Appointment of New Pakistan Army Chief begins in Pakistan

Several world powers, including India, are keenly watching the unfolding

Surinder Singh Oberoi
18 Nov 2022
Appointment of New Pakistan Army Chief begins in Pakistan

(L-R) Lt-Gen Faiz Hamid, Lt-Gen Asim Munir, Lt-Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza and Lt-Gen Azhar Abbas

New Delhi: Pakistan's government has set the process for appointing a new Pakistani army chief. According to the Pakistani newspapers, the Pakistan Army will share the nominations on Friday, November 18.

The current Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa is set to retire on November 29, 2022. In terms of its power, Pakistan's armed forces are ranked as the 9th most powerful in the world, according to Global Firepower.

Pakistan's political relationship with its army has always been of prime importance. It has become more critical as the former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has directly taken cudgels with the military. Even some quarters blamed the recent attempt to murder Imran Khan as the handiwork of the Pakistan army intelligence agency.

It is for the first time seen in Pakistan that several voices are speaking against the hegemony role of the Pakistan army and intelligence agencies suppressing the political democracy of the country. A complete disagreement exists between the ruling Pakistani government, the cadres of the Pakistani military, and political parties more so of former prime minister Imran Khan.

In the past, Pakistan Army has been accused of many wrongs. The resentment has always been under the carpet as in the current dispensation; no political party can exist without the support of the army.

Since its existence, Pakistan's political system has been such that nearly all power centres or political parties look to the army for guidance and support in times of political turmoil or crisis. Hence, the army chief plays an important role in political decisions.

Speaking to the media, Pakistan's Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said, "Consultations on the appointment of the next Army Chief will begin after November 18, and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has no 'favourite' for the position."

Speaking to journalists outside the parliament house, Asif brushed aside the speculations about a deadlock between PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and former president PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari over the next army chief.

Speaking about PTI Chief and former Prime Minister Imran Khan, Khawaja Asif said that the government was mulling over a punitive action against Imran Khan for "damaging national solidarity, security and integrity for his vested interests".

He said no one had the right to harm the country's prestige and honour.

"Imran Khan has committed a crime against the state by damaging the country's bilateral relations and national cohesion."

Also Read: Delay in new army chief's appointment creates confusion in Pakistan

The defence minister's statement comes a day after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif returned home after his extended stay in London where he was believed to have held closed-door consultations with the elder Sharif and other leaders on the appointment of a new army chief.

Challenges:

The appointment of a new army chief prompts a new set of challenges, especially amidst political instability, economic crisis and climate catastrophe.

It has become more difficult for the army to maintain its public image after an attempt on the life of Imran Khan in a public rally some two weeks ago.

As suspicion and resentment against the army were at their highest crescendo, the Pakistan army had to address the press conferences to keep their public image and announce their no role in political dispensation.

Several Pakistani political observers warn the government not to disappoint the Pakistan army's prestige and repeat some old mistakes.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a Pakistani observer and a senior advisor at Albright Stonebridge Group, said to Atlantic Council that the new Pakistan army chief would have three immediate challenges that his predecessors did not face: an image crisis, internal unhappiness, and temptation.

"The current COAS General Qamar Bajwa is said to have engineered Khan's removal—but in doing so helped unleash unprecedented invective against the military's habitual political interventions, "observed Mosharraf Zaid.

Further suggesting that the new chief has to restore the army's standing in the public discourse—in a profoundly different ecosystem than the previous new chief has had to do.

Mosharraf added, "When Beijing, Riyadh, Brussels, or Washington want something in Pakistan, they call it COAS. This was always a problem, but it's become the norm under Bajwa. To truly extract itself from what I call the Pakistani polycrisis, the new COAS will need to eschew undermining Pakistan's elected officials and diplomats."

Meanwhile, the Pakistan High court, on November 15, dismissed a petition seeking the appointment of the new Army chief on a "seniority basis". The Lahore High Court dismissed the petition by Advocate Najma Ahmed after its hearing on Wednesday. "The judge dismissed the petition observing that the petitioner is not an affected person," a court official told news agencies.

According to Article 243(3) of the Pakistani Constitution, the president appoints the Services' Chief on the prime minister's recommendation. The General Headquarters (GHQ) sends a list of the four to five senior-most lieutenant generals, along with their personnel files, to the Ministry of Defence, which then forwards them to the prime minister to pick the officer he finds best suited to the role.

For India, the appointment of the new Pakistani army chief will be equally important as the next military strategy of Pakistan, which usually controls the political decision of the country matters.

India has suffered at the hands of the Pakistan army and its wings, supporting violence and terrorism in Jammu, Kashmir, and other parts of India. India always remains politically sensitive to these prospects at the policy level in Pakistan as much needs to be dealt with by Pakistan's new army chief, especially issues along the Line of Control and the International Border.

Washington DC, Russia, Riyadh, Beijing and India are observing the unfolding in Pakistan.

Suppose Pakistan selects an all-powerful army chief; with the current economic and political situation, a repeat of what happened at the time of Musharaf as army general cannot be ruled out. Now several speculations are rift. Will Pakistan choose the most senior general as the chief, or Gen Bajwa (who doesn't want to stay) will stay or bring some favourites of the Sharief family?

Experience has shown that army chiefs have been loyal, first and foremost, to the institution of the army. Nawaz Sharief will never forget the choice he made in the past by bringing GenPervez Musharraf, who finally ended up President of Pakistan and Nawaz was exiled.

Who is likely to be considered for the top army post in Pakistan?

According to Sputnik International, here is the list of the top six generals after General Bajwa who may be considered for the highest position.

Lieutenant General Asim Munir was a close ally of General Bajwa since he commanded troops in the Force Command Northern Areas as a brigadier under the incumbent COAS, who was at the time Commander X Corps.

Lieutenant General Sahir Shamshad Mirza

Lt-Gen Mirza had an impressive career in the army, particularly in senior leadership positions as he served as director-general of military operations (DGMO) and ran crucial military operations against Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militants in North Waziristan.

Lieutenant General Azhar Abbas

At present, Lt-Gen Azhar Abbas is the Chief of General Staff (CGS), which means that he is directly running the army in both operational and intelligence directorates at GHQ. He is known to be the most experienced in Indian affairs and has commanded the 12th Infantry Division based in Murree, from where he was in charge of Azad Jammu & Kashmir.

Lieutenant General Nauman Mehmood

Lt-Gen Mehmood is currently president of the National Defence University and he belongs to the Baloch regiment. After he was promoted to a three-star general, Lt-Gen Mehmood was appointed Inspector-General of Communications & Information Technology at the GHQ in 2019.

Lieutenant General Faiz Hamid

Gen Bajwa and Lt-Gen Hamid have reportedly known each other for a long time and Gen Bajwa posted Hamid as Director-General (Counter-Intelligence) at ISI, where he was in charge of internal security and political affairs. Later on he was promoted and appointed as Director General of the ISI.

Lieutenant General Mohammad Amir

Lt-Gen Amir is at present commanding the XXX Corps in Gujranwala. Previously he had also served as Director-General Staff Duties at the COAS Secretariat, which enabled him to gain insight into the GHQ and senior command positions.

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