The Way forward-II: Reforming Army’s Command and Control Structure, and the Electoral Process

Both military reforms and electoral reforms must be carried out very close to each other or simultaneously. But if I had to choose which one posed a greater threat to Pakistan, and hence needs to be reformed first, then without qualification, it should be the senior military leadership command and control structure.

By Haider Mehdi
Reforming Pakistan Army’s command structure will strengthen it and Pakistan. (Photo via video stream)
In part 1, I highlighted how the unaccountable, unquestioning and unbridled power of the office of the Pakistan Army COAS is the source of our political devastation.

Therefore, Pakistan desperately needs serious reform to its senior military leadership command and control structure which while maintaining its unity of command, discipline, and strength, significantly puts in place structural checks and balances to the unchecked and unaccountable supreme power of the Army Chief.

Several proposals to this effect have been developed in the past by some Army Chiefs, but none was willing to implement them, for fear of losing their absolute power.

Here are some high-level recommendations on how to address this most fundamental issue which lies at the heart of all of our current problems.

1. Creation of an empowered Chief of Defence Staff position with its HQ located in the GHQ, with all 3 service chiefs reporting to him.

2. A genuine all-service intelligence apparatus headed by a 4-star general reporting to the Prime Minister.

3. A second 4-star appointment of Army Strategic Forces Command, also reporting to the CDS.

4. A third 4-star appointment heading all Paramilitary units such as Rangers, FC, and Scouts, also reporting to the CDS.

5. All promotions, transfers, and postings from 1 star to 4 stars, including that of the three Service Chiefs to be under a committee comprising the Prime Minnister, Minister of Defence, Secretary Defence, CDS, and the incumbent 3 Service Chiefs.

6. The Army COAS should have a legitimate expectancy to become the next CDS. This position by the nature of preponderance of the Army should remain with the Army.

7. We should take inspiration from the Turkish senior military leadership Model.

In that the service tenures of all 1 to 4-star ranks are fixed.

CDS = 4 years.
Service Chiefs = 2 years.
Other 1 to 4 stars = 4 years.

There is no superseding. Either the person is promoted at the end of their tenure or retired. As simple as that. This embeds an expectancy in every officer from Brigadier to Lt. General of being potentially capable to reach the next rank.

Very unlike our system where hundreds of superseded Brigadiers and Major Generals who are superseded, yet remain in service, most of them serving out the balance of their service, demotivated, half-hearted, using their positions to feather their nests for post-retirement comforts. I don’t blame them. It’s human nature.

The system of no supersession and retirement creates a vibrant, motivated dynamism in everyone’s role with fresh minds and fresh ideas. It takes away from the Army Chief the “godlike” power over the destiny of senior military leadership in the current promotions, postings, and transfer system, which seriously affects professionalism and meritocracy and embeds a culture of ji hazoori and self-survival. And gives huge leverage to the Chief in promoting favorites and boot lickers.

Putting in place an architecture of distributing power from the hands of an individual to a group, will ensure much fewer chances of misuse and abuse.

Granted no system is perfect but anything which is an improvement on the previous one is better

There are fears expressed, mostly by my Khaki brothers, not to “tinker or mess” with the Army’s Command and Control structure as it will weaken the Army. I answer this at the end of my commentary.

The other issue raised is that our politicians are corrupt and if we give them some oversight, as I have recommended, over Army promotions, and postings transfers, then they will weaken it and convert it into the “Punjab Police”.

I agree!


Therefore, I’m of the very strong considered perspective that it’s crucial to also simultaneously reform our electoral process to filter out that class of corrupt, criminal mafia-like uber-rich politicians who have a stranglehold on constituency politics and our governance.

The electoral process has to undergo reform of a hybrid system where 50% are directly elected to their legislatures and must win by a majority vote and not the current first past the post to be truly representative of their constituencies.

The remainder 50% to be elected through a system of proportional representation (PR) based on party priority lists with seats given based on the total percentage of votes cast for a particular party.

This also requires a minimum threshold of the percentage of votes cast in the favor of a particular party to be eligible for seats under the PR system.

The PR system gives an opportunity for more competent experts to come into our legislatures and positions of power, authority, and governance, such as cabinet members and policymakers.

Otherwise, they would not stand a chance in our current legacy-based baradari, ethnic politics to come into legislatures and governance and make better laws and policies.

Again no system is perfect. But an improved one is always better.

So the big question?

Who will or should bell the two cats? Military and Electoral Reform?

in my opinion, there is no better opportunity than now, given the overwhelming public support that former Prime Minister Imran Khan is enjoying and the very likelihood that he could return with a 2/3 majority, given fair and free elections, to initiate these reforms.

These reforms are fundamental to our survival but will take years to embed and cement. As a Corporate leader and change management business consultant I can say with authority that it takes a minimum of 3 years within an organization to build serious and successful change momentum. And provided one has the full support and backing of its CEO and senior leaders.

Here we’re talking of major national reforms, with huge vested interests, serious challenges to opposing reform, and will therefore likely take a decade to cement, provided there is uninterrupted implementation.

This is where the people of Pakistan have to stand up and be counted with Imran Khan and fully support him against the forces opposing such change.

Therefore, all the more reason for Imran to come back in power with a very very strong mandate. Otherwise, given the current band of thieves, robbers, corrupt looters and plunderers, no reform is possible.

And even more serious is the very likely possibility of an Army Chief playing havoc as has happened in the past, has happened now and is likely to happen in the future.

If not checked, controlled, mitigated, and held accountable, this sword of Damocles of the Army Chief’s unbridled supreme power will always hang over the civilian executive structure. Always.

Both military reforms and electoral reforms must be carried out very close to each other or simultaneously.

But if I had to choose which one posed a greater threat to Pakistan, and hence needs to be reformed first, then without qualification, it should be the senior military leadership command and control structure.

And the reason I say this is very simple.

“Today the only disciplined, strong institution in Pakistan is its Armed Forces, and sadly, its only real source of “National Power” which is keeping our enemies at bay.”

“Every past, current, or future action by an Army Chief in intervening in governance, as we have witnessed, greatly weakens the state, its civilian institutions and much much more dangerously, puts serious strains on its discipline and its unquestioning obedience to orders and its unity of command.”

“Were these to crack or break, the consequences for Pakistan are potentially horrific and existential.”

“We cannot, must not allow that to happen.”

So the sooner we put in place checks and balances to avoid the gross misuse and abuse of the Army Chief’s unaccountable power, the terrible consequences of a breakdown in its unity of command, the better it is for our Armed forces and for Pakistan.

We may succeed in these reforms or we may not. BUT WE MUST TRY OUR BEST and give Pakistan a fighting chance!

Or as Alcoholics Anonymous describes this most aptly. “Do not expect different outcomes from the same behaviors.”

Haider Mehdi is a Geopolitical commentator/blogger on national and international affairs. Formerly a media anchor, corporate leader, management consultant, start-up entrepreneur, and military officer, he tweets @SHaiderRMehdi and blogs on


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Pakistan Week.

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