Command and control of war

Published: July 24, 2010
The writer is author of Military Inc and a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University, US

The writer is author of Military Inc and a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University, US

Pakistan’s army chief has received the much-desired extension. The decision of the civilian government was applauded by all on the basis that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s performance in the past couple of years should have been rewarded by giving him an extension in tenure. According to Lt-Gen (retd) Talat Masood, this is the first time that a political government extended the tenure of a serving army chief instead of the officer granting himself an extension.  But it is worth seeing what the decision means for civil-military relations (CMR) balance and for the armed forces as an institution.

It is wrong to see CMR in a binary trajectory, which means that it is incorrect to assume that things will repeat themselves and not morph into newer shapes. The extension might be given by the civilian administration but the decision underscores the power of the army and its chief who was keen to see his tenure extended. Many commentators believe that this was being considered for the past several months. Some day one hopes stories will simmer in the public through the grapevine about how members of the political government fought the possibility of an extension.

The GHQ, on the other hand, operated through its usual tools: the free media in the country and its American partner in the war on terror. The team of American generals such as David Petraeus and Mike Mullen were all for General Kayani. This was a major source that pursued Islamabad for this decision. A number of GHQ-friendly journalists keenly advised the civilian government to extend the services of the army chief. Job well done, boys!

The fundamental argument supporting the extension is that it will ensure continuity of command during the ongoing war. There are several examples of when absence of this factor produced less exciting results. One such example pertains to the change of command during the 1965 war. But the current war is very different from the conventional war of 1965. This is a slow and simmering war which will not end in the next three years either. An operation in Swat or different parts of Waziristan will not do the job alone. This is a battle which requires serious socioeconomic and political initiatives, especially after the military clears the path. This is also a battle which requires the will to abandon security assets if the country is to be saved at all. The war on terror is not something which can be fought with tanks, fighter aircraft and drones. Just consider the cost-benefit ratio of drone attacks and you can see the limited advantages.

From an organisational perspective, we are told that the Pakistan army is the only surviving institution of the state. However, an organisation’s survival is demonstrated by how well it can nurture and breed internal systems. Prime evidence of this is that the senior management is in sync with the objectives and can plan the operations with a sense of a joint mission. So, what does the decision fundamentally tell us about the organisation? Is it an organisation which will be unable to battle the internal enemies once the top man and his inner team are gone?

The army is involved in fighting a war on terror for the past 9-10 years. This should mean that the top management understands the objectives and that the next army chief will be able to act as well as the outgoing. Or is it that other officers don’t have the same level of competence? Or, perhaps, the US government was convinced that the rest of the generals might contain a surprise like General Ziaul Haq. What does one make of an organisation that begins to depend on personalities rather than processes?

Although predicting Pakistan’s politics is both difficult and useless, it is quite possible that the political government might have bargained for some more time to remain alive. A relatively honourable exit will bring kudos for the general and might win him a visiting fellowship in one of the US think-tanks after he finally retires.

Pakistan indeed has its unique model of CMR, which it seems, eluded academics like Francis Fukayama. He might have solved the puzzle had he looked deep into the history of the Prussian military.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • Riaz
    Jul 25, 2010 - 1:54AM

    you are absoulutely right Ayesha men are not important only institutions are important but who would understand this simple myth.
    This is the apathy of time that our Generals are recommended by Americans then by their subordinates (pakistani leaders.
    And it will continue unless and untill we change our external and internals policy.Recommend

  • omer
    Jul 25, 2010 - 2:01AM

    A very well put article specially about the command chain in the army. If Pakistan is to progress then we need a system not a person running the show. I think Gen Kiyani should have retired gracefully and let someone else take the command but he is one who is standing behind the Zardari government and protecting it. For the first time Army hand is behind an elected government that is why in my view Zardari is able to survive all the hurricanes directed towards him. like one recent example is of gen mcchystler … gen made a mistake which was against the system and system removed him and the chain of command took place without any hindrance .. I am sure we must have one capable general who would have taken over from Gen Kiyani and would have continued in the same footing as gen kiyani.Recommend

  • Jul 25, 2010 - 2:22AM

    One can not predict how long our Army likes to let political puppets believe that they are decision makers too.Recommend

