Analytically, Lt. Gen. Raheel Sharif has fit the happy medium of Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif’s favourite number when it comes to choosing a COAS. Asif Nawaz Janjua and Jahangir Karamat were top of the seniority list when they were nominated to wear Pakistan’s biggest boots by Nawaz Sharif. Waheed Kakar and Pervez Musharraf were at number three, just like the current COAS-select. The outlier was Ziauddin Butt, who was both too junior (at number five) as well as from the “wrong” regiment (the Corps of Engineers, versus the traditional “fighting arms” that army chiefs are chosen from). Of course, history remembers what happened when Mian Sahib shot too far down the written order, or too wide from the unwritten regimental codes.
As for the rules, there are none: The allowance is for both art and science, or politics and protocol, to go hand in hand when it comes to selecting the chief, less the chairman. “Strictly seniority” - the basis that Pervez Rashid was unwisely touting for the last few months and will now have to defend with the number one man, Lt. Gen. Haroon Aslam, being dropped — doesn’t mean what many think it means: that the senior-most man is the only man in the running.
The “top three tradition”, as Mian Sahib knows well and has now implemented for the fourth time, also applies to the “seniority” profile as politically and administratively acceptable, especially when the top three contenders are commissioned a batch or two ahead or behind each other.
But ignoring the ranking officer, Lt. Gen. Haroon Aslam, and sending off the second in line, Lt. Gen Rashad Mahmood, to the Joint Staff Secretariat, may well be the bravest political move Nawaz Sharif has pulled with the military in his latest, third coming. He’s shown that he’s the elephant of the political world — remembering and rewarding loyalty — for the ranking man, Lt. Gen. Haroon, was “tagged for excess baggage” by Raiwind, both because of his grunt-background (an SSG commando, much like Pervez Musharraf) as well as his position in 1999 as a Director in the Military Operations Directorate, which was the formation of the army tasked with dismantling the government in that year’s fateful coup. Haroon was only a brigadier then, and one of six who were serving the powerful MO, and was probably too junior to call the shots about how the coup would unravel.
Still, Mian Sahib has sent the message loud and clear: He knows the rules, he remembers the coup, and even a war-hero commando who ranks above all others should know that politics is essentially a lesson in history resonating, not the other way around.
As for slotting the taciturn Kayani confidante, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Rashad Mahmood into the ceremonially supreme but so far operationally ineffective office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff Committee, Mian Sahib has sent out another alert: He wants the rules followed: The CJCSC is meant to be the top-most position in the inter-services military combine, but that’s only on paper. In reality, the CJCSC cuts a lot of ribbons and cakes while most of the 600,000 well-armed boots report to the COAS, instead.
With the ranking senior dispatched for historic/political reasons, changing the number two Rashad’s address from GHQ but to JSHQ indicates that Nawaz Sharif wants the de jure theory to become de facto rule, especially since Rashad had been groomed for the top slot by Kayani, both as an operational and intelligence officer.
Thus, Mian Sahib pulled a Mian Sahib. He liked what Kayani had done with Rashad for the top job, but with a twist: He changed what the definition of the top job is supposed to be and for now, it is what it’s supposed to be, constitutionally: The groomed and senior man is CJCSC, and the next best — and next senior — man is COAS. Nawaz didn’t remove politics from this decision, either. Tapping the groomed man for CJCSC was muted by nullifying the Navy’s very relevant claim to the CJCSC mantle; in effect, Mian Sahib did his own thing, but he also did do the army a favour: that’s a politically simultaneous magic trick. And Mian Sahib has pulled it off.
Thus, Nawaz took with one hand, and he gave with the other. One office, the COAS’ stands diluted by his ruling, because the other office, the CJCSC’s, stands empowered by the rules. Both choices are not entirely untidy fits. But in effect, the most powerful man in the country, for now, doesn’t wear four stars. Rather he is reaffirmed as Nawaz Sharif himself. Haroon got politics; Rashad got the rules; Raheel got the prize. And Mian Sahib got to be King Maker.
As for profiling the challenges the new COAS, Lt. General Sharif will be inheriting the world’s sixth largest army and the planet’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal, as well as seething tensions with old arch-rival India and spiralling militant, sectarian and separatist insurgencies that operate across the country, in fact, the region, from Pakistan’s unruly western provinces. Sharif will also try to meet Washington’s demand that next year’s Afghan elections are not threatened by insurgents based in Afghanistan, the reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban is put back on track, and that US and western coalition forces withdraw safely through the Nato supply routes that will be using Pakistan’s roads and ports towards the drawdown from Afghanistan in 2014.
While Kayani only partially dispensed the army from the reputational baggage of being the “state within the state” by allowing not one but two relatively transparent elections under his watch, due to his institution’s omnipresent control of the intelligence and security realms in the country, the “interventionism” label follows the army around, and will continue to do so till further, democratic ground is ceded by the likes of Raheel and Rashad.
