The new brass on the block

by Wajahat S. Khan

The game is on. Not the brash politicking from Raiwind that promises to dismantle the Presidency. Not the unscrupulous ingenuity from the Presidency that has muzzled the MQM back into the fold. Not from the Supreme Court as it tries to throw its weight around in Karachi. And not from Kabul, or New Delhi either, where Hamid Karzai and Manmohan Singh have matured a strategic pact in half the time of a human pregnancy. No, those are all little games.

In Islamabad – correction, Rawalpindi – there is only one game in town. And it’s called the Promotion Game. Up for grabs are stars…preferably four, but three will work too. And if they’re made of brass, then the political alchemy for converting khaki cotton into the armour-plating of power becomes so much more easier.

Here’s the backgrounder: General Ashfaq Kayani is set to retire (for a second time) in November 2013. That’s when his office will be available for occupancy. But till that moment arrives, like any bureaucracy – and the army is Pakistan’s biggest, even most politicised one – the ‘grooming’ and placement of his subordinates is key for the operational efficacy as well as internal dynamism of the institution he commands.

Kayani’s latest move – the promotion of four major generals to the rank of lieutenant general – is a critical indicator of what lies next for Pakistan’s most powerful institution. Who’s going to be Spook-in-Chief (DG-ISI)? Or the guy who keeps all the brass connected (chief of General Staff)? Who’s going to be GHQ’s record-keeper (military secretary)? Or the man who will fight with (or talk to) the Taliban (commander XI Corps)? Which general shall keep the Americans out of Quetta while ensuring Baloch separatists are suppressed (commander XII Corps)? What about the chap who watches the nukes (commander Strategic Forces), or the one who keeps India busy across the LoC (commander X Corps) while keeping his ‘Coup Brigade’ (the ‘111’) oiled and ready? And let’s never, ever forget the next probable for the COAS title.

So let’s war-game what Kayani is thinking. He’s got several immediate (operational/tactical) and a larger (strategic) responsibility pending for keeping his institution loyal and intact; keep fighting Pakistan’s multiple conflicts (which alphabetically and incompletely are: Afghanistan, Balochistan, CIA, drones, economy, Fata, floods, IAEA, India, Kashmir, Karachi) but keep the army reigning supreme. Ambitious as that goal may be, Kayani will need his house to be in order.

Thus, with the latest batch of promotions, the COAS has been conservative and not broken precedent. He has overlooked all the 2-stars from the Corps of Engineers who were due for promotion, preferring to supersede them instead. This decision has worked out politically too, as the leader of the seniority list, Maj-Gen Junaid Rehmat, the DG-NLC, has been the subject of the recent flak attack by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s Public Accounts Committee. Thus, Kayani has preferred to play it safe: Supporting Arms (like the Engineers, to which Rehmat belongs), are usually given less love at the highest levels, primarily to ensure the elitism of the Fighting Arms. It’s the way the Pak Army has always worked. So, Kayani has played by the rules.

But the resumes of his choice all reflect the political complications of the intra-GHQ chess-match. Vice Chief of General Staff, Maj-Gen (now Lt-Gen.) Nasser Janjua, a former director military operations, was a wise choice. As the most senior fighting-arm representative (from the Punjab Regiment), he was hailed a tactical genius as GOC of the 17th Infantry Division, Kharian (the formation operated in Swat District from the crucial phase of November 2007 to December 2008). Janjua is a thinking soldier, and earned his spurs long before the success of his well-crafted Operation Rah-e-Haq. He’s got the seniority along with all the right postings and battle honours. Kayani promoting him was simply the ‘right thing’ to do, as it covers the meritocratic angle.

However, Janjua has not been dispatched to a new posting yet. That means a coveted office will have to be emptied to accommodate him. Lt-Gen Asif Yasin Malik, who has been leading Peshawar’s XI Corps, might be shifted to GHQ as CGS, a position that incumbent Lt-Gen Waheed Arshad is expected to rotate out of soon, probably for a Corps posting that suits his Armour background. Janjua would be natural fit in Peshawar, and him getting Malik’s office will keep the Pentagon at bay as well, for he has been documented in Washington as a trailblazer in counterinsurgency operations.

Alternatively, Janjua could get ‘groomed’ for a possible 4-star role, which would require him to be operationally familiar with both sides of the border. Thus, his trajectory could replicate that of Lt-Gen Tariq Khan, who’s been appreciated internationally as a war-hero for his work with the Frontier Corps and the 14th Infantry Division. Since his performance in Fata, Khan has been moved east and awarded the India-centric I Corps in Mangla, one of Pakistan’s two “strike” formations. Expect him to be rotated back into GHQ as a Principal Staff Officer for his own run for COAS, as him getting two Corps commands would be rare, even unprecedented. But regardless of the job-matrix, keep your radar on for Malik, Arshad, Khan and Janjua. They’re all among the finalists who could get 4-stars stitched to their shoulders.

