he choice of Pakistan's new army chief has the chattering classes in a tizzy. Who will get the nod: will it be Lt Gen Haroon Aslam, Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood, Lt Gen Tariq Khan or Lt Gen Raheel Sharif? In less than 10 days, people will find out but the question on everyone's mind though not uttered is whether the new chief would keep out of politics.
November 20, 2013, 21:39 DST
In most countries, the appointment of army chief is a routine affair. Most Americans and Canadians, for instance, may not even know the name of the general heading the army. In Third World countries, the head of army is a big deal. In Pakistan it is of critical importance, and for good reason.
For half of its history, Pakistan has been under military rule. At the current juncture, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is faced with a serious dilemma. The last time he was prime minister in 1998, he bypassed the senior most general, Ali Quli Khan to promote Pervez Musharraf to the top slot. Within a year, Musharraf staged a coup ousting Sharif.
If Sharif is keeping his options close to his chest, he has good reason for caution. That has not, however, prevented the chattering classes and drawing room politicians from indulging in speculation.
The outgoing army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has served two terms and is viewed favorably because he has kept out of too much interference in politics. He is also not a big talker. But Kayani is due to retire on November 29 and Sharif has to decide who should replace him.
Over the last several weeks, Sharif has spent much of his time abroad leading to speculation that he has been holding intense discussions with close aides including his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif about the new army chief. The foreign forays, according to this line of thinking, are because inside Pakistan, all his conversations are monitored by the intrusive intelligence agency, ISI. He wants to keep his discussions secret, at least for now.
If the principle of seniority were applied, then Lt Gen Haroon Aslam would get the nod for post of new army chief. He currently holds the position of Chief of Logistics Staff at the Army Head Quarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi. He also participated in the 2009 Rah-i-Rast operation conducted against Taliban militants in Swat.
There is, however, another Lt Gen, Rashad Mahmood, who is also a strong contender for the top post. Earlier this year, he was named the new Chief of General Staff (CGS), which is one of the most prestigious positions in the army. He has also served as the Corps Commander of Lahore where he earned the trust of Shahbaz Sharif.
Two other generals, Lt Gen Tariq Khan, Corps Commander Mangla, and Lt Gen Raheel Sharif, Inspector General Training and Evaluation at the GHQ, are also in the running. Who gets the nod would depend on both the aspect of seniority and whether the government wants to tackle militancy and extremism in a serious way.
Lt Gen Tariq Khan is a no nonsense officer and wants to confront militancy head on. Lt Gen Haroon Aslam comes a close second. If the Sharifain (the Sharif brothers) opt for the devil they know, then Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood has a better chance.
In less than 10 days, the people of Pakistan will know who will become the most important person in their lives. The chattering classes, meanwhile, are biting their nails in anticipation because they have to be on the winning side, regardless of who gets the nod.
They cannot afford to be left out from celebrations of the newest Pakistani strongman.