Why selection of Pakistan army’s new boss matters to the world?

Pakistan army’s new boss

Why selection of Pakistan army’s new boss matters?

Normally in any country appointment of an army chief doesn’t make headlines. Pakistan is a lone country where not only appointment but also retirement of an army chief creates buzz in Islamabad’s power corridor, the media and streets of cities.

As days of army chief General Raheel Sharif’s retirement are inching closer, rumour mill surrounding the next army chief’s appointment has gone into overdrive with opinions that he will be one who would be loyal to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Others say the Prime Minister will prefer to go by seniority while selecting the new head of Pakistan’s army. Another opinion suggests appointment of the next army boss will be done in accordance with the suitability of the country.

Amidst swirling of opinions, gossips and speculations, a lawyer in Pakistan has sought Islamabad High Court’s help to elevate General Raheel Sharif to the rank of Field Marshal. Mohammed Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first four-star general was the only Field Marshal of his country. Later on, he went on to become the second President of Pakistan after the 1958 military coup in the country. While possibility of army coup in Pakistan appears remote in the present circumstance, nothing could be said with certainty in this Asian country where corruption and chaos rule the roost, while terrorists led by the Taliban are sparing no effort to make their presence felt.

In this backdrop, people in Pakistan do not feel comfortable with the news of General Raheel Sharif’s retirement next month. In the post terrorist attack on Indian soldiers’ base camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir and consequent surgical strikes launched by Indian army on terrorists’ camps across the border, Pakistanis’ concern regarding the General Sharif’s retirement has rather become more intense. Along with this, public interest in the appointment of new army chief has also become acute and sharp.

Why Pakistan army chief’s selection generates interest?

There are reasons to it: Pakistan’s army chief is the person who dictates terms on his country’s relations with India, the US, China and Afghanistan and not the elected Prime Minister of the country. Elements of economy also remain under his control. He is looked upon as a force who can hold the nation together when it is faced with numerous challenges.

Already East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, has seceded from the country; Baloch are threatening to form an independent Balochistan; sectarian violence has become a phenomena of routine occurrence, while terrorists are fomenting violence and killing people at will. In this scenario, especially when Pakistan’s civil administration, buffeted by lackadaisical approach, is failing on all fronts, people have a ground to look towards the country’s army and its boss for succour.

In that sense, for Pakistanis, their army chief is the country’s de facto boss. As such when the incumbent’s retirement days are closing nearer and the process for the selection of the new one has started, it has aroused widespread interest in Pakistan and across the sub-continent as well.

Process of selection of new army chief

Selection of the Pakistan’s army chief is the prerogative of the country’s Prime Minister. Having learnt lessons from his past mistakes on this issue, Prime Minister Sharif does not want to reveal his cards regarding his preference for the new army boss. In 1998, General Pervez Musharraf was selected as the army chief of Pakistan out of turn; but the country later ousted the same person from office in a bloodless military coup that elevated him to the hot chair of the Pakistan army.

The incident served as a grim reminder to Sharif. It is said that the Pakistan Prime Minister is not equally comfortable with the incumbent chief. He was also appointed out of turn by the Prime Minister on November 27, 2013. But soon he started showing his dictates on all major and minor issues that otherwise should have been handled by Prime Minister Sharif. If Pakistani watchers are to be believed, Prime Minister Sharif was not happy the way the Post Pathankot incident in India was handled by the Pakistan army.

It took place soon after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impromptu visit to Lahore to greet his Pakistani counterpart Sharif. Going by what the media says, the Pathankot terror attack was the turning point in the already frosty relations between India and Pakistan, which further worsened after the Uri attack. The rift between the country’s civil administration and the army in the aftermath of India-led surgical strikes in Pakistan and its resultant diplomatic isolation has already been played out by ‘Dawn’, a prominent Pakistani daily.

Keeping this into account, Prime Minister Sharif wants to keep appointment of the new army chief close to his heart. After being recommended by the Prime Minister, it is the country’s President who then issues the proclamation regarding the appointment. The outgoing army chief also recommends a list of Generals suitable for Pakistan army chief. But this recommendation is not of any binding nature.

Who are in the race to become the next Pakistan army chief?

Three Lieutenant Generals figure high in the selection list; they are Lt Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Lt Gen Isfaq Nadeem and Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.  Lt Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat is the senior most serving General who has held the post of DG Strategic Plans Division, Chief of General Staff and has commanded the prestigious Bahawalpur Corps. It should be recalled that Pakistan’s tactical arsenals and nuclear doctrine are handled by the DG Strategic Plans Division.

Lt Gen Isfaq Nadeem Ahmad is the commanding officer of the eastern city of Multan, while Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, considered as a dark horse and someone who needs to be closely watched, is the army’s Training and Evaluation Wing’s head.

Yet, it is Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday who is considered as a front runner. Currently the Commander of XXXI Corps, Lt Gen Ramday is considered close to Prime Minister Sharif. His family has been associated with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) for many years.

Whether India factors in the selection of new army chief?

India has always been a factor in the selection of Pakistan’s army chief. However, Prime Minister Sharif, given the situation in the region, would see to it that the new army chief goes by the former’s line of thinking on relations with India. He will not select anyone who could become Gen Pervez Musharraf or Gen Raheel Sharif.

Whether America and China factor in the selection of new army chief?

Though the US factor has somehow declined in the selection of new army chief of Pakistan, yet Washington can’t be ignored completely especially when American troops are still inside Afghanistan. Rather, after India, China is the next prominent factor in the selection of the new boss of Pakistan army. Pakistan-China defence and strategic cooperation happen to be the deciding factor behind the selection. Not only that, China is a also major investor in Pakistan. In this background, the Pakistan Prime Minister will prefer to select a candidate for the top army post who could take China’s interest into account.

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