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Who could be the new Army Chief of Pakistan?

BY Faizan Ahmed Oct 22, 2022. 06:52 pm UPDATED: Oct 22, 2022. 06:55 pm

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It is almost time for the government to decide who to name as the new commander of Pakistan’s army, which is likely to be one of the hardest decisions of its term.

In background conversations, a senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) politician who serves in the federal cabinet suggested that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif might start talking about the nomination by the end of August and possibly make a decision by mid-September.

It is widely believed that before making a decision, he will consult with his partners in the ruling coalition. However, a source within the Pakistan Peoples Party stated that the party might not want to get involved because the prime minister has the authority to decide.

The president chooses the heads of the services on the prime minister’s proposal, as stated in Article 243(3) of the Constitution.

Four of the six top Lt-Gens at the time of Gen Bajwa’s retirement will be from the same batch, while a fifth is senior to almost the entire lot.

The appointment of military officers at or above the rank of lieutenant-general in the army and those at equivalent ranks in the other Defense Services will be made by the prime minister in consultation with the president, according to Schedule V-A of the Rules of Business, which elaborates the cases to be presented to the prime minister for his approval.

However, there is little detail in the rule books about how this procedure actually works. No specific requirements have been established for consideration for elevation, with the exception of the general requirement that the general chosen to lead the army should have previously held command of a corps.

It is customary for General Headquarters (GHQ) to submit the Ministry of Defence a list of the four to five senior-most lieutenant-generals, together with copies of their personnel files, so the prime minister can select the one he believes is best qualified for the position.

The defence ministry might theoretically check the names before delivering them to the prime minister, but this rarely occurs and the ministry just serves as a post office.

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The Prime Minister’s Office or the cabinet will then discuss the generals’ credentials. The prime minister’s “informal consultation” with the departing army chief, his personal perceptions, and his conversations with his closest aides are what ultimately determine the situation.

Astute observers also refer to the prime minister receiving a “institutional recommendation” for a specific candidate. At least two former defence secretaries, however, have refuted this assertion. They contend that only the departing army chief may offer his own opinion on who he believes should follow him during his “informal consultation” with the prime minister.

Five of the 10 army commanders the nation has had since 1972 were chosen during separate terms as prime minister by Mian Nawaz Sharif, the incumbent’s elder brother. The elder Sharif was repeatedly criticised for appointing officers he saw as an ‘apna banda’ (his man). Ironically, he didn’t have a great experience at any of the appointments.

The Sharifs apparently feel like they will never completely get it right as a result of the experience. In a background interview, some PML-N leaders stated that they had so essentially opted to nominate based only on seniority rather than giving in to the desire to locate the “perfect” candidate.

Then, one party leader added, “no matter how things turn up, we will at least be satisfied that no personal choices were involved.”

Another faction within the party, however, believes that PM Shehbaz Sharif might just follow the present leader’s recommendations.

Outgoing General

Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), was appointed in 2016 and will step down during the final week of November. The appointment of the army head is for a period of three years, however following some political commotion in 2019, Gen. Bajwa was awarded an additional three-year tenure. He had received an extension from the then-prime minister Imran Khan in August, but the Supreme Court later required legislation regarding the reappointment of the heads of the services.

In January 2020, Parliament agreed, giving the prime minister power to prolong the terms of services chiefs. However, the age at which a service head must retire was set by law at 64.

Therefore, Gen. Bajwa, who is still 61 years old, is qualified for reelection. This technicality had raised the possibility that the incumbent would be interested in or looking for another extension. However, a military insider claims that Gen. Bajwa has informed those close to him that he would retire in November. The head is indeed resigning, according to Inter-Services Public Relations.

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Not all four-star positions will be vacated in November, including the army chief’s. Gen. Nadeem Raza, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), would also be retiring at the same time. The concurrent nomination of two four-star generals provides the administration some leeway in choosing the army’s commander without raising too many eyebrows among the senior hierarchy.

At the time of Gen. Bajwa’s retirement, four of the six senior lieutenant-generals were from the same batch, which is interesting. The PA number granted to them during their training at the PMA serves as a technical indicator of this lot’s seniority, which may or may not matter when the new CJCSC and COAS are selected. The other two are divided into two groups, one of which is roughly superior than the others overall.

Lt-General Asim Munir

Lt-Gen Asim Munir

Lt-Gen Asim Munir will be the person with the most experience when it comes time to choose the new CJCSC and COAS. Even though he received a two-star general promotion in September 2018, he didn’t take over until two months later. Thus, on November 27, when the current CJCSC and COAS will be taking off their army uniforms, his four-year term as Lt-Gen would come to an end. Gen. Bajwa will decide if his name should be included, and the prime minister will make the ultimate choice, since the suggestions and decisions for the appointment of the two four-star generals will be made a little sooner. He is an excellent officer, but given the specifics, he might continue to be the classic dark horse. Lt. Gen. Munir enlisted in the military and was commissioned into the Frontier Force Regiment after attending the Officers Training School (OTS) programme in Mangla. Since his time as a brigade commander in the Force Command Northern Areas under Gen Bajwa, who was then Commander X Corps, he has been a close assistant to the current COAS. He was subsequently named DG Military Intelligence in early 2017 and made the ISI chief in October of that same year. His tenure as the top intelligence officer, however, ended up being the shortest in history since, at the behest of the then-prime minister Imran Khan, he was replaced by Lt. Gen. Faiz Hamid after only eight months. He was appointed as the commander of the Gujranwala Corps and served in that capacity for two years before being transferred to the GHQ as the Quartermaster General.

