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Undesirable hype over the new COAS

Political engineering was galvanized by the judiciary and the military establishment after the Panama Leaks scandal in early 2017. Never before the military had got so involved in politics as was the case in 2017/18. This period saw a special JIT, the role of CJ Saqib Nisar, the removal of PML N govt in Baluchistan and Senate elections.

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The fashion of hyping and politicizing the appointment of a new army chief started in the 1990s when the PPP and PML N were daggers drawn with each other and would demean each other through the media.

The president equipped with Article 58 2b and the military establishment played their own games by playing one party against the other.

The PPP had learned a bitter lesson from the choice of ZAB who had selected the junior most Lt Gen Ziaul Haq in the list of seven and made him the COAS in 1976.

Understanding the matter better

Senior most Gen Mirza Beg who was the VCOAS was made COAS after Zia’s air crash in Aug 1988.

In the 1988 elections, Gen Beg, GIK and DG ISI Lt Gen Gul colluded to prevent security risk PPP from winning a big majority and money was used to buy other parties for which the Mehrangate bank scandal emerged.

Read more: Khawaja Asif rejects reports of consultation on COAS appointment

In the 1990 elections, IJI was created with a similar objective and in this Lt Gen Durrani was the third player. IJI led by PML-N formed the govt.

In the last six months of the tenure of Gen Beg, differences cropped up between him and NS. The latter suspected that Beg might declare martial law. He designated CGS Lt Gen Asif Nawaz as the next chief in Aug 1991.

Gen Asif Nawaz took over from Beg in Sept 1991 being senior most and was the choice of NS. He had done very well as 5 Corps Comd in Karachi.

After his sudden death in Jan 1993, President GIK and NS had different choices. The dice fell in favor of junior most Gen Waheed Kakar who was wanting one-year extension in service.

In the wake of a political ruckus created by the long march led by Benazir, and President GIK turning against NS, Gen Kakar played the role of a referee in 1993.

To defuse the situation, he forced GIK and NS to resign

In the next elections, PPP returned to power. NS became bitter against the army after he was sacked by Gen Kakar.

There was an attempted coup planned by Maj Gen Zaheer Abbasi and Brig Muntansar Billa in 1994 which was quashed in time and the plot makers jailed. Benazir was keen to grant an extension to Kakar but he declined.

Once PML-N returned to power in Feb 1997, NS first locked horns with the chief justice and removed him, and then sacked Gen Jahangir Karamat 3 months before his retirement on flimsy ground.

Gen Musharraf who was third on the list of seniority was the choice of NS. Then secretary of defense Lt Gen Iftikhar Ali, his brother Ch Nisar Ali and MQM supremo Altaf Hussain had the main role in his selection. The latter two were friendly with each other on account of politics.

NS’s bitterness against the army increased when Gen Musharraf removed him from power in Oct 1999 through an army coup.

Benazir and NS signed CoD in May 2006 during their exile in London in which both agreed to cut to size the power of the military and judiciary, civilianize ISI, give maximum autonomy to provinces and allow each to rule for five years.

Read more: COAS Bajwa confirms retirement in five weeks

The exiled leaders returned to Pakistan after the infamous NRO signed by Musharraf in Oct 2007. The latter made Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani being senior most his successor in Nov 2007.

The CoD plan was put into operation after the PPP under Zardari took over power in March 2008, and Gen Musharraf exited.

PM Gilani soon after taking over issued executive orders to place the ISI under the Ministry of Interior, but was thwarted by Gen Kayani. 18th Amdt in the constitution was made in 2011. The Memogate scandal was yet another attempt to defang the military and the ISI, which was also scuttled by Gen Kayani and Lt Gen Shuja Pasha.

Gilani and Zardari gave a 3-year extension to Gen Kayani in 2010 on the basis of his performance in the war on terror.

Gen Raheel Sharif was NS’s choice who superseded Gen Haroon Aslam

He was the only army chief with whom NS didn’t have any serious differences.

In fact, Gen RS and the PPP saved the govt of PML-N in late July 2014, when the PTI and PAT supported by a few serving and retired army generals were all set to affect a regime change.

