A General for Peace

Spearhead Analysis – 28.11.2013

By Sarah Eleazar
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research – Pakistan

Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif New Pakistan Chief of Army StaffThe question of who General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani would hand over the baton  of Chief of Army Staff to has been the subject of intense speculation by the media for several months now. After the COAS put to rest rumors about a second extension, the focus shifted to the top five ‘contenders’ for the post of the most powerful in one of the most important armies in the world: Lieutenant General Haroon Aslam, currently Chief of Logistics Staff; Lieutenant General Rashad Mahmud, currently serving as Chief of Staff; Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif currently serving as Inspector General of Training & Evaluation; Lieutenant General Tariq Khan is currently commanding Mangla based I strike corps; and Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam is currently Director General (DG) of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).  All five are highly rated professional soldiers.

The government on Wednesday announced that Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif will become the 15th Chief of Army Staff of the Pakistan Army. General Sharif will take over as head of the 600,000-strong army from General Kayani, who is retiring after six years at the helm. Congratulations are in order but the new COAS has a daunting array of challenges ahead of him and very big shoes to fill. He is well equipped to take on the challenges.

General Kayani’s illustrious career as COAS helped teeth Pakistan’s teetering democratic system. As the longest serving top commander to have steered clear of the political scene, Gen Kayani led two major military operations in Swat and South Waziristan. Most of his decisions on operations adroitly laid down the pre-requisite for political backing, the lack of which was one of the reasons the army did not clamp down on militant strongholds in North Waziristan. Two general elections took place during his tenure, yet he managed to keep secure the army’s interests and role in steering foreign policy and national security. General Kayani also oversaw revision and updating of the military’s operational plans and preparedness and ensured many improvements in the military system.

This is the legacy the new COAS inherits. Analysts have flanked Gen Sharif as being a gentleman and not interested in politics. General Sharif has had an outstanding career and he has considerable command experience. He is likely to strengthen the military system of which he is a product and is sure to lead his institution well in peace and war.

His family legacy- an uncle and brothers as war heroes, killed in the line of duty- has been viewed by some Indian analysts as disquieting.  The Telegraph India in fact reported that Gen Sharif was following a doctrine for a two-front war — countering-insurgency domestically and simultaneously preparing for hostilities with India.

While crying wolf before he has even taken charge of the post is ludicrous at best, defense analyst Hassan Askari believes that Gen Sharif’s military background suggests that he will not compromise on homegrown terrorism and will crack down against militant elements. In fact there is nothing wrong with countering insurgency and preparing for the worst case scenario with India. Any COAS would ensure this.

Gen Sharif’s appointment is perfectly attuned to the gradual maturing of democratic institutions in the country. The process of transferring greater powers to the civilian government began with Gen Kayani. Gen Sharif’s nomination appears to be the next logical step to strengthen democratic institutions and values.

In a move to further entrench power with the civilian government, the prime minister, also on Wednesday, appointed Khawaja Muhammad Asif as the defense minister. Asif, a fierce critic of military rule, was imprisoned during former President Musharaf’s regime. Gen Sharif has the reputation of being interactive and this augers well for civil-military relations.

The civilian government’s earlier offer of unconditional peace talks with the Taliban was shortly followed by the murder of General Niazi, a few months back. It was then that Gen Kayani announced that the talks could not be held ‘unconditionally’, a cease fire would at least have to be announced.

The civilian and military circles have for some  at times disagreed on the best modus operandi to tackle the problem of insurgency in Pakistan. It is time that they came on the same page. While National Security Policy is the government’s responsibility it can neither be formulated nor implemented without the military’s input.

With a possible thaw in US-Iran relations, the impasse in India-Pakistan relations, the elections in India and Afghanistan and the US/NATO pull out from Afghanistan the regional scene is sure to become complicated. Pakistan will need to adjust its foreign policy to suit the changing strategic environment. The  military can help with its institutional strength and it will be the new COAS guiding this effort.

General Kayani was supportive of all government policies though he never hesitated to voice his opinion. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has made peace overtures to India that have so far not been reciprocated.  This support of policies is likely to be continued by the new COAS. In fact that the military is an institution with a very well defined process of decision making and policy formulation. These policies do not necessarily change with the change in command.

Analyses and speculations will abound and the new Chief of Army Staff will have more than one role to play. The Sharifs will all have to work together to rescue Pakistan from the multifarious challenges from within and outside the state.  The new COAS like all his predecessors will work for peace and stability in Pakistan and ensure that his institution remains a powerful deterrent against threats from within and without.