Pakistan army Chief General Raheel Sharif is scheduled to retire on November 29, and speculation has been rife about his successor for months. There were posters and public calls demanding an extension for him, which continued despite his unprecedented announcement in January to hang up his uniform on the designated date. It was followed by speculation that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would announce the new Army Chief a few months in advance to make Gen Sharif a lame-duck Chief. Pakistan’s Defence Minister, Khawaja Asif, asserted last week that no decision had been taken on Gen Sharif’s successor, and no consultations had been initiated. But senior Pakistani journalist Gharidah Farooqui, a defence and security expert, believes the Prime Minister may have already made his decision.
Watch What Else is Making News
“Sources close to the civilian Sharif are saying the PM has already decided the name in consultation with his younger brother and Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and his close aide Home Minister Chaudhary Nisar. These men are his only advisers when it comes to matters regarding the military,” she says.
In a country that has been ruled by the Army for more than half its life, the buzz around the announcement is understandable. In any case, with the experience of having chosen five Chiefs as Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif is more suited than anyone else to take the call.
Besides the Army Chief, PM Sharif has to pick another top general for the Pakistan military on the same day. The post of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) also falls vacant on November 29. Theoretically, the CJCSC is the seniormost four-star officer of the Pakistani military. The post is ceremonial — but the incumbent has a say in the deployment and use of nuclear weapons. The Army thus wants to keep the post with itself, and it is not expected that a general who is significantly junior to the Army Chief will be posted as the CJCSC.
The selection process, in theory, is straightforward. “By law, it is the sole prerogative of the Prime Minister to select and appoint the Chief of Army Staff. Since the post of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee is falling vacant on the same day, the Prime Minister would have asked the General Headquarters via the Defence Ministry to submit personal dossiers of the top six Lieutenant Generals. The PM can hold consultations with, and accept or reject, the recommendations of the Defence Minister or the sitting Chief,” Farooqui says.
The decision is already rather late. Says senior journalist Khurram Husain: “The decision to name a successor has been delayed long enough. It ought to have been made at least a month ago. The delay is the biggest indication of the politics over the question. The sooner this cloud of uncertainty passes, the better it will be in terms of signalling continuity and orderly transfers of power at the highest levels of the state.”
Choices made earlier by PM Sharif have not been constrained by considerations of seniority. But he went spectacularly wrong in one case — Gen Pervez Musharraf overthrew Sharif in a military coup in 1999. The Prime Minister is likely to go by his personal interactions with the candidate, and by the officer’s reputation.
“PM Sharif is known to look for ‘our man’ or ‘own man’. Given the pivotal and critical circumstances, both inside and outside Pakistan, the relationship with India and China, building and improving the relationship with the Donald Trump administration as it takes charge in January, development and security of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the Karachi operation, the security situation in Balochistan, and the threats from the political opposition to topple the government are some of the key points that he will take into consideration,” Farooqui says.
The PM will have to make his choice from among the six seniormost Lt Generals. Lt Gen Maqsood Ahmed is on extension and is unlikely to be considered. Lt Gen Zubair Hayat is Chief of General Staff, an important post in GHQ — 9 of the 14 previous chiefs have served as CGS. But Hayat has also served in the Nuclear Command Authority, which makes him ideally suited for the post of CJCSC.
2 Corps Commander Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed too has served as CGS, and has had what is called a textbook career. Lt Gen Ahmed is seen as a favourite of Gen Raheel Sharif because he served as the CGS under the Chief. But his straight-talking nature and perceived closeness to Gen Sharif could be a disadvantage.
In Pakistani political circles, 31 Corps Commander Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday is often seen as a favourite because of his family’s political background. But that could turn out to be double-edged sword — and act as a disqualification.
Close watchers of the Pakistani military are paying great attention to Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, currently serving as Inspector General of Training and Evaluation in GHQ. It is not a high profile post, but it was the position Gen Raheel Sharif held when he was picked to become the Chief. Lt Gen Bajwa’s elevation would be of extra interest to India, as he has commanded the 10 Corps, responsible for the area along the Line of Control.
For India, though, the choice would not matter beyond a point because whoever is selected is likely to lose his individuality in the institutional framework of the Pakistan Army. “It matters little to India. It matters to Nawaz Sharif more. If he stays there, India can deal with Nawaz Sharif,” says retired official Anand Arni, the longest serving Indian intelligence official to deal with Pakistan.