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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Appointment of the new army chief in Pakistan

Pakistan’s state institutions are presently embroiled, and exhausting themselves, in trying to decide whom to appoint as the country’s new army chief. Is this the real issue or something to chew on even as a dog keeps itself busy chewing a bone?

In my opinion piece “The wobbling nuclear power in Pakistan”, I highlighted the predicament of a country that portrays itself as a nuclear power, yet finds it woefully difficult to solve its basic problems. After the 1971 War, Bhutto, in an interview with Newsweek, taunted India by remarking that “a great power is inherently great.” Referring to India’s grinding poverty, Bhutto said “A world power is not where millions of its people sleep on footpaths”. How aptly this truism, expressed by Bhutto more than half a century ago, fits precisely on Pakistan – India’s nemesis.

Pakistan’s state institutions are presently embroiled, and exhausting themselves, in trying to decide whom to appoint as the country’s new army chief. Is this the real issue or something to chew on even as a dog keeps itself busy chewing a bone? Or is this another deception thrown by Imran Khan upon his rivals to keep them entangled in hairsplitting while he inches towards his goals of buying time and maintaining pressure on the real decision-makers to succumb to his demand for free and fair early elections?

Read more: Politicization of Civil Services in Pakistan

Understanding the matter better

While they keep parroting about merit, all the major politicians have their favorites whom they want to install as the next army chief. Whereas both Nawaz and Zardari insist that Imran Khan’s differences with the outgoing army chief started when the former lobbied for a certain three-star general as the country’s next army chief, Nawaz and Zardari don’t shy away from indirectly suggesting who their favorite candidates are for the lucrative slot of the army chief.

As the wheeling and dealing in the higher places continues, the political players generally remain oblivious to the fact that an army chief, once appointed, becomes indifferent to who appointed him. In that sense, the creature becomes more powerful than his creator. In 1975, Bhutto controversially superseded at least seven senior army generals to promote Lt-Gen. Zia-ul-Had to the four-star rank and make him the army chief. What happened with Bhutto thereafter is history.

Zia was killed, along with many of his generals and the American ambassador when the C-130 carrying his entourage exploded in mid-air shortly after taking off from Bahawalpur airport, in southern Punjab. He had gone there to witness a demonstration of the American M-1 Abrams tank. Zia was killed because he had outlived his utility for some people, groups, or countries.

General Aslam Beg, Vice Chief of Army Staff who became Chief of Army Staff after Zia’s death, in a recorded video speech that was played before the officers in all the garrisons, stated that, on reaching Rawalpindi after the plane crash, Beg held a meeting with the other two service chiefs and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Thereafter they called Ishaque Khan, Chairman of the Senate, to GHQ and asked him to become the president. According to Beg, Ishaque Khan, addressing Beg, said: “General Sahib, you impose martial law and also become the president”. Beg continued that, on his insistence, Ishaque Khan reluctantly became the president. The readers can draw their conclusions.

Nowhere is the fact, that an army chief does not owe loyalty to anyone, more pertinent than in the case of Nawaz Sharif. General Beg was the first army chief Nawaz Sharif had to deal with after he became the PM. General Beg, had he nurtured political ambitions, could have easily assumed power after Zia’s death. He was apolitical in the true sense. However, Nawaz soon entangled his antlers with Beg. It is a well-known fact that Beg did not approve of sending Pakistani troops to fight alongside the US-led coalition forces during the first Gulf War. He agreed to send a brigade-size force to beef up the coalition forces only upon Nawaz Sharif’s insistence.

Read more: Faizabad crisis: the real story

During a meeting, Nawaz tried to mock Beg’s concept of “Strategic Defiance” and asked Beg to take over if he so strongly believed to run the country according to his concepts. “ I will take over when I find it prudent”, Beg snapped back. Nawaz designated General Asif Nawaz the next army chief months before General Aslam Beg’s retirement. This was intended as a snub to General Beg – to render him a lame duck during the last few months of his tenure.

General Asif Nawaz was the first army chief appointed by Nawaz Sharif

Behaving like a petty shopkeeper, Nawaz tried to buy Asif Nawaz’s s loyalties by sending him the keys to a brand new BMW car through Shehbaz Sharif. General Asif Nawaz refused to accept the gift. Soon thereafter differences erupted between the two. General Asif Nawaz died under mysterious circumstances. His wife accused Nawaz of poisoning her husband.

General Jahangir Karamat became the second army chief appointed by Nawaz Sharif.   He was a soldier’s soldier – an officer and a gentleman. Zia could not tolerate even a person like Karamat and forced him to resign when Karamat, answering a question at the Naval War College, recommended the creation of a National Security Council. While Karamat was summoned by Nawaz to Murree and asked to tender his resignation, Lieutenant General Pervez Musharraf, the Mangla corps commander, was on his way to Rawalpindi to take charge as the third army chief appointed by Nawaz.

Read more: A fight to the death!

Lieutenant General Zia Ud Din Butt (an engineer corps officer)  would have become the fourth army chief to be appointed by Nawaz had Nawaz succeeded in his attempt to have Musharraf’s plane hijacked. Upon designation, when Lieutenant General Zia Ud Din Butt summoned Lieutenant General Aziz, Chief of the General Staff, to GHQ, Aziz replied ” Don’t you bother sir, we are coming to arrest you in your house”, or words to the effect. This happened while Musharraf’s plane was still hovering above Karachi’s Jinnah International airport.


Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.