New Army Chief: Challenges and Choices

army (The article below constitutes a good analysis of the challenge  in making the right decision in selecting the next COAS. However, the same  analysis makes me reach somewhat different conclusion. General Haroon Aslam may  be appointed the next Chief of Joint Services Staff, General Rashad Mahmood the  next COAS, and General Tariq Khan promoted to four start rank and appointed the  Governor of KPK to oversee the political initiatives and operations in FATA and  KPK. + Usman Khalid+)     

The clock is ticking on the choice of selecting  the new army chief but the pendulum strikes every hour with new warnings, those  of IEDs, suicide bombers, targeted bullets and rockets. Nothing has changed on  the ground since the last All Parties Conference (APC). A GOC and Field  Commander martyred, the massacre at a mosque-like Peshawar church and plans to  break into main Adiala Jail after the Bannu and DI Khan successful jailbreaks.  The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is raising the ante in an elaborate bid to  nerve out an already brutalised nation and its leadership.

Moreover, the Taliban want all their  battle-hardened boys (some 4,750) in Pakistani jails freed and the army to lose  all ground in FATA by withdrawing every soldier from the Sacred Land as  Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). Yield all ground as CBMs and get ready for  serious stuff at the negotiating table like Islamic Shariah nizam in all of FATA  and PATA and even whole of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and parts of southern Punjab.  Karachi may be on the table as well and, in fact, the whole of Pakistan may be  an opening demand.

 The die is apparently cast and as Pakistan arrives  at the crossroads of her future, the prime minister has to make some tough,  prudent and futuristic choices. Pakistan has changed a huge lot since 1999. It  is time for daring and clear headed decisions now.

The choice of the next chief of army staff (COAS),  due any time next month. It appears that Lt. General Rashad Mahmood, the current  Chief of General Staff (CGS) is the front runner while Lt. General Tariq Khan,  Corps Commander, One Corps, Mangla, may be the dark horse based on the  challenges at hand.

Between them Lt. General Rashad a ‘safe; option that maintains the  status quo. He could also be the choice of the outgoing General Ashfaq Kayani,  who groomed him. He has served as the military secretary to President Rafiq  Tarar (friend of Mian Sharif, the late father of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) as  a Brigadier in 1999. He comes from Lahore and is a Punjabi, served as the Corps  Commander, Lahore. He currently holds the second most important post of the CGS  at GHQ. The CGS is the operational secretary of the COAS and oversees both  Military Intelligence (MI) and Military Operations (MO). He also served ISI as a  two star general.

 Lt. General Tariq Khan, on the other hand, is the  son of the Khan of Tank (a neighbouring area of Waziristan), a Pathan, a  fighting general, a morale boosting and galvanising commander for troops, some  of whom are totally not resolved to fight their Muslim brethren in the shape of  the Taliban. Reputed as an ultimate soldier, Lt. General Khan has delivered in  counter-insurgency operations as General Officer

Commanding, 14 Division in Wana (South Waziristan)  and has served as Inspector General Frontier Constabulary (IGFC) in KP until  2010. He has delivered on active service in command of combat formations  engaging the Taliban for at least six years. Being a local, he fully understands  the dynamics of the insurgency – the area, local culture and the psyche of the  ‘Taliban’. Whether fighting them out or bringing them to the table for a peace  deal, he could be a better option. He is currently heading Pakistan’s Strike  Corps at Mangla, which also gives him the added advantage of experience in  dealing with the threat from the eastern borders.

 Besides, being the recipient of the US Legion of  Merit, Lt. General Tariq Khan is best suited to deal with the Pentagon during  the critical time of US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. This  battle-hardened general can help spur a battle-fatigued army in the fight  against militancy by boosting their morale as a frontline commander. 

Lt. General Khan is reputed in the army circles as  blunt and rash, which has some truth, but he also is a man of action and knows  his enemies well. He seems to be a pragmatic choice to head a fighting army over  other choices that may have been acceptable in a peacetime transition. Being a  soldier to the core, he may assert in military strategy and operational matters  but is likely to keep away from politics. Besides, if chosen, he will leave  behind his legacy by choosing bright officers in the army’s top  hierarchy.

 Building operational consensus and bringing  everyone on one page did become obvious when Lt. General Tariq Khan took over as  the IGFC in KP. Until that point the Governor House, Headquarters 11 Corps, the  PM Secretariat, KP Police Headquarters and Headquarters FC KP were all looking  in different directions. It was Lt. General Khan who convinced the GHQ,  Headquarters 11 Corps and Governor House KP to allow the newly elected ANP  leadership to try out the option of dialogue with the Malakand Division Taliban.  He already had conveyed that the dialogue would never succeed but let the newly  elected ANP government get a moral victory and also show the real face of the  terrorists to the public, who were still in doubt about the real motives of the  Taliban. History proved that it was the best decision of the then

political leadership of KP. Then during the  conduct of military operations in Swat, Bajaur, South Waziristan, Dir, Buner ,  Mohmand, Orakzai, Kurram and Hangu district, he proved to be the binding factor  among the Governor House KP, CM House KP, Headquarters 11 Corps, Police and  Frontier Constabulary.

