Wednesday May 29, 2024

Pakistan, India often ignored seniority in appointing army chiefs

By Sabir Shah
November 16, 2022

LAHORE: When it comes to the appointment of army chiefs, the principle of seniority has not seemingly been binding upon the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India, research shows.

However, many critics on either side of the border have viewed these “out-of-turn” promotions were based on “dependability” rather than merit. Controversies did arise in some cases, but appointing authorities remain unmoved.

Of the 16 Pakistan army bosses, including six Commanders-in-Chief and 10 Chiefs of Army Staff till date, hardly five were serving as the senior-most four-star generals at the time of their elevation to the most powerful slot, meaning thereby that the much-trumpeted seniority principle was invoked in only 31 per cent cases.

The Generals, who were senior-most at the time of their appointment as Pakistani army chiefs include Tikka Khan, Aslam Beg, Jehangir Karamat, Asif Nawaz Janjua and Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani. In other words, these above-mentioned generals did not supersede any officer. In General Kiyani’s case, his promotion papers for the appointment to the four-star rank was approved in October 2007 by the-then President, Gen Musharraf. And on November 28, 2007, Kayani succeeded Musharraf as chief of Army staff after the latter’s retirement. Numerous global newspapers and magazines like the “Newsweek,” the “New York Times,” the “Washington Post,” the “Los Angeles Times” and the “Wall Street Journal” etc have all written a lot about General Kayani’s promotion as Army Chief. When General Ayub Khan became the Army chief, he was the fourth in seniority list. He was junior to Major General Iftikhar Khan, Major General Ishfakul Majid, Major General Akbar Khan and Major General N.A.M. Raza.

Initially, it was General Iftikhar Khan who was promoted to four-star rank and appointed as first native C-in-C of the Army staff, but he died in an airplane crash en route to United Kingdom. General Muhammad Musa was fourth on the list. The promotion of General Musa saw suppression of seniors, namely Major General Sher Ali Khan Pataudi and Major General Latif Khan and Major General Adam Khan.

General Musa’s military service is unique due to the fact that he had received two extensions as Commander-in-Chief from 1958 to 1966.

General Yahya Khan was the third most senior general when he was made the army chief.

At the time of his promotion, General Yahya had superseded two of his seniors, Lt Gen Altaf Qadir and Lt Gen Bakhtiar Rana.

Pakistan Army’s sixth Commander-in-Chief was Lt Gen Gul Hassan Khan, had superseded his senior, Lt Gen Tikka Khan.

Actually, he was the last Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army. Those who succeeded him were called Chiefs of Army Staff.

Gul Hassan had the shortest tenure as Commander-in-Chief and was deposed by the then President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after the Hamoodur Rahman Commission had recommended his ouster. Inclusive of his tenure as Acting Commander-in-Chief, Gul Hassan had served on this post for just 2 months and 11 days.

In a trial led by JAG Branch of Pakistan Army, Lt Gen Gul was immediately retired from the Army and further relieved from any benefits given to the retired officers.

General Ziaul Haq, who also remains Pakistan’s longest-serving head of state with a rule spread over 11 years, was also promoted ahead of senior Lieutenant Generals, Akbar Khan, Aftab Ahmed Khan, Azmat Baksh Awan, Agha Ibrahim Akram, Abdul Majeed Malik and Ghulam Jilani Khan. The then premier, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had gone for the most junior of the lot though.

Gen Zia had thus superseded six senior lieutenant-generals. The senior most senior at that time, Lt Gen Shariff was promoted as a General and made the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Gen Aslam Beg had headed the armed forces as a result of his predecessor General Ziaul Haq’s plane crash in 1988. He was the senior-most officer in uniform at that time.

Similarly, after Gen Beg’s retirement in 1991, there were four senior army generals who were in the race for promotion to four-star appointment. These included Asif Nawaz Janjua, Shamim Alam, Zulfikar Naz and Hameed Gul. Gen Shamim Alam was named as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

General Waheed Kakar had superseded Generals Rehm Dil Bhatti, Mohammad Ashraf, Farrakh Khan and Arif Bangash. Among these generals, the last two had opted to stay in the army.

After taking over as army chief, Gen Kakar had forced President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Premier Nawaz Sharif to tender their resignations at the height of the 1993 Constitutional crisis.

