ISLAMABAD: Three active options are on the table for appointment of the next Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJSC) with one of them specifying elevation of Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani as the CJSC head.
As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flies back home from New York on Monday, he would take the far-reaching decision that carries an extra weight and bearing on Pakistan, which has mostly been directly ruled by the military or where the army has been an indirect dominant player behind-the-scenes, informed circles, which have access to this kind of decision-making process, told The News.
This would be the most crucial decision Nawaz Sharif would take since assuming office of the prime minister slightly less than four months ago. There is no wide circle of high level consultations for these appointments, and just a few ministers, who are known to be very close to Nawaz Sharif, are in the loop.
The incumbent CJSC Chairman, Khalid Shamim Wyne, retires on October 8, which clearly signifies that the prime minister has to take the decision in the first week of the next month. He is the sole authority to make such appointments after the 18th Amendment.
In case, these circles said, Kayani was elevated as the CJSC chairman keeping in view “the need for continuity and consistency” about policies towards the anti-terror war, the US, Afghanistan, India etc., the most senior general would be named as the next army chief.
Thus, Kayani will get another three years in a relatively important post than that of the army chief, an office he held for two consecutive terms for six years at a stretch.
These quarters, which did not want to be identified, said the second option is to select Pakistan Navy chief Admiral Asif Sandhila as the CJSC chief. “This will also ensure ‘continuity and consistency of policies’ because the admiral has been in the midst of main decision making process for the past one year after he assumed his present office on October 7, 2011.”
If this option is preferred, the berth of the CJSC chief would go to the navy after a long time. The slot has largely been held by army generals. However, Kayani would then stand retired.
These circles said the third option is to bring in a totally new team at the top in the CJSC and the military from the army. This means that the most senior general would be nominated as the CJSC chairman and the next officer in order of seniority will be made the army chief.
Both these positions would thus go to the military once again. According to these quarters, if past is any guide, the new team would take more than six months to understand the dynamics of its all-embracing job in the army and CJSC.
Three days ago, Gen Kayani had a meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, one of the decision makers in the present dispensation, and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and discussed different vital issues. This sparked speculation about the topmost appointments.
However, knowledgeable circles discounted such guesswork and said there has been very intense frequent interaction of the army chief with the top government leaders on different important matters, which was not made public.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court Saturday formed a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and comprising Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and Justice Gulzar Ahmed to hear a petition, filed by Shahid Orakzai, for nomination of the most suitable general as the army chief under the law rather than the appointment of the senior most officer.
The timing of opening proceedings on the petition seems important. According to its sponsor, the plea was submitted to the court immediately after the May general elections and after Nawaz Sharif, before having been elected as prime minister, declared that the senior most general should become the COAS.