant, Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul goes as DG, Communications & IT.
As in any other professional Army, these promotions conform to the pattern followed by previous Chiefs, of balancing the 27 posts of three-star Generals between the main service arms – Infantry (13), Artillery (6), Armoured Corps – AC (3), Engineers(2), Air Defence (2), AMC (1). Again, Raheel has shown a common enough proclivity, to favour his own Piffers (FFR) regiment in recent promotions.
Though no hard and fast rules can be postulated in such promotions, sending out of newly promoted Generals as Corps Commanders is a shift of sorts from the practice followed during Kayani’s tenure. PTI politician, Javed Hashmi recently claimed Imran had bragged about some support in top military echelons for conspiracies to oust the democratically elected leadership. This departure could have some import if these reports of differences within the senior collegiate leadership of Generals over handling of the recent political impasse are to be given any credence.
These appointments ensconce Raheel Sharif firmly in control as the Army Chief. This could well presage a more harmonious civil-military relationship for a while, though Nawaz Sharif has had a tendency to shoot himself in the foot in the past.
Mr Rana Banerji is the author of "The Pakistan Army: Composition, Character and Compulsions"