Gallantry, however, is not the only qualifier in this game.

Barring those superseded, the newly promoted Lt-Gen Tariq Gilani has been quickly accommodated. Unlike the pending office for Janjua, Gilani’s immediate appointment is an example of Kayani’s ‘continuity’ doctrine. Also at display is the COAS’s ‘safe hands’ approach, for Gilani was stationed as the GOC of the 22nd Division in Sargodha, where he was also responsible for the 47th Artillery Brigade (an original among the few reputedly nuclear-capable formations). Thus, Gilani has been kept ‘within the system’ and placed in charge of the Army Strategic Forces Command: Yes, the nukes – at least some of the land-based delivery systems. In effect, this Gunner (he’s from the relevant Fighting Arm, Artillery) was already in the ‘asset management’ business for the army. His immediate appointment and its announcement is a signal to all: the bombs (some of them, for sure) are in safe, familiar, even academic hands.

But remember that the ASFC is not regarded as a top-tier posting. Gilani will probably not press the red button when things go ballistic, though he will have some of the coordinates to shoot his birds at. Also, his political CV is, internationally, very acceptable, for he is a graduate of US Army War College (where he extensively researched Pak-American military ties) and served as commandant of the Armed Forces War College in Islamabad.

But there is a personal angle to the appointment of Pakistan’s new nuke commander: he is a schoolmate, if not a school-chum, of Kayani himself (both are graduates of Military College Jhelum). However, in case someone shouts nepotism, the COAS can keep those charges down to a minimum, primarily because Gilani does have the credentials.

Kayani’s next two choices have institutional patronage written all over them. Both are ‘young’ major-generals, (from the second batch of 2008) compared to the other two, but both promotions have incredibly different backgrounds.

Artilleryman Lt-Gen Ijaz Chaudhry just served as DG-Rangers in Sindh, where he essentially delivered the message of the army to the civilians: without being granted adequate powers, his forces will just stay put. Just like he made his 14th Infantry Division settle back down in Okara after the hell that was Operation Zalzala, Chaudhry ably secured the operational aim of Karachi’s V Corps think-tank: keep mum, till they beg you to return.

Temporarily sidelined by the chief justice of Pakistan for the Sarfaraz Shah killing scandal, Chaudhry waited in the bullpen till his comeback was easily spun as an ‘at your service’ move when things really went south in the city by the sea. Promoting him is a message in simple soduku from the army to all and sundry: that despite a political showdown with a major branch of government, you can still get 3 stars. Just follow your damn orders.

Also interesting to note is that versus Janjua and Gilani, Chaudhry has made it so far because he carries the ‘Made-by-Kayani’ brand, as the decision for his promotion to 2-star rank was made in 2008, when the first selection board was chaired by a then newly appointment, chain-smoking COAS. To have come this far, despite the complications in Karachi, Chaudhry has probably cost Kayani a few cartons of well-filtered cigarettes. Interestingly, his promotion has not been simultaneously announced with a posting; that means Rawalpindi’s Biggest Gun is still thinking hard about placement. Expect to hear more about Chaudhry, the not-so-lone Ranger.

But the appointment of Lt-Gen Naveed Zaman, currently Chief Instructor B-Division at the National Defence University, requires particular attention. Zaman’s brother-in-law, Brigadier Moeenuddin Ahmad, was killed by assailants in October 2009, who ambushed him along with his driver and guard in Islamabad, attacking their jeep with automatic weapons in broad daylight. A probable cause was that Maj-Gen Zaman was holding a key operational position in Waziristan then, for as GOC of the historic 7th Infantry Division, he was in the midst of launching the critical Operation Rah-e-Nijat that very same month.

If that connection caused the killing, then Zaman’s service and plight didn’t go unnoticed. As an alumnus of Cadet College Hassan Abdal, he enjoys the company of a strong old-boys network in the recent and current GHQ and the JCSC Secretariat: Lt-Gen. Khalid Shameem Wynne (CJCSC), Lt-Gen Masood Aslam (former commander XI Corps), Lt-Gen Shujaat Zamir Dar (just retired POF chairman) and the man who till recently pushed all the files in the right direction, Lt-Gen Mohsin Kamal (MS and former commander X Corps); All those Abdalian connections, along with the COAS who had personally promoted him to 2-stars, helped ensure that Zaman be honoured with a safer but respectable ‘desk-job’ as commandant of the NDU.

As he is a ‘consensus candidate’, representing the fraternity of the army, the announcement of Zaman’s immediate appointment as MS indicates that future selection boards, though chaired by Kayani, will make promotions that carry the distributed weight of the round-table of Pakistan’s khaki knights. So, sizing up Pakistan’s new brass on the block, the COAS’s office politics show that he is increasingly going to make future decisions in a way outgoing generals tend to – or are forced to: as first, among equals.

The writer is a former Shorenstein Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a broadcast/online journalist. Email: wajahat

Courtesy: The News

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