Lt-General Sahir Shamshad Mirza

Lt-Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza

Lt. Gen. Mirza is the candidate with the most experience out of the four from the same batch in the current cohort. He is a native of the Sindh Regiment, which is also where Gen. Nadeem Raza, the departing CJCSC, comes from. He has a distinguished military career, especially over the last seven years in senior leadership roles. During the latter two years of Gen. Raheel Sharif’s administration, Lt. Gen. Mirza rose to prominence as the director-general of military operations (DGMO). He served as a member of the core team at GHQ under Gen. Sharif that oversaw the military campaign against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other terrorists in North Waziristan. In addition, he played a key role in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), which mediated discussions among Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States.
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He was appointed chief of general staff following his appointment to the three-star level, effectively elevating him to the position of second-in-command in the army behind the COAS. In that capacity, he actively participated in significant decisions affecting both foreign policy and national security. In 2021, he also participated in strategic discussions with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi alongside former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Lt-General Azhar Abbas

He was assigned as Corps Commander Rawalpindi in October 2021 so he could gain operational experience and qualify for the highest positions.

When remarking on his resume, a military insider claimed that he was the undisputed front-runner for either of the two positions of COAS and CJCSC.

Lt-Gen Azhar Abbas

Among the current brass, Lt. Gen. Abbas has the most familiarity with Indian relations. As chief of general staff (CGS), he currently has direct control over the GHQ operations and intelligence directorates, effectively leading the army. Prior to that, he oversaw the politically significant and Rawalpindi-based X Corps, demonstrating the current army chief’s entire confidence in him. It was Lt-Gen Abbas’ responsibility to maintain adherence to the 2003 ceasefire agreement along the LOC, which the Indian and Pakistani armies had agreed to while he was commander of the X Corps.

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Lt. Gen. Abbas had previously held the position of commandant at the Infantry School in Quetta. He served as Gen Raheel Sharif’s personal staff officer and had a front-row seat to the highest levels of decision-making because of his role as Sharif’s personal staff officer. During that time, he was also able to communicate with the top officials of friendly nations and the PML-N. After that, he was in charge of the 12th Infantry Division, which was stationed in Murree and was in charge of Azad Jammu & Kashmir.

Lt-General Nauman Mehmood

Lt-Gen Nauman Mehmood

Lt. Gen. Mehmood, a member of the Baloch Regiment, serves as the National Defence University’s president at the moment. He has also had a lot of experience as the head instructor at the Quetta Command and Staff College. He has been in charge of a North Waziristan-based infantry division. From then, he was appointed director-general (Analysis) at the ISI, where he played a major part in analysing foreign policy from the standpoint of national security. He had the chance to communicate with foreign intelligence services on behalf of the ISI during that tenure.

He was named inspector-general of Communications & Information Technology, GHQ, upon his promotion to the rank of three-star general in 2019. He was assigned to the Peshawar-based XI Corps in December 2019. From there, he managed border fence and security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border while the US withdrew its troops.

He gave Lt. Gen. Faiz Hamid control of the XI Corps in November 2021.

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Lt-General Faiz Hamid

Lt-Gen Faiz Hamid

One of the most talked-about candidates for the top job is Lt. Gen. Hamid, who is also a member of the Baloch Regiment. It is said that Gen. Bajwa and Lt. Gen. Hamid have been friends for a long time. Lt-Gen Hamid headed the X Corps’ staff as a brigadier while Gen Bajwa was in charge of the corps at the time.

Lt-Gen Hamid was a two-star general and in charge of an infantry division in Pano Aqil, Sindh, at the time Gen Bajwa was named COAS. Soon after he was appointed army chief, Gen. Bajwa sent him to the ISI as director-general (Counter-Intelligence), where he was in charge of both political and internal security matters.

He was first appointed adjutant-general at the GHQ in April 2019 after being promoted to the three-star rank. But he was unexpectedly named DG ISI just two months later. Along with more conventional matters of foreign policy and national security, Lt. Gen. Hamid actively supported the government in that capacity on problems as varied as reforming governance, renegotiating contracts with IPPs in the power sector, and revitalising the economy, among others.

He was the centre of a dispute between Imran Khan and the COAS during the final stages of his tenure as head of the ISI since the latter had chosen to post him as commander of the Peshawar Corps and the former was unwilling to remove him. Finally, he was transferred to the Bahawalpur Corps after serving less than a year in Peshawar, where he had been stationed.

According to some political analysts, the PML-N leadership may find it challenging, if not impossible, to consider him for the position of the incoming COAS given the prominence of his previous employment as the head of the ISI under the previous administration.

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Lt-General Mohammad Amir

Lt-Gen Mohammad Amir

Lt. Gen. Amir, a member of the Artillery Regiment, is in charge of the XXX Corps in Gujranwala at the moment. He is regarded as Gen Bajwa’s closest confidant. He was formerly the GHQ’s adjutant-general. From 2017 to 2018, he served as the 10 Infantry Division’s commanding major-general and was based in Lahore. He has extensive experience in both GHQ and command roles, having also held the position of director-general Staff Duties at the COAS Secretariat. He served as President Asif Zardari’s military secretary from 2011 to 2013 prior to that.

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