Pakistan: A Defining Moment

General Raheel Sharif visiting a victim of terrorist attack on Bacha Khan University in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province on January 20. (Photo via Inter Services Press Relations)
General Raheel Sharif visiting a victim of terrorist attack on Bacha Khan University in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province on January 20. (Photo via Inter Services Press Relations)

Trying to justify his many self-granted “extensions”, Musharraf did Raheel Shareef (and the Army) no favor putting him on the spot by campaigning in the media recently for his “extension”. Surprising that the architect of the infamous NRO that legitimized corruption, and gifted Asif Zardari to Pakistan as President and Supreme Commander, did not realize that this inadvertently reinforced the machinations of the vested and the motivated hellbent in starting a controversy disparaging Raheel Sharif and the Pakistan Armed Forces.

Saying “I don’t believe in extension and will retire on the due date,” Gen Raheel Shareef effectively quashed the motivated speculation 10 months before the govt would opt whether or not to give him an extension, i.e. if he would accept it. Reassuring the country that the army was a strong institution, the COAS said his departure would not affect the fight “to root out terrorism which will continue with full vigour and resolve. Pakistan’s national interest is supreme and will be safeguarded at all costs.”  The COAS in essence confirmed that nobody is indispensable, new people should be given a chance on merit at the correct time.

To quote my article “On Extensions and Expectations” of July 22, 2010, General Waheed Kakar’s ensuring of comparatively free and fair elections in 1993 that saw Ms Bhutto triumphant, echoing the sentiments of a broad mass of politicians and citizens alike, a grateful Ms Bhutto had beseeched General Kakar (in 1996) to take an extension as COAS. To his undying credit he set a tremendous precedent, demurring he said, “Prime among the many reasons for my saying ‘no’ is that it sets off a chain reaction that blocks promotions in the army. However, loyal and sincere the senior military hierarchy may be, potential aspirants will feel deprived of their turn at attaining the top slot for which rightfully they have had ambitions (and worked for) throughout their career,” unquote.

Freed from the temptation of an “extension” being dangled before him, Raheel Sharif can finish what he has started during the remaining part of his tenure. One will be wrong about the reading of his character if he does not go after the sanctuaries of terrorists and their sympathizers in the Punjab, not to forget the long overdue accountability of the corrupt in Sindh supporting terrorism indirectly by creating conditions for their continued despotic rule  as well as instigating and/or being accessories to target killing.  Self-accountability by cleansing the army of the few “untouchables” could also be a Raheel priority, without targetting the residual Kayani and Zarrar Azim clones (serving or retired), the Army will never have the credibility to sustain their campaign to give the country a wholesome future.

Operation Zarb-i-Azab clearing North Waziristan of militants, successfully restoring peace in Karachi and in Balochistan notwithstanding, everyone and his uncle thought Raheel Sharif would take over when the ruling party became increasingly unpopular during Imran Khan’s “Dharna”, his sagacity and professional approach restrained him for resorting to means other than Constitutional.   Symbolising the Army’s strong influence over the government’s foreign and national security policies, the COAS is mentoring the reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan govt, while being deeply involved in the mediation initiative for defusing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Incidentally those celebrating his departure into the sunset in November should think again, those likely to succeed him may not be that patient or gentlemanly.

There is a viable solution for assuaging the prevailing deep public apprehension at Raheel’s impending retirement in November. Our military planners have shown temerity (or dangerous complacency) in not changing the JCSC structure from its present toothless-tiger form and making it effective.  Particularly since we have gone nuclear, today’s warfare has to be an all-service combined affair.  Without a single authority’s operational and administrative ability to wield power over all the Services, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) created in 1975 for the purpose is a hypocrisy that exposes the bankrupt mind block of our political and military planners loath to disturb routine.

To quote my paper on “Fighting 21st Century Wars”, “what we desperately need is the integration of the Armed Services. Having very little geographical depth for large-scale manoeuvres, any war with India, a life-and-death struggle with an implacable foe, will be fast and furious for a limited period. While it will be influenced by the air and the sea, it will finally be won or lost on the ground.  Technically the senior-most service officer in an integrated Armed Forces, the creation of an all-powerful Chairman JCSC was meant to exercise overall control over the defence services”, unquote.  Our nuclear forces i.e. Special Plans Division (SPD), etc and Cyberwarfare must be grouped together as “Strategic Forces” as a separate Service. Standardizing both men and material all para-military forces must be centralized under one authority constituting a “Homeland Security Command” (HMS). The Chairman JCSC must be a five star general while the Commander Strategic Forces (and the Deputy Chairman JCSC) should be four star generals (or equivalent) rotated between the Navy and Air Force.

The JCSC must formulate overall war plans incorporating the combined fighting potential of all the services including the nuclear forces, and coordinate the mechanism for implementing the war plans. Constructive reforms should include (1) the JCSC to physically move to GHQ and coordinate the HQs for all three services including the “Army HQ” (2) the JCSC Chairman to preside over the senior promotions, from one star to three stars in all the Services, with all postings above two star only with the approval from GHQ (3) all military procurement to be standardized under GHQ aegis and (4) the ISI and the ISPR reporting to GHQ etc.

The choice of the man to head this new UNIFIED COMMAND becomes important in the supreme national interest. With merit-based appointments we need as mature and tested professional soldier having the necessary credibility and stature. Other than experience he should have both the moral and legal authority to effect the changes in JCSC needed to make it an unified command.

Notwithstanding his not wanting an extension, the nation wants Raheel Shareef to stay. There is a difference between an “extension” and a “promotion”. With dogged single-minded adherence to the “selection and maintenance of aim”, Raheel Sharif is best suited to make this vitally necessary transition to an unified command.  The “win-win” situation for Pakistan is for him to be promoted to Chairman JCSC and make this institution what it is meant to be, effective both in war and peace!


Ikram Sehgal is a security and defense analyst

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