Pakistan: New Army Chief Lt Gen Raheel Sharif

28 Nov, 2013    ·   4199

D Suba Chandran asks why Nawaz Sharif chose Lt Gen Sharif as the new COAS

After months of suspense and questions, the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan has appointed the next Army Chief, who will take over following the retirement of Gen Kayani.

An Orderly Succession?
Lt Gen Raheel Sharif, who was third in line, was finally appointed by Nawaz Sharif as his next Chief of Army Staff. Though Nawaz Sharif has superseded two more Generals - Haroon Aslam and Rashid Mehmood - in appointing Raheel Sharif as the next Army Chief, he has not done anything out of the ordinary. He has only chosen from the three options offered to him, and has requested the President to appoint Gen Raheel Sharif as the next Army Chief.

Though Gen Haroon Aslam was the senior most, he was superseded. The next in line, Gen Rashid Mehmood, has been appointed as the Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff Committee.

It appears to be an orderly succession, as Gen Kayani’s retirement and the appointment of his successor are as per schedule, although there was prolonged suspense about Kayani getting an extension.

Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staffs: Fourth Time Lucky?
 Gen Raheel Sharif is the fourth Chief of Army Staff that Nawaz is appointing as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The first two ended up in total disasters, while the third one was a lesser problem. The first time was almost twenty years ago in 1993, when he appointed Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar. Ever since, Nawaz Sharif’s luck with the COAS handpicked by him, often superseding senior,s have only backfired. Gen Kakar did not support Nawaz Sharif when there was a political deadlock between the PM and the President, and ultimately, Nawaz Sharif had to resign in 1993.

The second COAS that Sharif appointed was a complete disaster not just for him personally, but also for civil-military relations. In 1998, after a resounding electoral victory, Nawaz Sharif appointed Gen Musharraf as the COAS. What happened next forms the contemporary history of Pakistan. Coup, exile and trial followed, with both Musharraf and Sharif being exiled by each other. Now, Musharraf is facing trial for treason.

Sharif’s third COAS was a disaster for both him and his nominee. Gen Ziauddin Butt was nominated as the COAS, dismissing Gen Musharraf; but the latter responded with a coup, which was followed by placing Nawaz Sharif in jail and later exiling him. There were rumours that “Lt Gen Ziauddin was the architect of the secret operation that envisioned the official announcement of his promotion to the post of COAS once Gen Pervez Musharraf boarded PIA Flight PK 805 in Colombo for a journey that severed his contact with the GHQ.” Whatever may be the truth, the coup that followed resulted in both Sharif and Gen Butt being imprisoned.

While the relationship between Gen Kakar and Sharif did not rupture his relationship with the military, his two other appointments created a huge divide between him and the GHQ. Although Sharif was propped up by the military in the late 1980s against Benazir Bhutto, today, the relationship is strained. In fact, it all started with the resignation of Gen Karamat.

Who is Gen Raheel Sharif? And Why Him?
The media is full of stories providing a profile of the new COAS in Pakistan, mostly based on the information provided by the press release of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR).

What is important to know is his relationship with the Prime Minister, and whether he would remain apolitical like his predecessor Gen Kayani. More importantly, what would be his perception of the TTP? These two issues are crucial to repair the civil-military relations under the two Sharifs.

It is believed that Gen Raheel Sharif is closer to the Defence Minister Khwaja Asif, who in turn is considered to be a staunch family friend of the Sharifs. Other than the above, there is not much available in open sources in terms of why Gen Raheel Sharif was chosen by Nawaz Sharif.

Perhaps Nawaz Sharif decided to choose someone who is better known within the list of three names he was provided with. He could have handpicked from even outside the list, but that would have further widened the gap between the two institutions and made Nawaz Sharif suspect. Nawaz may have wanted to play safe and not to antagonise the GHQ at this stage. He cannot afford to do so, given the volatile internal political situation and his own relationship with the military.

Even if he had picked a successor from outside the list of three names, there would have no guarantee about the COAS’ loyalty to Sharif, given past history. Nawaz Sharif’s choices were limited and perhaps he wished to play it safe by choosing Gen Raheel Sharif, who is known to his Defence Minister.