Who will be the next Pakistan Army Chief?

ISSSP Reflections No. 2, October 2, 2013

Author: Ms. Jayashree G


The retirement of present Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani this November after being at the helm of affairs for six years brings up the question of his likely successor.  The appointment of an Army Chief is very important given the influence that the Army has over Pakistan’s foreign and security policy as well as the pivotal role it plays in shaping Islamabad’s policy towards India. In the past, the chief of the Pakistan Army has normally been chosen from the fighting arms especially from Infantry, Armoured corps and the artillery wings of the Pakistan Army.  Though on paper it is the Pakistani Prime Minister who appoints the Army Chief, the current incumbent is believed to have an important say in the appointment of his successor given the Kayani would send a short list of three individuals for the consideration of the Prime Minister.

Though seniority does play an important role in selection of the next chief, the last time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was posed with this difficult choice he chose the Pak Army chief not purely based on seniority but also gave importance of the ‘perceived loyalty’ of the individual. As Prime Minister Sharif felt that loyalty should be given more value as the determining tool for the selection for the coveted post, he found General Musharraf more suitable. Given this backdrop, it is very difficult to predict as to who would be the next chief of the Pakistani Army but in all likelihood it would be based on a combination of seniority, merit and loyalty to the Nawaz Sharif dispensation. This article seeks to give brief profiles of the top five senior-most Lieutenant Generals one among who could be the next chief of the Pakistan Army in case Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chooses to give importance to seniority. Given that Gen. Kayani’s term ends in November 2013, the article does not profile Lt. Gens. Khalid Nawaz and Alam Khattak who are due to retire a month earlier.

Lt General Haroon AslamThe first person in terms of seniority is Lt General Haroon Aslam, joined the Azad Kashmir Regiment (Infantry Regiment) in 1975 and Special Services Group (SSG) in 1981. As General Officer Commanding (GOC) SSG in 2009, Aslam was amongst the first group of soldiers to land at the highest battle ground of Swat amidst heavy gunfire from militants. He was promoted from Brigadier to the rank of a Major General in 2005 and in 2007; he was given the important task of DG Rangers Punjab. Lt Gen Aslam is also familiar to the Indian military leader ship as he negotiated a number of agreements with his Indian counterparts for release of prisoners and on issues relating to human and drug smuggling and coordinated patrolling of the international border. As Rana Banerji (Distinguished Fellow, IPCS) points out, a fact that could prove to be a drawback for Lt. Gen. Aslam’s promotion as the next Army Chief could be the fact that he aided Gen Musharraf in the October 1999 coup during his stint in the Military Operations directorate. Lt. Gen. Aslam is believed to have led the SSG from the front in their bid to control of the Taliban strong hold of Peochar in Swat in 2009. Subsequently, he was promoted to the position of Lt General. He commanded the Bahawalpur Corps and was posted as Chief of Logistic Staff (CLS) in January 2013. If the decision to make COAS is on seniority principle, Lt General Haroon Aslam would top the list.

Lt General Rashid MehmoodLieutenant General Rashid Mehmood is the second person on the list of probables. Lt. Gen. Rashid belongs to the Baloch regiment (Infantry Regiment) which is General Kayani’s parent arm. Prior to the active phase of the war on terror, he served as deputy director-general ISI (when Gen. Kayani was ISI Chief) with the responsibility to coordinate intelligence operations. In 2001, he was part of the six member delegation which met Taliban chief Mullah Omar in Afghanistan to negotiate with him to handover Bin Laden. While serving in the United Nations he was promoted from Brigadier to the rank of two-star General in 2005. Lt General Rashid is believed to enjoy good relation with the Sharif family. This could be the result of his interaction with Nawaz Sharif’s brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in his capacity as Lahore Corps Commander. It is believed that his contiguity to the powers that be helped Rashid assume the position of Military Secretary to ousted President Tarrar – believed to be a good friend of Nawaz Sharif’s father – and also take charge as Chief of General Staff (CGS) in January 2013.

Lt General Raheel SharifLt General Raheel Sharif, younger brother of Nishan-i-Haider Major Shabbir Sharif Shaheed and he is third in the list. Soon after promotion as a Lt General in October 2010, he was entrusted to command the Gujranwala Corps (Infantry regiment) and later appointed as Inspector General Weapons, Training and Evaluation. As a two star general, he commanded the 11th division in Lahore and was later posted as Commandant Pakistan Military Academy Kakul. Reports indicate Lt. Gen. Raheel Sharif as being backed by Lt General (retired) Abdul Qadir Baloch, a close confidante of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Lt General Tariq KhanLt General Tariq Khan is a ‘Winner of Sword of Honour’ in 55 Pakistan Military Academy (PMA), and was promoted as a three star general in October 2010. An officer of Armoured Corps, he was serving as Inspector General FC Khyber Pakhtunkhwa before taking over as Mangla Corps Commander. A very professional officer, he is believed to have fought alongside young Captains and Majors to clear Loi Sam and other areas in the militant stronghold in the Pak-Afghan border. Since 2008, when 14th Division was moved under his command from Okara to fight militants in Waziristan, the military made significant gains to reclaim the territory lost to militants. Lt Gen Khan commanded the First Armoured Division in Multan in 2006-2007 where he was posted following a successful stint as Pakistan’s representative in US Central command in 2004-2005.

Lt General Tariq is the only Pakistani Army officer apart from General Kayani who has been awarded the US Legion of Merit for his outstanding performance in joint Pak-US Operation Enduring Freedom. When it comes to pure merit, operational command, battle experience and professional merit, Lt General Tariq may be considered as a strong choice by PM Nawaz Sharif. As the US and international forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, it would be beneficial to have a COAS who possesses hands-on operational field experience in formulating policies to effectively deal with the menace of militancy and the larger issues involved in Afghanistan’s transition while enjoying good relations with the U.S.

Lt General Zaheer-ul-IslamThe fifth place in the seniority list is occupied by Lt General Zaheer-ul-Islam, who belongs to a politically well-established Janjua clan of Punjab. Belonging to Punjab Regiment (Infantry regiment), he is currently the eyes and ears of the Army chief and the PM in his role as Director-General of the all powerful Pak ISI. Before being Corps Commander Karachi, Lt General Zaheer-ul-Islam had served twice in ISI and also as Chief of Staff in Army’s Strategic Forces Command. However, the reports of his organisation may play an important role in helping the PM reach the important decision of appointing the new Army Chief.

Given his previous experience, PM Nawaz Sharif would exercise extra caution while appointing a new army chief. Interestingly, the position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff currently held by Gen Khalid Shamim Wyne falls vacant on October 08, 2013. This presents the Nawaz Sharif government with an opportunity to change the normal tide of things. By appointing a senior, competent general to occupy the position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff he would in essence attempting to put in place a balance to the dominant position that the Pak Army Chief occupies. It would be interesting to see whether the new political leadership grabs the opportunity or chooses to play it safe. However, given Lt. General Rashid Mehmood’s proximity to both Gen. Kayani and the Sharif brothers, many believe that he might be well placed to replace Kayani as the next chief of the Pakistani Army.

On the other hand, there have reports about officials in the establishment raising their voice and requesting an extension of Gen. Kayani’s term for another year year, which may be a possibility. At this juncture, it is also worthwhile to note Praveen Swami’s speculation that Gen Kayani may be offered the position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after the current officer, Gen Khalid Shamim Wynne relinquishes his position on October 6, 2013.

About the Author

Ms Jayashree G is Research Assistant, in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. She can be reached at jaya1425[at]ymail.com

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