The four senior generals in the race to replace General Waheed Kakar as the army chief were Jehangir Karamat, Nasir Akhtar, Muhammad Tariq and Javed Ashraf Qazi. Gen Jehangir Karamat being the most senior did not supersede any at the time of his promotion. He had relinquished charge over a disagreement with the civilian authorities.

General Pervez Musharraf was the third most senior officer when he was made the Army chief. Nawaz Sharif had preferred him over Lt Gen Ali Quli Khan and Lt Gen Khalid Nawaz Khan. He had also served as country’s 10th President from June 2001 to August 2008.

In November 2013, the-then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had appointed third senior-most Lt Gen, Raheel Sharif, as new army chief, dropping the senior-most Lieutenant General Haroon. Lt Gen, Rashad Mehmood, was posted as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

The sitting army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, was fourth on the seniority list, when he was promoted. He had superseded Lt Gen Syed Wajid Hussain, Lt Gen Najibullah Khan, Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem and Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday.

In neighbouring India, much like Pakistan, the seniority factor has also been overlooked on a few times in appointment of Army chiefs.

In December 2016, according to “The Hindustan Times,” when new Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, had taken over, the superseded Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi had opted to go on leave. Another senior general overlooked for top slot was Lt Gen Hariz.

By appointing General Rawat, Premier Narendra Modi-led BJP government had abandoned a three-decade-old tradition of elevating senior-most officers as military chiefs.

In its December 18, 2016 edition, the “Hindustan Times” had cited a few more precedents by revisiting the past: “In early 1980s, Lt General SK Sinha was overlooked in the appointment of General Vaidya as the Army chief. The names of news chiefs are conventionally announced 2-3 months before an incumbent retires. But this time the next appointments have come barely a fortnight before the incumbents retire. The Modi regime, however, had stuck to the practice in elevating vice chief Air Marshal BS Dhanoa – a Kargil war veteran – as the next head of the Indian Air Force.” The “Times of India” had stated: “In a move that evoked criticism for junking the long-enshrined seniority principle in appointing service chiefs, the government appointed Lt General Bipin Rawat as the new Army Chief.”

A peek into Indian military history shows that in 1983, the Indira Gandhi government had come under attack from media and her political foes for appointing Lt. General Arunkumar Vaidya as Army Chief, instead of elevating the senior-most Lt General Srinivas Sinha.

The “India Today” had opined: “It caused a flutter, especially when General Sinha chose to resign rather than serve under his junior. Interestingly, the seniority principle was followed for three other crucial appointments announced with that of General Rawat - IB chief Rajiv Jain, RAW chief Anil Dhasmana and the new IAF chief Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa.”

On December 24, 2016, “The Wire,” a widely-followed Indian nonprofit news and opinion website had maintained: “Before 1983, two army chiefs – including the celebrated General Thimayya – were appointed without giving regard to seniority. Even in other cases, seniority never served as a guarantee for promotion. However, with the infamous case of General Vaidya superseding General Sinha in 1983, things changed. In independent India, when the government sought to appoint the first Indian army chief, the senior-most officer Lt Gen Cariappa was not the only contender for the post. Similarly, General Thimayya, who was popular within the army and close to Jawaharlal Nehru, was long seen as the possible army chief, despite him being relatively junior to other officers.”

The news website had more to say: “In 1957, his appointment came through, superseding two other officers, without raising much controversy. Ironically, his clashes with the then Defence Minister, Krishna Menon, are now often invoked by the proponents of the seniority principle. In fact, General Thimayya himself supported his protégé Lt General Thorat succeeding him, who was junior to General Thapar, the soldier chosen by the government to lead the country’s armed forces.”

Research reveals when General Sam Manekshaw became the new army chief in 1969, many questioned the decision, even though he (Maneshaw) was the senior-most officer, because his chief contender Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh was considered to be more qualified at the time. And in 1975, General Raina was appointed the Indian Army chief, superseding Lt Gen Rawlley. Recently, India has set a unique example by re-commissioning former commander of the eastern command Lt Gen Anil Chauhan, who retired on May 31, 2021. He was promoted as general after being re-commissioned, and appointed as chief of defence staff (CDS) — the highest defence office, after CDS Gen Bipin Rawat’s death in air crash on December 8, 2021. In appointment of the CDS, the Indian government did not appoint Rawat’s successor at once, and appointed Chauhan to this highest office on September 30 this year, ignoring the most senior serving four-star officers.