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Thursday, February 15, 2024

The selection of next Army Chief

General Javed Bajwa was appointed as the Pakistan Army chief in 2016. He was given a three-year extension on November 29, 2019. He is now set to retire on November 29 this year. If he retires, who is next in line to become Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff (COAS)?

The military was the only institution that had saved itself from getting politicized. The PPP in collaboration with the PML N had tried hard from 2008 onwards to politicize the ISI by placing it under the Ministry of Interior and clipping the wings of the Army so that the army chief could be prevented from deposing an elected govt through a coup, or to meddle into the domain of the executive head, but failed.

Although there has been no military takeover after the rule of Gen Musharraf, the army chiefs have been interfering in the affairs of the state indirectly.

Read more: Son of COAS Qamar Bajwa blessed with twin babies

The PTI has not only succeeded in creating fissures within the officers’ cadre of the army and in subverting the minds of the veterans but has also politicized the seat of COAS as well as the Lt Gens aspiring to become the army chief.

Understanding the matter better

Like the other two sister services, the army has a strong merit system based on a pyramid in which only the best reach the upper echelons. Out of the best senior most 4 to 5 aspiring Lt Gens, one is picked up by the PM.

Till the promotion to the rank of Maj Gen, the promotions are based on the recommendations of the promotion boards at Corps levels and finally in the ratification board at GHQ presided by the COAS.

The promotions of the Maj Gen to Lt Gen are the prerogative of the army chief, which are again done on merit.

Till this stage, the promotions are done smoothly and without any hiccups

The problem starts with the selection of the army chief, the decision of which rests in the hands of the PM. Merit becomes inconsequential, and the personal choice of the PM takes precedence over all other considerations.

The PM gives weight to loyalty to him over professional, moral and leadership qualities. He wants an obedient and pliant chief who should do as told to do. One of his expectations is that he should help him in keeping his political opponents in check. More often, the selected chief fails to live up to the expectations of the selector and leads to a confrontation with unpalatable results.

Read more: COAS Bajwa awarded “Order of the Union Medal” by UAE

IK has given a new twist to the selection of the army chief. He had enjoyed the best of his relationship with Gen Bajwa and that is why he gave him a three-year extension.

He was fully confident that by the time Gen Bajwa retired on 29 Nov, he would appoint the successor of his choice, and had fixed his gaze on Lt Gen Faiz Hamid. His fortunes dipped and he had to abdicate power in April 2022, one year and four months before completing his tenure.

The PDM govt headed by Shahbaz Sharif (SS) is now in the saddle for over four months and it intends to complete its tenure till Aug 2023.

Imran Khan and his politics

Conversely, IK and his party riding on the high crest of popularity want immediate elections. They are brimming with confidence that they would defeat the imported govt and win with a two-thirds majority. With KP, Punjab, AJK and GB in the loop of the PTI, IK was sure that the beleaguered govt confined to Isbd and unable to check inflation, price hike and rupee devaluation, would buckle under pressure and quit.

Due to his abrasiveness and noncooperation, IK has antagonized the PDM, EC, Judiciary, FIA, Police and the Army. He has become so distrustful that he is distrusting his own shadow.

The approaching date of selection of the new army chief is upsetting him so acutely that he expressed his lack of trust in any chief selected by the present govt, implying that he will be unpatriotic.

Read more: FACT CHECK: Did COAS Bajwa attend Independence Day event in UK?

His muscles flexing in the huge public gatherings and his threats have failed to intimidate the govt. SS is sticking to his point that a way out could be found through dialogue and not through threats. He argues that with a sunk economy hurtling towards default and over half the country merged in floods, and extreme political polarization and security threats, early elections were not possible.

Finding his back against the wall, and fearing that his party might not be disbanded by the EC in foreign funding case, and he himself getting disqualified on charges of terrorism and contempt of court, he made a change in his stance against Gen Bajwa whom he had held responsible for his downfall.

He has now made an offer of giving a few months’ extension to him but soon modified his earlier statement saying that he meant deferment and not extension.

In other words, he is prepared to trust his alleged assassin to overview the process of interim set-up for three months, elections and changeover to the winning party which would then select the new chief. For him, the new chief selected by SS will be unacceptable. He has made this unworkable proposal under the assumption that victory will be of the PTI and none else.

On one hand, IK says that the incumbent govt doesn’t have the mandate to select the new chief, and on the other he wants this illegal govt to grant an extension to Gen Bajwa.

The situation is paradoxical

Moreover, Gen Bajwa is not interested in an extension and has conveyed his intention of doffing his uniform on the due date.

Read more: After US, COAS Bajwa discusses IMF program with UAE, Saudi Arabia

Against the backdrop of what has been discussed, the proposal given by the JI chief merits consideration. Let the senior most Lt Gen take over as the CJCSC if the slot is falling vacant, and the next senior most to become the army chief. The Army chief shouldn’t transgress into the domain of the executive head. The ISI should also be forbidden to meddle in politics.


Asif Haroon Raja is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defense and security analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. asifharoonraja@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.