From 2011 onwards, a few serving and retired generals led by Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, his successor Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam started backing Imran Khan and his party since there was a popular perception that the two-party system was an utter failure and there was a big need to try a new horse. The huge public gathering in Lahore in Oct 2011 and in Karachi in Dec 2011 which catapulted the popularity of one-seat PTI and IK, was staged by the military establishment.

During the rule of PML N from 2013 inwards, differences cropped up between the military and the Sharifs over the Dawn leaks scandal in Nov 2016.

Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was again the choice of NS who was fifth on the list

At the behest of NS, Gen Bajwa removed Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar from the post of DG ISI and brought in a choice man of NS in 2017.

Political engineering was galvanized by the judiciary and the military establishment after the Panama Leaks scandal in early 2017. Never before the military had got so involved in politics as was the case in 2017/18. This period saw a special JIT, the role of CJ Saqib Nisar, the removal of PML N govt in Baluchistan and Senate elections.

While the civil-military relations had strained after every military takeover, but in the aftermath of the disqualification of NS in July 2017 and subsequent events which brought PTI to power under shady circumstances heightened hatred of PML N against the military.

Once PTI took over power, the military establishment went out of its way to make its new experiment successful and meddled in each and every affair of the state. MO Date was filled with two dozen Brigs to overwatch the performance of each Ministry and improve it.

Read more: COAS Gen Bajwa to receive “Honor Cordon” by Pentagon

Despite the full backup and one-page mantra, the PTI failed to live up to the expectations of the people. The economy began to crash and the popularity of IK declined.

Side-by-side, the propaganda war of PML N against the army became more and more pungent. Gen Bajwa and Lt Gen Faiz Hamid were directly blamed by NS sitting in London and his daughter for their ouster.

The blame game touched new heights after the ouster of PTI in Apr 2022

The policy of no holds barred was adopted by IK. Never before were the senior army and ISI officers abused and maligned the way IK berated both.

Matters crossed the red lines when the malicious campaign directly affected the rank and file of the army. Deliberate attempts were made to create fissures and to germinate insubordination in the army.

Almost 90% of the veterans came under the magic spell of IK. They became cultlike followers, glorified him and demonized the senior leadership of the army and ISI. The Pakistani ex-pats and social media joined the fray. Gen Bajwa was branded as the sole demon responsible for the current situation. The major crib against him was, why he allowed the thieves and looters to gain power.

Once Gen Bajwa’s tenure reached its expiry date, his replacement became another burning issue. The PTI made a mountain out of this normal event and thoroughly politicized it.

The five to six Lt Gens in the race for the prized post have been made controversial as if they have some kind of affiliations with a political party. This is far from true.

Lt Gens get elevated on the strength of their professionalism and numerous other qualities. No one outside the army has played any role in their career progression.

The PM has the constitutional responsibility to select one as CJCSC and the other as COAS from among five Lt Gens whose names are recommended to him from GHQ through the MoD.

This constitutional obligation should have been fulfilled by the PM latest by end of the first week of Nov. The delay is incomprehensible and inexcusable.

The desired number of votes for the vote of no confidence was gathered from the national assembly members of 13 parties of the PDM. These members then elected SS for the post of PM. The whole process was legal and constitutional.

Most of the PDM members had NAB cases pending against them but none was convicted. Even the disqualified and convicted NS stands a good chance of getting a clean chit from the courts as was the case with other accused members.

Reportedly, NS is returning home next month

Legally the PDM legislators can legislate laws and take decisions but the PTI members do not enjoy this facility since it had boycotted NA and are no more members. IK has been disqualified in the Toshakhana case.

Under the obtaining ground situation from political, legal and constitutional angles, IK has no role in the selection of the new army chief, and it is the prerogative of SS to select one out of the list given by GHQ and MoD.

It is up to him, whether he consults his elder brother, and his coalition partners irrespective of their past records. There is no moral justification for the ones sitting outside the parliament to point fingers and raise objections.

It is a good thing that the seniority factor has been kept as the top consideration for the selection of a new army chief. All the top five contenders are equally good and well-qualified.

