Will Sharif be third time lucky in picking COAS?


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Sep 22, 2012
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ISLAMABAD: With the Nawaz Sharif government announcing its intention to appoint the country's powerful Army chief on November 28, Pakistan's power corridors are buzzing with who will succeed General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani once his tenure as army chief ends on Friday.

As the Prime Minister mulls over the naming, government circles indicated Sharif will strike a balance between the recommendations forwarded by the military establishment and his own choice for the top military slots; also to be filled is the more ceremonial post of chairman, joint chiefs of staff committee (CJCSC), being additionally held by Gen Kayani.

Information minister Pervez Rashid said the PM will announce the names of new COAS and CJCSC simultaneously. By announcing his date of retirement, Kayani has made Sharif's job fairly easy. But some observers also believe that his indecision to name a new CJCSC stems from his indecision to name a new Army chief.

To be fair to Sharif, his cautious approach in making the two key appointments is mainly due his past experience. The last time he was in harness, in 1998, and hand-picked Pervez Musharraf to head the army, the general first plotted Kargil, derailing India-Pakistan dialogue, and then engineered a coup against Sharif, whom he then had thrown behind the bars in October 1999.

Sharif's choice in 1993, Abdul Waheed Kakar, too, ditched him within months. Following the dissolution of Nawaz-led government by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993, Kakar played a key role in sending Sharif home, along with Ishaq Khan after his government was restored by the apex court.

Barring the appointment of Ziauddin Butt in October 1999, who could not take charge due to Musharraf's coup, this would be the third time in Sharif's career that he would choose an army chief.

If Sharif sticks to his earlier statements, he would choose from the three senior-most generals: Haroon Aslam, Rashid Mahmood and Raheel Sharif.

As a commando of the special services group, Aslam was posted as chief of logistic staff last January, a position considered least important for an army chief. Aslam is due to retire in April 2014, five months after Kayani demits office. He has to his credit the operation that succeeded in regaining control of Taliban stronghold of Peochar valley in Swat in 2009.

During Musharraf's rule, Aslam played a crucial role in reaching a number of agreements with his Indian counterparts for release of prisoners and issues related to human and drug trafficking.

Next in line is Rashid Mehmood. According to PML-N insiders, Rashid has contacts with Sharif's family. During his stint as Lahore corps commander, Sharif's bother and Punjab's CM Shahbaz Sharif used to meet him frequently. His appointment as the strategically important chief of general staff in January makes him a serious contender for the top job. However, he retires five months after Kayani's term ends.

The third in seniority is Lt Gen Raheel Sharif, inspector general of training and evaluation in General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi and a close friend of Abdul Qadir Baluch, Sharif's close aide. Sharif is expected to retire in October 2014.

Lt Gen Tariq Khan, corps commander of Mangla, is yet another contender for COAS. Tariq Khan has commanded the 14th infantry division in South Waziristan and led the Frontier Corps to victory in the battle of Bajaur. He has been Pakistan's senior representative at Centcom and in 2007 received the United States Legion of Merit. Thus, Pentagon's influence in such a key appointment should not be underestimated.

Some observers are betting on ISI chief Zaheer-ul-Islam, who stepped into the shoes of Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who toed a more hawkish line towards India. Pasha's tenure saw the Mumbai attacks as also the most controversial US operation against Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda chief, in 2011.

Like Pasha, Zaheer-ul-Islam is considered a close confidant of Kayani. If Islam becomes the next chief, he would be the second military spymaster after Kayani to be elevated to the post.

As for the office of CJCSC, the defence ministry is learnt to have sent a summary to Sharif listing the top three choices: Admiral Asif Saeed Sandila, Air Chief Marshall Tahir Rafiq Butt and Lt Gen Haroon Aslam, with the latter firming up as the favourite.

Will Sharif be third time lucky in picking COAS? - The Times of India

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