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Sunday Jan 19, 2020, Jumada-al-awwal 23, 1441 Hijri

On extensions and expectations

22 July, 2010

By Ikram Sehgal

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For some weeks now speculation is rife that Kayani, whose term as COAS expires in four months almost to the day, will get a two-year extension. Normally one talks about a one-year extension or the full term, the two-years period seems to be a trial balloon. The public is being conditioned (psy-war technique). Common belief is that this may likely become a fact.

People, particularly politicians, find it convenient to forget history about sacking of prime ministers. A political impasse ensued in 1993 when the Supreme Court restored Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif summarily sacked without cogent reason by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Earlier this former bureaucrat had sacked Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1990. The situation was an invitation on a silver platter for military rule but the army chief, Gen Waheed Kakar, sustained the democratic process by carefully guiding the country out of the political morass, gently nudging Ishaq out of office, and ensuring comparatively free and fair elections that saw Ms Bhutto triumphant. A grateful Ms Bhutto, echoing the sentiments of a broad mass of politicians and citizens alike, beseeched him to take an extension as COAS. To his undying credit, and setting a tremendous precedent, Gen Waheed Kakar listened to the only person who purposefully spoke up against the enormous pressure to accept the offer, Comd 5 Corps, Lt-Gen Lehrasab and refused the extension. One believes Kayani holds Gen Waheed Kakar as a role model.

Extension must never even be under consideration in normal circumstances. In my article "Reforming the JCSC" on May 13, 2010 in The News (a local newspaper), I wrote: "Once promoted to lieutenant-general a three-star must complete his tenure of four years of service (age should not become a bar), but if he has completed his four years of service an extension can be given for truly extraordinary reasons. Extension of service for a COAS is an entirely different matter. Prime among the many reasons for my saying `no` is that it sets off a chain reaction of permutations, if not combinations, and blocks promotions in the army. However, loyal and sincere the senior military hierarchy, potential aspirants will feel deprived of their turn at attaining the top slot for which rightfully they have had ambitions throughout their career. Really good prospects down the line will find their careers and ambitions thereof sidelined. All those presently in contention for the COAS have good professional careers, and for the most part are not tainted by real-estate scandals. `Extension` will mean these officers will retire from service in the next 12-18 months. An extension to the COAS will put an artificial monkey wrench into a natural process."

Kayani`s has great pluses. He has (1) restored the morale and confidence of the Pakistan Army, the one entity that holds Pakistan together, (2) sustained the present democratic process, being run presently by civilians as a dictatorship in contrast to Musharraf`s military dictatorship, which to give him his just due, was being run by him more or less as a democracy and (3) last but most important won the confidence of the US and other western powers by his professionalism while not allowing the Pakistan Army to be used as a mercenary force.

The dilemma provides us with a unique opportunity to make the JCSC into an effective military instrument. In my article titled "Chairman JCSC", I wrote: "Today`s warfare cannot be fought service by service, it has to be an all-service combined affair. Not a single military analyst believes otherwise, so why is practice different from theory? The JCSC should be the central HQ for all three services, formulating overall war plans incorporating their combined fighting potential, and the mechanism for implementing the war plans. Things basic to the three services must be unified. Some of it is already being done, e.g. medical and engineering services, why not entities that are common, basic training institutions, workshops, etc.? Constructive reforms should include (1) the JCSC to become the GHQ for all three services and the army`s HQ the "Army HQ" (2) The JCSC chairman (re-name him "chief of defence services" or something similar) to preside over the senior promotions, from one star to two stars and from two stars to three stars in all three services (3) all postings of three stars to be done with the concurrence of GHQ (4) creating a joint operations chief (JOC), or any such nomenclature, in the GHQ (5) all military procurement under GHQ aegis and (6) the ISI and the ISPR reporting to GHQ etc.".

What is logical will very rarely fly in the face of reality. A tremendous idea notwithstanding, JCSC`s continued effectiveness as a viable institution is questionable. Many multiple times in manpower to the PAF and the Pakistan Navy, the army is loath to have an all-powerful chairman JCSC other than a soldier. The army leadership has a point: in the war environment on the borders and within Pakistan, the army is the measure of last resort in all things. The world powers have large navies and air forces in support of their strategic mission over vast areas of the world map, our wars will be confined to the swath of territory within our land borders. We have very little depth for large-scale manoeuvres. Influenced by the air and the sea, the war will be finally won or lost on the ground, not in the air or in the sea. This is not a theoretical exercise or a game of musical chairs, but a life-and-death struggle with an implacable foe. The PAF and the Pakistan Navy know well how much one respects their capability and potential. But in Pakistan`s context the chairman JCSC, commander defence services, the commander-in-chief, etc., whatever one may call the all-powerful principal appointment exercising control over the defence services, has to be from the land forces, and has to be located in the GHQ, perception being nine-tenths of the law. There should be a four-star deputy to the chief in rotation from the PAF or the Pakistan Navy, giving the two services not only an additional four-star slot every three years but someone who can free the chief from routine protocol duties.

The ongoing war, the geo-political circumstances and his track record dealing with foreign powers make Kayani much needed. The respect he commands among all ranks of the armed forces as well as the nation`s citizens must take the continuity factor onto a higher and different plane. As per Murphy`s Law, "if it ain`t broke, don`t fix it". More importantly he has acquired the prestige to make combined services a fighting reality. Instead of having a titular head of the armed forces as chairman JCSC, make Kayani the executive head sitting in GHQ as "commander-in-chief" (C-in-C) of all the three services.

A new COAS must be promoted. It would be severely disappointing if Kayani should accept the offer of extension being dangled in front of him. He has an image that would suffer for posterity. If he cannot be C-in-C, Kayani should refuse an extension in the Waheed Kakar tradition.


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