Who will be the next army chief is an issue that seems to have caught the imagination of many a people in Islamabad and even outside. many a defense analysts are setting up shop and doing good business because of their acclaimed expertise on the matter. The closer you are to the GHQ’s heart the more answers you might have. At least, you can conjecture much more freely and tout yourself as ‘The Security Expert’. There are at least a couple in Islamabad who have a raving business built around their ability to answer questions of less knowledgable people, diplomats and foreign journalists. I bumped into one such character at a dinner who could name the postings that a particular senior general had done like the back of his hand. Very impressed!
But as I write this in mid-september, it seems that the about to retire saviour General Ashfaq Kiyani is still vying for an extension. Or if that’s not possible to get appointed as national security advisor to the newly resurrected old military design organization called the National security Council. Such suggestions are not made directly but through journalist/anchor chamchas (translated into English as boot-lickers) who make a suggestion to test waters. The beauty of media empowerment under Musharraf is that now there are too many out there to sell themselves to the GHQ and others at hefty sums. But referring to General Kiyani, who some analysts claim to be a wise man, one’s eyes easily pop out at the suggestion of him getting any appointment after his miserable track record of: Abbotabad ignominy, Salala disaster, Raymond Davis fiasco, scandalous moves to threaten democracy (ref: Memogate), and numerous scandals linking his brothers with corruption.
However, he still seems to have control over a lot of things in the army which is why many sources don’t think that Lt. General Haroon Aslam, who is the senior most will make it to the position of the army chief. He is being named for the position of the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) but not as COAS. This is probably a pet Kiyani trick as he succeeded in kicking General Wyne to the position of CJCSC when he himself got a 3-years extension under the PPP government. Many name Lt. General Rashid Mahmood as a possibility. But then the rumors are that army officers call him baji (elder sister) indicating that he is a softee which also means that he may not be the one to rock the political boat. There are two other generals also famed as bajis:Generals Jahangir Karamat and Ashfaq Kiyani. One of the reasons why junior and mid-ranking officers use such derogatory terms for these two generals is because of their inability to standup to civilian leadership or become part of their corruption. Majority of military officers that include the PAF and PN were unhappy with Karamat for how he resigned and caved into pressure from Sharif’s government in 1999. Kiyani makes them unhappy for taking extension from, what is perceived as a corrupt PPP regime. The stories of Kiyani’s brothers corruption and involvement in land scams is also a reason some officers refer to him as ‘Almas Bobby’ (for those interested in bobby simply google).
For many a men the epitome of male officer-type is people like Pervez Musharraf and Asif Nawaz Janjua. These are male predator type for whom honor represents raw bravado, ability to break laws and poke anyone in the eyes. Musharraf still remains popular amongst the jawans more than the current chief. They look up to him for how he protected their interests. The manner in which he supported an alleged rapist of a femal doctor in Sui, Baluchistan Dr Shazia Khalid or condoned the slapping of a police official by an army officer as punishment for stopping the general’s car on red light are cases in point. Had Musharraf not poked the CJ in his eyes or seemingly tilted too much towards India, most were fine with him. The men definitely want their man to be a man. The fact that he slept around or ran undressed with women in government buildings in hill stations or elsewhere, or drank himself silly does not really matter. However, it is also interesting that being categorized as a female has never stopped a senior commander from becoming an army chief. Perhaps, as long as the baji generals are good enough in providing kickbacks and perks internally, how they act ultimately is of little consequence.
Then there is Raheel Sharif who was sidelined to a secondary position of Training and Evaluation in the GHQ. He comes from an army family, younger brother of Major Shabbir Sharif who won two military awards for his performance and martyrdom in the 1971 war.
The other two serious contenders seem to be Lt. Generals Tariq Khan (Coprs Commander Mangla) and lt. General Zaheer-ul-Islam. They say that Tariq Khan may not have a good chance due to his closeness with the US. Reportedly, his territory in Mangla looks like mini-US (these are reports not what I have seen myself). However, there are confirmed reports of him being a great party-thrower and a great DJ as well. However, there are others who insist that whatever the nature of discussion on the issue of the appointment of a service chief it will ultimately be Tariq Khan who will become the army chief. Indeed, he is a restless man who promotes his cause through military men in media. He also has a daughter studying in the US (California to be precise) who writes columns and is the future defense analyst. She will probably land in many American think-tanks (as long as singing a duet with the Pak army remains fashionable).
Zaheer-ul-Islam is the current ISI chief who is also reputed to be a great Muslim. Reports are that he is mindful of his prayers and is less visibly an American chamcha as Tariq Khan.
The Prime Minister has clearly two choices: he could either go for a baji type and not risk derailment or go for a more American friendly macho type or an Islamic ummah kind and have greater pressure put on him at some future date. I suppose the pieces of the puzzle will get together once the Kiyani retirement or extension or relocation decision is done.