Once-bitten Sharif to appoint new Pakistani army chief

Published: November 26, 2013
Like every civilian leader, Sharif will be keen to pick a commander who limits the army's involvement in politics. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Like every civilian leader, Sharif will be keen to pick a commander who limits the army's involvement in politics. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, will name a new army chief this week who, if all goes well, could help the nuclear-armed nation shake off a legacy of coups and instability.

The stakes could not be higher.

The last time Sharif chose an army chief, he was toppled by the same general, Pervez Musharraf, a year later.

Musharraf held power for nearly a decade from 1999 until the restoration of civilian rule.

The United States, which views Pakistani cooperation as vital to its strategy in neighbouring Afghanistan, will be watching closely, hoping for continuity before most foreign troops pull out of Afghanistan next year.

“What is best for the country may not be the best political option,” said Mahmud Durrani, a former general who served as Pakistan’s national security adviser until 2008.

“Nawaz will try to appoint someone who will do his bidding, not someone who is good for the army. And similarly, the new chief will be driven by the institution and not necessarily by any civilian leader.”

The post of army chief is one of the most powerful in Pakistan and anxiety rests on who will replace the taciturn, chain-smoking General Ashfaq Kayani, who steps down on Friday after six years at the helm.

Three senior generals, Lieutenant-General Haroon Aslam, Lieutenant-General Tariq Khan and Lieutenant-General Rashad Mahmood, are seen as main contenders.

Mahmood is the third most senior commander and, army insiders say, a Kayani favourite.

Khan commands a Pakistani army corps and is considered an important interlocutor with the United States. Aslam is the most senior military officer after Kayani, and thus his natural heir.

Kayani has won credit for reducing the military’s public role in politics although the army retains huge influence behind the scenes, especially over security and foreign policy. Like every civilian leader, Sharif will be keen to limit that sway under a new commander.

“Nawaz may trust in Kayani’s democratic credentials, but he knows that is no guarantee that the next guy will also stay in the barracks,” said a senior official in Sharif’s administration who declined to be named.

“He also knows full well that most senior army officers are not supporters of Kayani’s softer approach. This is an uneasy moment for Nawaz.”

The army has ruled Pakistan for more than half its 66-year history.

Changing Attitude

One of Sharif’s pledges in the run-up to his May election victory was to improve ties with old rival India.

Clashes between the two armies in the disputed Kashmir region just weeks after the vote put paid to that, for the time being at least, and Sharif will need to gain the support of Kayani’s successor to make any progress on that front.

At home, the army has been wary of another Sharif campaign promise to open talks with Pakistani Taliban militants, battling the state since 2007 to impose their vision of a Shariah rule.

On the broader, decades-old issue of Pakistan’s army using militant groups to further objectives in Afghanistan and in confronting India, Western officials believe that under Kayani the army’s attitudes have been changing, largely because of the rise of the Pakistani Taliban.

Western officials believe that Kayani has been instrumental in pushing for negotiated settlements with insurgents on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border. They’ll be hoping that trend continues under his successor.

“Sharif can’t afford to pick a wild card right now,” a retired Pakistani general told Reuters.

“He knows full well that this is not a time for adventurism or any wild experiments.”

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Reader Comments (33)

  • Raza
    Nov 26, 2013 - 7:34PM

    hahahahaha sher must be gutted he can’t put it off any longer


  • Jibran
    Nov 26, 2013 - 7:36PM

    If you don’t run the country like your business empire, you don’t need to worry about anything. Total inaction, lack of governance, and leadership, and corruption is your hallmark. Just mend your ways.


  • A J Khan
    Nov 26, 2013 - 7:49PM

    The concept of “My man” just does not fit, when it comes to top slot in Pakistan Army. COAS is the most responsible son of the state. He has many problems on his shoulder & cannot be favoring one or the other. He has to see that the State of Pakistan is not compromised for one reason or the other.
    We expect that the new COAS will put every one in his place.


  • wali
    Nov 26, 2013 - 7:51PM

    You don’t even run an empire or a small business with succession planning! How could a decision not have been made weeks, if not months ago, when the military is busy fighting and has it’s hands full. It is the worse example of decision making – whimsical, personal agenda and lack of respect for instituions…


  • Truth
    Nov 26, 2013 - 8:09PM

    Actually pakistan army generals are appointed by US and not Pakistan PM.


  • Malik Hamza
    Nov 26, 2013 - 8:31PM

    I truly hope that he makes the wrong decision again so our country can be saved.


  • csmann
    Nov 26, 2013 - 8:34PM

    Starting treason proceedings just before appointing a new army chief is a master-stroke .It is to tell the new chief that the government means business vis-a-vis the army.On the other hand it may back-fire with the army not taking it lying down-the treatment meted out to their patriotic former general.


  • unbelievable
    Nov 26, 2013 - 8:44PM

    Pakistan needs to take a lesson from Turkey – if the civilian govt improves the economy and it’s public image it can challenge and control the military. The govt needs to significantly reduce the military budget and redirect those funds to the people – should help bolster the economy while improving popularity of govt – win/win.


  • Arzoo
    Nov 26, 2013 - 8:46PM

    PM Nawaz Sharif should just appoint according to established protocol, which is in the interest of the country, and not according to his political needs. We have seen the disastrous consequences when Z A Bhutto bypassed the rules and the nation was stuck with Ziaul Huq and when Sharif appointed Musharraf and the nation got the taste of “moderate enlightenment.”