Hailing from one of the more prestigious, British-era units of the army, the 6 Frontier Force Regiment, and currently the Inspector General of Training & Evaluation, essentially the army’s chief instructor — Lt. Gen Raheel Sharif, is now destined to be the 15th Army chief. Previous, he was the Commander of Gujranwala’s XXX Corps in central Punjab, an India-centric formation; He was also the Commandant of the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, located near the site of Operation Neptune Spear, the Navy SEAL Team 6 covert Special Forces operation in Abbottabad that saw Osama bin Laden being killed; critically, he was the General Officer Commanding of the 11 Infantry Division in Lahore, a politically sensitive posting in Pakistan’s ‘political nerve center.’
However, compared to the two more senior generals that he’s beaten in the race to Pakistan’s most powerful military office, Lt. General Haroon Aslam and Lt. General Rashad Mahmood, Sharif has had little operational, field or intelligence experience as a senior formation commander or staff officer on the morphing and challenging western front, where Pakistan faces a violent Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (or the Pakistani Taliban) and is often criticised for not stopping the cross-border movement of other violent outfits, like the Haqqani Network, which target US and Afghan forces from their haven in Pakistan’s tribal badlands.
Still, Sharif — no relation to Nawaz Sharif, despite of what social media blares — has been Chief of Staff (COS) of the critical Quetta Corps — situated in the western Pakistani city known to house the infamous Quetta “Shura”, or Council, of the Afghan Taliban, as well as the India-focused Gujranwala Corps. For context, the COS position would have made Sharif one of the most important brigadiers in Pakistan’s corps command structure, where he would have uniquely been the right-hand man of not one but two fielded corps commanders in the ‘90s, far from the politics of Islamabad and Rawalpindi when Nawaz Sharif was playing his first and second innings with the army.
More recently, Lt. Gen Sharif has been a key element in Gen. Kayani’s recent military policy adjustments; helping the army develop new doctrines for counterinsurgency/counterterrorism (COIN/CT) operations that Pakistan has been forced to focus on since its engagements with militants on its western territories. That new shift saw him oversee a program where the army’s front line and backbone infantry troops have essentially been re-trained, both in the field and in training schools, evolving the army from its conventional India-centric role to a more diversified CT/COIN capacity.
Under Sharif, every unit now undergoes “Pre-Induction Training” (PIT), much like US troops do, before being deployed in culturally sensitive and violent western forward locations. Sharif has also rejuvenated the army’s “feeder” institutions through enhancing and even rebuilding the chain of military colleges that run throughout the country, from Murree to Sui. As a colleague who asked not to be named told The News, “he’s an old boy, from a family of old boys, who’s been making sure new boys become good old boys.”
On Pakistan’s critical — and nuclearised — eastern front with India, Lt. Gen Sharif has overseen the testing and operational “beef up phase” of the army’s new, India-focused “Azm-e-Nau”, or “New Resolve”, strategy. New Delhi’s “Cold Start” doctrine, which had increased tensions in Rawalpindi in recent years by creating a “space for war” that was designed not to cross Pakistan’s nuclear threshold, has been, according to insiders, countered by Lt. Gen. Sharif’s Training & Evaluation Directorate.
One senior officer told The News that Sharif’s design modules, which were imagined by Kayani, would make it “cost-prohibitive” for the conventionally superior India to go to war with Pakistan. Another officer evaluated that Sharif’s doctrinal restructuring will help ensure that, at worst, “both countries will fight a short, limited war, more a dog fight than an epic battle that will end the world.”
The bottom-line, however, is that Sharif is probably the best man for the job if the army’s restructuring, retraining and reforming measures that Kayani initiated need formalised closure, which they do, and more. After all, he was essentially the army’s chief drill instructor for the past couple of years. But with no background in intelligence, and only a trainer’s perspective of the western front — he will have to defer to the likes of Rashad — the crucial reformer of the ISI’s Counter Terrorism Wing in Kayani’s Aabpara days — who will be outranking him formally, as well as informally, to tackle Pakistan’s new and existential threat of terrorism. That’s Mian Sahib’s big “pincer move”: spreading two diversified portfolios and skill-sets across two offices that build up the institution, not the men who run them. Rashad will do the big picture stuff. Raheel will do the on-the-ground delivery.
Off paper, Lt. Gen Sharif enjoys close connections with former chiefs & top brass as well as Pakistan’s incumbent Lahore political elite, where he hails from. He’s from one of the older, more prestigious regiments; and he is considered a protégé of Gen. Waheed Kakar, seen publicly with the former army chief who was the designer of the military’s famous pro-democracy “Kakar Formula” that allowed the internecine democratic conflict in the 1990s between then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and then President Ghulam Ishaque Khan to be settled via resignations, not a coup. That’s yet another reason for Nawaz Sharif not to entirely dislike Raheel Sharif.
Finally, COAS-select Lt. Raheel Sharif also has the rare & coveted legacy angle covered in an institution where it matters more than others. As the brother of Shabbir Sharif, the recipient of the Nishan-e-Haider, Pakistan’s highest military medal for valour, he’s also the cousin of Nishan-e-Haider Maj Aziz Bhatti. Family legacies tend to go a long way in the army, more than most other institutions in Pakistan, and Sharif’s appointment is being speculated to shore up the old-school, traditionalist rank and file of the army. However, if it is an indication, his profile was “still being written” when the news broke on Wednesday, while those of a couple of the other chaps was already edited. That could mean that GHQ, for once, was surprised by Raiwind, and not the other way around. For a big army, that’s big news.