The Pakistan’s army has already declared the  internal security threats to be their number one challenge to security in  Pakistan. We all know that the dialogue with the Taliban can fail and decisive  military operations may have to be conducted. Thus, General Tariq Khan is  considered as the hope of success in the war on terrorism. He also enjoys the  support of the local population not only because he is a Pashtun commander; he  is considered by the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) as the main successful  general during the conduct of military operations against the  militants.

The PML-N leadership needs to learn from its  experience in superseding a Pashtun General Ali Kuli Khan and promoting Pervez  Musharraf. It can reverse the discredit by promoting Lt. General Tariq Khan to  four star rank. Beside lasting political advantage, the promotion would help  eliminate insurgency from KP, Karachi and Balochistan as General Khan can handle  the security situation of the country. The PML-N is strong in Punjab and it  needs lasting support in the other three provinces.

 General Khan is a general does not only have sound  credentials as combat commander, he is always direct and forthright in his  advice. His input in decision making on matters of security and defence of the  country would be very valuable. He would express his views and give sincere  advice to the chief executive and will try to convince him or get convinced.  

Beside dealing with militancy and handling the  security situation of the country, General Khan has the ability and the resolve  to take radical decisions to bring about changes to improve professionalism in a  leaner Army and clean up the military intelligence and ISI set up. 

Keeping the present situation in mind the best  option is to promote the general from KP/FATA, which is the centre of Taliban  activities and from where most of their activities are generated throughout the  length and breadth of the country.

Two more generals, Lt. General Haroon and Lt.  General Raheel Sharif, are also in the run. General Haroon  is the senior most and has a good record  of service. He could be a good choice as Chief of Joint Services. General Raheel  could be the next CGS. These appointments would be in line with the statement of  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not to ignore seniority in making promotions.  Suggestions might be made to the PM to appoint the CNS or the CAS as the Chief  of Joint Staff. But both have been promoted recently and would prefer to stay in  their present jobs rather than take up a relatively less hands on appointment.  

In as much as the prime minster is concerned, in  selecting the new army chief he has to keep the following in view alongside his  on the record statement on seniority and merit to be the criteria in his  judgment.

1. The new COAS must have the resolve and  professional competence to deal with internal threats from domestic militancy  and asymmetrical warfare in the short to medium term, evolving  and implementing a cohesive strategy to  push back the terrorist onslaught on the state. The Army has recognised growing  militancy in the country was posing a more serious threat to the country’s  national security. 

2. The upcoming drawdown of the US and NATO forces  from Afghanistan towards the end of 2014, would change the security situation on  the Western front in ways that are yet unpredictable. Pakistan should be able to  influence the situation which would require close co-operation with the US to  assemble a ruling coalition that is friendly to Pakistan.   

3. The main threat to Pakistan continues to be  from India. If it sees Pakistan to be weak or its leaders lacking in resolve,  the danger of another round of Indo-Pakistan War. India is also eager to  maintain a presence in Afghanistan and secure its l of C through Iran. Pakistan  needs to develop military to military links with Iran and keep under close watch  the “not so friendly” forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan also needs to evolve a  strategy to fight a limited war with India as visualised under the “Cold Start  Doctrine”. Pakistan has to be able to respond to jingoism of the Indian Press  which may exacerbate if BJP came to power after the elections in India early in  2014 and sporadic genocide of Muslims. A major terror attacks on India,  initiated by any of its several insurgencies, could also lead to war in order to  “teach Pakistan a lesson”. The inevitable threat to India’s stake in Afghanistan  and its Cold Start Doctrine to destroy targets in Pakistan in a 72 hours  surprise attacks by conventional forces continue to be the main security concern  of Pakistan. 

4. Pakistan’s long term security positioning  towards the US and the future of Pak-US military relations needs to be carefully  managed.

The army’s role in domestic politics and its  alleged ‘grip’ on matters of security and foreign affairs has now become a prop  of Indian propaganda the themes of which are adopted by paid agents in the  Pakistani press. In the name of gradually squeezing the army out of politics,  space may be created for “secular-Liberal subversion” to be carried out with  impunity. That would inevitable invite a response from its nemesis and the  “Mullah-Military Alliance” being viewed as the last ditch defence of Pakistan.  That would heighten the tensions which have given strength to internal threat of  militancy. 

It is rumoured that the outgoing COAS may be made  a full time member of the National Security Council and Lt. General Rashad  moving onto the prestigious post of the JCGS and General Tariq Khan taking the  mantle as COAS. If that happened, Pakistan’s security establishment would be  ready to deal with all the above challenges.

The Prime Minister clearly appreciates the  challenge in the light of the poor choice he made in appointing General  Musharraf as the COAS. His choice must be someone with proven leadership  qualities, a vision, professional competence and ideas to improve operational  strategy and preparedness that serves the Army and the country well for the  crucial next decade

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