    Military’s proclivity to rule is an ubiquitous headache in Egypt, Turkey, Burma, Thailand, and many other Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Spain, Portugal, and almost all of South America suffered the problem for decades. India does not have the military problem but 30 percent of its’ legislature is composed of convicted criminals or those against whom criminal cases are pending: http://my.telegraph.co.uk/markulyseas/markulyseas/5150/incredible-india-criminals-in-indian-parliament/ . And let’s not even talk about the sheikhs, emirs, and tin-pot dictators inundating all of Middle East. What makes Pakistan’s case precarious is that it has an existential problem and desperately needs political and economic stability.

    PM Nawaz Sharif therefore has a heavy responsibility to make the right move.


  • Nov 26, 2013 - 8:59PM

    We look forward to the appointment of the new COAS (Chief of Army Staff). We want to build on our improving relationship by working closely with the new leadership. The seriousness of the situation in regards to the ongoing violence in the region requires us to remain unified against our common enemies. It is simply imperative for us to maintain a healthy working relationship for the betterment of the region. We’ve always emphasized Pakistan’s importance in the region, and we certainly hope to continue our partnership in regards to our peace objectives in the region.

    Ali Khan
    DET, United States Central Command


  • Xnain
    Nov 26, 2013 - 9:03PM

    And I suppose Pakistan was broken by a politician. Afghan War culture introduced by a politician and yes Pakistan’s sovereignty sold over just a phone call, a politician? You need to get your facts correct…..


  • Xnain
    Nov 26, 2013 - 9:05PM

    @A J Khan:
    “COAS is the most responsible son of the state”
    Oh yes, Yahya,Ayub,Zia and Musharraf were the most responsible sons of the soil. Gimme a break!


  • sattar rind
    Nov 26, 2013 - 9:28PM

    Whosoever be new chief but he may take of care of this country and vanish taliban from pakistan.Recommend

  • Adnan Siddiqi
    Nov 26, 2013 - 9:29PM

    My money on Gen. Rashad and Gen. Raheel Sharif.


  • Ramsha
    Nov 26, 2013 - 9:51PM

    The above picture explains it all. Just imagine the jeep as Pakistan, general is driver and our PM…. I think every one here can understand.


  • Adnan Siddiqi
    Nov 26, 2013 - 9:52PM

    @A J Khan:

    Get your head checked out son before you are straitjacketed and placed in a mental asylum. Just my two cents!


  • hamza khan
    Nov 26, 2013 - 10:06PM


    afghan war culture was a collective responsibility and the blame lies on all stakeholders, including the army. however, there was no sovereignty sold out on a phone call. i am assuming that you are educated and can read, in which case you should read comments by lt general hamid javed in the post 9/11 scenario. he was CS during musharrafs time and has spoken plainly about what occurred. needless to say, the political propaganda of 1 phone call is far from the truth.


  • Romm
    Nov 26, 2013 - 10:40PM

    Realistically speking,
    Mush and Ayub were responsible and contributed a lot for the development of country . However Zia was undoubtedly the worst raskal.


  • Parvez
    Nov 26, 2013 - 10:44PM

    All Nawaz has to do is keep corruption in check, throw the openly corrupt in jail and provide good governance……… and it would be immaterial as to who the army chief was.


  • Adnan Siddiqi
    Nov 26, 2013 - 10:51PM


    Useless observation.Recommend

  • Jihad Bil-Qalam
    Nov 26, 2013 - 10:52PM

    Pick any one. They are all equally bad, trained by the same retrogressive institution with the same elitist mindset. You can’t make a bigger mistake, no matter whom you choose.


  • Loyalpakistani
    Nov 26, 2013 - 11:48PM

    you have emphasized great interest in making sure pakistan is destroyed fighting your wars


  • Rex Minor
    Nov 26, 2013 - 11:51PM

    Mr Nawaz Sharif will appoint General Haroon Aslam as the next chief of staff of the Pakistan army and will not play the game of poker as the last time. He is not to select but to follow the order of seniority rule!!!

    Rex Minor


  • Zif
    Nov 27, 2013 - 1:30AM

    Come on Mr.Sher it’s crunch time. Let the cat come out of the bag.


  • Abubakr
    Nov 27, 2013 - 1:55AM

    Gen Tariq has no chance. Period


  • gp65
    Nov 27, 2013 - 2:28AM

    @Parvez: Even if there is no corruption, if Nawaz continues the policy of appeasement and craven surrender to TTP, it WILL matter who the next general is.If another ncident like Gen. Niazi occurs and there is some other general – very likely there will be an operation in NWA.Recommend

  • Raheel
    Nov 27, 2013 - 11:58AM

    yet another family decision to be taken by the family, what a way to run this country for the family by the family hahahahaRecommend

  • Raheel
    Nov 27, 2013 - 11:58AM

    @Truth: only logical because they serve USA


  • Raheel
    Nov 27, 2013 - 12:03PM

    @sattar rind: they created taliban, that’s been their game to earn dollars


  • Tariq Mahmood
    Nov 27, 2013 - 12:41PM

    no. it is not true.


  • gittu79
    Nov 27, 2013 - 12:48PM

    Unfair Child does unfair actions, Same way a General appointed out of turn will prove to be an unfair child. He may play havoc with country or Government.


  • Satti
    Nov 27, 2013 - 2:23PM


    To be honest ..they were more responsbile and did more for Pakistan than any other political leader…


  • Xnain
    Nov 28, 2013 - 1:33AM

    At least no politician broke the country, waged wars in the name of egos and yes all of these generals would eventually have to resort to the politicians for legitimization of their rule.


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