Read more: Analyzing the COAS visit to the US

What has troubled IK the most is the possible selection of Lt Gen Asim Munir. He desires that anyone other than him would be acceptable to him. But he covers it up by saying that a convicted absconder has no right to select the army chief.

Asim Munir’s mistake for which he has become unacceptable is that during his very short stint as DG ISI in 2018, he had sincerely advised IK to put things in order in Punjab and had given him proof of misdoings of CM Punjab Buzdar, Farah Gogi and his wife.

He was immediately replaced with Lt Gen Faiz Hamid, who performed the assigned political tasks with total obedience, but in a way indirectly contributed towards the not-so-satisfying performance of PTI. Had Punjab affairs been sorted out, things would have been different.

In my view, Gen Bajwa has played his innings well but has been wrongly subjected to a motivated smear campaign by political forces and international media.

He would be handing over the baton to his successor under an unhappy internal situation and doffing his uniform as a sad person.

The foremost duty of the new COAS would be to dispel the negative impression, since these are abnormal times and never before the anti-army sentiments risen so high all over the country, and never before the veterans become part of the anti-army propaganda brigade.

The new COAS would have to play a major role in nation-building and in regaining the much-compromised institutional prestige.

One way is to continue with Gen Bajwa’s policy of keeping the army out of dirty politics and to restore the damaged prestige of the army in the eyes of the public. The clause in the 1973 constitution enabling the ISI to meddle in politics must be scrapped.

He will have to find ways and means to keep the serving and retired army officers and men safe from the highly injurious effects of subversion and mind cloning by social and electronic media as well as of the politicians by adopting effective counter Psy Operations and strengthening their minds.

Some effective ways will have to be devised and put into practice to counter hybrid war which has become a reality. Our policymakers keep talking about it but have made no plans to deal with it. A national-level comprehensive plan will have to be chalked out by a new ministry, or the ISPR which will require heavy funding and resources.

Secondly, he must keep the bad influence of the unscrupulous politicians who are using them for their vested political interests at bay. Gen Asif Nawaz had barred the serving officers from meeting with the politicians and had also debarred the latter from visiting GHQ or senior army officers’ offices and residences.

Read more: COAS meets Chinese minister to enhance defense cooperation

Thirdly, the veteran’s community has swelled to over five million and the number of retired Lt Gens, Maj Gens, and Brigs has grown in size. None come out of their Jernaili mood, and they wield their influence over the serving general officers who had served under them as their ADCs, SOs, BMs, Bde Comds, COS, DGs, etc and had helped them in scaling the ladder. They still feel that they are wiser than the current serving lot.

They are an easy target for wily politicians, and they have used them as a vehicle to promote their political interests. Some DO’s and Don’ts will have to be spelled out for the senior veterans.

Fourthly, several website groups run by the veterans are playing havoc and are instrumental in badmouthing the top leadership of the army and ISI. The veterans find these platforms useful to give vent their past grievances and to lessen the pains of their social problems.

Some curbs were imposed but it didn’t make much difference in their attitudes. They continue to spew venom in order to demean the sitting govt and the army leadership and to acclaim IK. On every small or big issue, they start giving their opinions and never stop. These groups are not serving any good purpose except in creating bad blood and to further vitiating the atmosphere. These must be closed.

To conclude, I must say that in our enthusiasm to build Naya Pakistan, it must never be forgotten that the real enemies of Pakistan have a fixed agenda and they are collectively working on it since 9/11 to accomplish their objectives. The US, its western allies, Israel and India would never like Pakistan to become economically self-reliant and militarily strong. They will keep Pakistan dependent and in a lurch.

Read more: Imran Khan’s remarks on COAS extension causes storm

Media is the most potent tool in their hands. The media under the garb of enlightened moderation and modernism was put to use from 2003 onwards and today we are reaping the harvest. We have seen the devastating impact of the media war upon us, how the current generation has been mind cloned and the society polarized, the families divided and the public has become intolerant and violent. All symptoms of a civil war are there to be seen, and a third force has just to ignite the simmering volcano.

 

 

Asif Haroon Raja is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman of the Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, member CWC and Think Tank, Pakistan ex Servicemen Society, and member Council Tehreek Jawanan Pakistan. 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.