Major Military Changes in Pakistan
Returning from a long overseas visit, Pakistan’s military ruler announced a flurry of high level military changes. Now the top military positions are occupied by officers much more junior to General Musharaf himself. In that sense, the changes ought to give General Musharaf more confidence in his control of the armed forces.
Pakistan’s armed forces have traditionally been highly disciplined. Even the u-turns in foreign policy have not impacted upon the iron discipline of the armed forces. Although much was made of the involvement of a few junior officers in assassination attempts on the military and political leadership of the country since it joined the war against terror, the reality was that the armed forces remained loyal to their chief and disciplined to their institution.
With the changes, all serving three star generals above the rank of Brigadier owe their rank and position to General Musharaf. Interestingly, those with political duties, such as Generals Akram, Hafeez and Ehtishaam, were largely left out of the promotions ladder. Whether this was done inadvertenly or deliberately, it follows a pattern that some new democracies adopted during transitional periods.
The first impact on the high level army changes will be on the issue of Pakistan’s transition to civilian rule.
Presently General Musharaf holds both the positions of Chief of Army Staff as well as the powerful Presidency. If the changes give General Musharaf a greater sense of confidence, he is more likely to facilitate civilian rule by taking off his uniform in the coming months. Alternatively he might feel overconfident and decide to keep the uniform dispensing with public sentiments.
Facilitating civilian rule by bifurcating the positions of President and Army chief was a pledge Musharaf made a year back. In an agreement with a grouping of religious parties , he accepted their nominee as Parliamentary Leader of Opposition, allow ed their government to continue in the Frontier province and accepted their clerical qualifications to enter Parliament. The six member alliance of religious=political parties in turn supported the constitutional changes Musharaf demanded. These changes created a dictatorial President armed with enormous powers over the executive, the judiciary and the armed forces. It also brought National Security issues directly under the President making him the effective strategic commander in the field.
However, a few months back, Mr. Musharaf ignited a debate regarding his constitutional pledge to shed his military uniform. Citing the war against terror, he claimed he needed the military uniform to succeed in his efforts . Recently there have been some drib drab arrests of Al Qaeda militants in regular sequential order to keep the outside world placated. However, the guessing game of whether the General will hand over the prize of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda Osama Bin Laden before the U.S. Presidential elections continues.
Nonetheless, questions were asked as to whether General Musharaf needed to continue wearing the hat of army chief to successfully eliminate militancy and terrorism in the country. These questions were asked in the context of the enormous presidential powers that make the military subservient to the powers of the Presidency.
Senior retired military Generals with close links to General Musharaf as well as to the military have predicted that General Musharaf will indeed separate the offices of the Presidency and the army chief by the end of this December.
If this prediction is correct, it means that a new round of military changes will take place come December. Pakistan could end up with an officer class that is distinct from the ones closely associated with the first Afghan Jihad. That Afghan war, while noble in resisting the Soviet occupation, witnessed the rise of the most extreme Afghan Arab groups that went on to form Al Qaeda and Taliban. It was a rise with which Pakistani military officers, under orders from military dictator General Zia, were associated.
Already some changes are visibly discernable that can go on to have long term effects. For example, to keep its grip on power, the establishment created an intelligence corp. in 1990. This corp. ensured that the same group of officers climbed up the promotion ladder. As the same group of men went from junior to senior, they carried with them similar ideological leanings, friendships, hostilities and networking with a group of politicians, civil servants, businessmen and bankers. The promotions more or less went with a major general heading the military intelligence before going on to head the inter services intelligence.
That mould has now been broken. Following the two assassination attempts against him last December, General Musharaf removed the head of military intelligence and appointed his Military Secretary as the new head. This October, as he promoted the head of the powerful ISI to the post of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Musharaf brought in tenth corp. commander General Kiani as the new head of ISI.
The tenth corp. is extremely important. It is the corp that strikes when a coup takes place. General Kiani was replaced with General Satti as the new Corp Commander. Both these officers are from the Punjab–a further break to the mould. There was a perception earlier, whether true or false, that Musharaf who is Urdu speaking was turning to officers of a similar background for promotion. That perception is now laid to rest with the ethnically balanced promotions. (The third important social group in the army hails from the Frontier. It is not known whether any key appointments from this group were made or are planned).
Both Generals Satti and Kiani, according to media reports, played a pivotal role in investigating the conspirators in the assassin plan against Musharaf. Their investigations led to the sensational arrests of key players.
On the surface, General Ehsan is the only officer from the old intelligence apparatus to have survived the promotions scale. He is the new Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and replaces another ISI official, General Aziz. While most people dismiss the office of CJCS as unimportant, that perception is incorrect. The office of CJCS is an important one which sees all secrets ciphers and minutes of confidential meetings. It knows exactly what is happening in the country in all the sensitive fields. Knowledge is power and this office is one which does have power–although of a different kind to that of an operational office.
Outgoing CJCS General Aziz was one of the key players in the political battle that led to General Musharaf’s successful coup d’etat in October 1999. After 9/11, he was removed from his early position as Chief of General Staff along with two other officers who brought General Musharaf to power. In removing the three men who helped his plane land to safety in October 1999 saving his life (and giving him the seat of power), General Musharaf re-ignited the traditions of the Moghul rulers of undivided India. They showed a ruthlessness in getting rid of their Fathers, sons and brothers in the battle for power.
Media reports painted General Aziz as, “the most feared” who “Musharaf projected in private sessions with American leaders as the fundo who may take over and reverse their war against the Islamic radicals”.
The retirement of Aziz took place calmly and in routine.
General Musharaf tried to placate the ones he relieved from the offices they held. The former hard-line head of ISI, General Mahmood, was made head of Fauji Foundation. The rumours are that General Aziz will be made President of Azad Kashmir.
The coveted post of Vice Chief of army staff went to Corps Commander, Karachi, Lt Gen Ahsan Saleem Hayat. He narrowly survived an assassination attempt by terrorists earlier. If anything were to happen to General Musharaf before December this year, Ahsan would become key to the future direction that Pakistan takes.
But if all goes well until December, and General Musharaf decides to take off his uniform (as predicted by the group of powerful retired military officials), its any body’s guess who makes it to chief. Certainly the bet is on Vice Chief Ahsan by virtue of the office he now holds–but others could be in the running.
General Musharaf plays his promotion cards close to his chest. The military prefers promotions by seniority–but few were the times that seniority won in the chequered history of the country.
There is an appointment principle that claims in the first eighteen months an appointee is dependent and willing to please. After that he must be changed to prevent the boss becoming dependent on them.
Obviously General Musharaf would not like to be dependent on anyone in the country, least of all from his core constituency of the military.