  • ray
    Jul 25, 2010 - 4:27AM

    This also rubbishes the foolish thoughts we all had about this particular general i.e. he has no political ambitions and he is a professional!.
    I am sure 2000 or so other generals who would be sent home because he decided to sit on the thrown would be less able and professionals? How would we know? This is the precisely the reason that I don’t suggest any thinking person should ever send their offspring to armed forces unless they want to rule the country. It seems every high school educated general thinks that he has all the wisdom in the world and no one else can match his level of expertise and he is indispensable.
    Since no one else can tell the general including the PM. I would request Mr. Kiani should think about thousands of kids who are serving Armed forces with distinction and the effect it will have on their moral? It is no different then PPP or PML where only blood relation would entitle you to the top position but no else will be eligible for the top job. So what is the difference between the civilians and the Army head.
    I beg general Kiani to do the honorable thing and refuse the extension because that is the only honorable thing to do.
    Let us not forget gen. McCrystal case. He was by far the smartest and ablest American general since MacArthur but he was dispatched in no time. His biggest crime was that he was against the collective punishment of the civilian populations he was supposed to be protecting!. His own army hated him the most! why because he wouldn’t allow us soldiers to go on killing spree every time they were attacked!. He is gone and the life goes on … and it will.
    Gen. Kiyani do the right thing…resign to preserve your honor and the honor of the institution you love so another person is given proper opportunity to showcase their skill and acumen.Recommend

  • S
    Jul 25, 2010 - 5:38AM

    its chief who was keen to see his tenure extended.

    I wonder how you’d figure that one out? Did he call and tell you ?

    because in the army circles word has it that he did NOT want one from this particular government. Recommend

    Jul 25, 2010 - 7:46AM

    so what does this so called CMR says about this..?.I did not find that answer in your article except for “read between the lines” and still i think:
    1.The constitutional authority made and announced the decision.
    2. All major political parties have welcomed the extension.
    3.The operational issue is much different then 1965,and the present war against terrorist is beyond even, the specacution of your CMR.
    4. The USA factor is also”my read between the lines”is not so important as pak army is handling affairs, their own way.
    It is all well said and well done , from the democratic powers of the country Recommend

  • Haris Chaudhry
    Jul 25, 2010 - 8:09AM

    Is it a mere co-incidence that the political dispensation under pressure from PML-N and judiciary has chosen to time the retirement of the top man to coincide with the completion of its own tenure ? Perhaps more to do with risk mitigation against its own survival – which technically isnt bad as keeping top man in the army onside might serve as a buffer for the ruling party against any adventurism by the judiciary or mass agitation move by the restless PML-N. The only draw back could perhaps be setting a precedent for the army chiefs to extend their tenures indirectly (behind close door pressure on elected governments) and consolidating their power base in s similar fashion to Musharraf.
    Well written.

  • Bakhtawar Alam
    Jul 25, 2010 - 12:13PM

    The exension suspense is over and the result is hardly a surprise except for the 3-year period. NOW the big question is will Kayani exit voluntarily and honourbaly after this extended tenure. Pakistan’s history says a big NO ! Will the PPP government survive Kaynai’s next 3 years ? Pakistan’s history will tell you that Army Chiefs who were favoured by civilian govts bit back the very hands that elevated them over others. Optimism is our only hope. Recommend

  • M. Ismail Khan
    Jul 25, 2010 - 12:36PM

    War cannot be business as usual. Pakistan is in the midst greatest internal and external upheavals since independence. This is not the time to get into academics of right and wrong policies but of policies that can work or not. Army Chief’s continuity of service in the middle of a nasty war is the most logical decision PPP led coalition has taken. Off course, we’ll continue to squabble over blessings and blights of this action but in current situation if Pakistan has to choose between extension of service of CJ, PM, Pres., and COAS…one should close her / his eyes put its hand on COAS…! Besides, its not necessary that COAS reciprocate PM… he will and should conduct all aspect of the war on merit…including handling of the wobbly Zardari presidency…Recommend

  • Masood Hassan Raja
    Jul 25, 2010 - 12:41PM

    General Kayani’s past record is great.He has been successful in our war against terrorists.It is an on going process and he deserve admiration and extension.He is compitent brave and diehard Pakistan.He can handle India’s evil designs against Pakistan and he can also look after our interests in Afghanistan. it is on his credit that he supported the democratic process in Pakistan. Recommend

  • Muhammad Shoaib
    Jul 25, 2010 - 6:00PM

    I consent you regarding CMR: Army generals must zero in on their responsibilities relating defense rather than on presidency/politics. Institutions must survive rather than individual opinion. But the history of sub-continent is witness to failure of democracy here, mean its not apposite for this region. So, how would you think that this government would remain stable for next two years keeping in view its above-board successes and policies, daily pirated degree issues, judges-lawyers issues, etc?Recommend

  • Jul 25, 2010 - 6:15PM

    The fact that the government has set a new precedence in providing a three-year extension to Kayani demonstrates the level of influence the Americans wield and exercise in our internal matters. Even if Kayani was deemed indispensable in the present scheme of things, a three-year extension is a wrong precedence to set. Does it strengthen democracy and the institution that is Pakistan Army? Whose best interests it serves? Who is assured of continuity? What about the 28 Lt. Generals currently in service and of whom 23 will retire before Kayani? If I am not mistaken, even Zia and Musharraf had to invariably contend with giving themselves one-year extensions every successive year of their long tenures. India has also faced numerous challenges –including a military strife with a much stronger neighbour in China during its earlier decades- but it has never needed to provide extension to any army chief. With politicians like ours this unique model of CMR will continue to perpetuate itself. Recommend

  • akmal khan
    Jul 25, 2010 - 8:54PM

    our COAS no doubt a good man, he done his work very well during his tenure both for his military and country and also raised the image of the army to some extent in our society.
    Extension of army chief looks absurd by all the parameters which are being described by their flatterers as the example of MC CHRYSTAL is there.why america do that instead war on terror is going on there and he served there many years? That gives a lesson that policies r important and not personalities.The extension also undermines the competency of our army institution as their is no eligible General who could get control of all these kerfuffle regarding terrorism.
    now the dignity of army is that General Kayani should give his resignation volantarily to save the image of his institution if he is sincere to our army.Recommend

  • Karan Sehgal
    Jul 25, 2010 - 9:26PM

    Very well written and agreeable article Ayesha. However, if the Pakistan army is the only functional organization left, why would you give an extension to its leader? It is only natural to expect that there would be a long list of able Generals, who would take over the reigns and ensure the same, if not a stronger future for it.

    I agree with the skepticism that the card holders may have about anyone else pulling a Zia, however, how long can such a succession plan work?

    To leave you with another thought, of how Gen. Kayani now feels indispensable, and will only increase his chances of never wanting to move out.Recommend

  • hossp
    Jul 25, 2010 - 11:08PM

    The very reason..his experience in the war on Terror-as suggested by Ayesha- is primarily the reason for his disqualification. He has been involved in the war on Terror for the last 9-10 years at the highest levels, and will someone enlighten us as to what has he achieved in all those years?
    The war continues with no end in sight. In fact, the terrorist groups are demonstrating more belligerence and more reach. Look at what has happened in Lahore and Karachi in the last one year or so. The problem is that the top in Pakistan is rotten it does not matter who is at the top–they are all the same. Putting in a new General would not have done much barring a few moments of breathing space for the civilians but they are so spineless that they sacrificed even that to stick around in the PM and the President House.Recommend

  • Rashid Khan Orakzai
    Jul 26, 2010 - 12:03AM

    This reminds me of Wali Khan’s interview. When asked about the future of Pakistan, the tall and experienced ‘Ghaddar’ laughingly said, ‘Why ask me. Ask America.’Recommend

  • Jul 26, 2010 - 1:40PM

    Nice theoretical and technical article.
    Similarities between the Pakistani and Prussian militaries do yield some striking observations. Recommend

  • Tilsim
    Jul 27, 2010 - 1:44AM

    Ayesha has n’t said anything about the the connection and impact of his appointment on the ISI. General Kayani knows the ISI well from his previous tenure as head of it under Pres. Musharraf. The ISI’s role is key in getting things on the right track. As we keep on hearing, elements within the ISI may not be necessarily playing ball with the decision makers. He knows the organization and one would think that he would be in a better position to influence it then someone without direct experience. It’s interesting to see that DG ISI was also given a one year extension. Recommend

  • Javaid R. Shami
    Aug 3, 2010 - 9:33PM

    “its chief who was keen to see his tenure extended.
    I wonder how you’d figure that one out? Did he call and tell you ?
    because in the army circles word has it that he did NOT want one from this particular government.”

    Well if Gen. Kayani did not want an extension all he has to do is say “No thank you”. Want to bet he accepts the extension?Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Aug 12, 2010 - 8:15AM

    Have no reason to disagree with Ayesha’s analysis.I’m not a big fan of the idea that the Army is the last surviving institution in the country. My hunch tells me that Pakistan is not in any danger of a Military takeover even if the general develops a liking for the idea. The only way this might happen is when there is a danger of a takeover of political system by Political Islam which I don’t see happening.Recommend

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