Pakistan: Integration and Extension

Fifteen months before his retirement a debate has started about giving General Raheel Sharif an extension “a la Kayani”.  Raheel has managed to do more in his 21 months as COAS than all those predecessors of his who served far beyond their normal term of three years or more put together.

Posted on 10/18/15
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
Pakistan's army chief General Raheel Sharif remains very popular compared to many politicians. (Photo via ISPR)
Pakistan’s army chief General Raheel Sharif remains very popular compared to many politicians. (Photo via ISPR)

In my article “On Extensions and Expectations” of July 22, 2010 , I had quoted the example of General Waheed Kakar who sustained the democratic process by carefully guiding Pakistan out of the political morass, gently nudging (President Ghulam) Ishaq (Khan) out of office, and ensuring comparatively free and fair elections that saw Ms Benazir Bhutto triumphant. Echoing the sentiments of a broad mass of politicians and citizens alike (in the same manner that is happening in the case of Raheel Sharif today), a grateful Ms Bhutto had beseeched him (in 1996) to take an extension as COAS. To his undying credit, and setting a tremendous precedent, he said “no”.


To quote General Waheed Kakar’s words to the effect, “Prime among the many reasons for my saying ‘no’ is that it sets off a chain reaction that blocks promotions in the army. However, loyal and sincere the senior military hierarchy may be, potential aspirants will feel deprived of their turn at attaining the top slot for which rightfully they have had ambitions (and worked for) throughout their career. ‘Extension’ will mean many capable officers will retire from service in the next 12-18 months. An extension to my period as COAS would have put an artificial monkey wrench into a natural process.” He must have been clairvoyant, in the case of (General Pervez) Musharraf and (General Ashfaq Pervez) Kayani both the “extensions” (or rather re-appointment) proved counter-productive.  Therefore the present debate about giving General Raheel Sharif an extension is not correct.


More than an extension what we desperately need is the integration of the Armed Services, to put out to pasture a 19th-century military mindset and work out the modalities of making the JCSC effective. Having very little geographical depth for large-scale manoeuvres, any war with India, a life-and-death struggle with an implacable foe, will be fast and furious for a limited period. While it will be influenced by the air and the sea, it will finally be won or lost on the ground.  Created in 1975, the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJSC), is technically the senior most service officer in an integrated Armed Forces. This all-powerful principal appointment meant to exercise control over the defence services must be from the land forces, located in the GHQ.  In any case the coup in 1977 (repeated by Musharraf in 1999) has shown, an unresolved anomaly about who presides over senior promotions and postings makes the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) the power center, an ambiguity that needs to be resolved.
Dr Hamid Hussain says, “the purpose of the JCSC was coordination among three services to provide supposedly a unified military input to civilian leadership. The main focus of the new organization was to be on joint operations between the three services.  Working reasonably well in a very few countries, including the US, in Pakistan there is inherent conflict between chairman JCSC and COAS positions, the latter sees any increase in the power of Chairman JCSC as encroachment on his territory. The COAS will always use the ‘unity of command’ principle to thwart such efforts. Strict boundaries between various posts are less important than efforts towards a functional and institutional process which is not highly personalised. Chairman JCSC has some important tasks but not real power. What is the contribution to higher direction of war by the Chairman JCSC? The general perception is that the post has been used mainly to provide some perks and privileges of four-star rank to ‘loyal’ subordinates,” unquote. A passing comment made without any malice in my article “Airpower In COIN operations,” “what does four-star Tariq Majid do for a living?” made this undeserving man go ballistic, paraphrased by the Shakespearean adage, “Hell hath no fury” like a general without combat experience, his fangs were bared passing on the “severe displeasure” through the (than) DG ISPR, Maj Gen Athar Abbas. For some time this caused tension for no reason with a person whom I like and admired as a superb professional.


Today’s warfare cannot be fought service by service, it has to be an all-service combined affair. 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 are already somewhat unified, e.g. medical and engineering services, why not entities that are common, basic training institutions, workshops, etc to make it standardized and cost effective? Constructive reforms should include (1) the JCSC to physically move to GHQ and become the HQs for all three services (2) the present army’s HQ to be the “Army HQ” (3) The JCSC chairman to preside over the senior promotions, from one star to two stars and from two stars to three stars in all three services and all postings of two and three stars to be done with approval from GHQ (4) creating a joint operations chief (JOC), in GHQ (5) all military procurement to be standardized under GHQ aegis and (6) the ISI and the ISPR reporting to GHQ etc.


All paramilitary forces must be centralized under one authority, standardizing both men and material to constitute an “Homeland Security Command” (HMS). Including our nuclear forces ie Special Plan Division (SPD), etc and Cyberwarfare grouped together under “Strategic Forces”.  The Chairman JCSC must be a five star general (not Field Marshal, after all we are not an imperial Army) while the COAS and Commander Strategic Forces (who should be Deputy Chairman JCSC) should be four star generals.


Fifteen months before his retirement a debate has started about giving General Raheel Sharif an extension “a la Kayani”.  Raheel has managed to do more in his 21 months as COAS than all those predecessors of his who served far beyond their normal term of three years or more put together, among them Generals Ziaul Haq, Pervez Musharraf and Ashfaq Kayani. He has delivered on what he has promised.  Interestingly, all three were impressive in their first term in office, the problems started after their “extensions”.  They compromised later on any number of issues, vacillating in decision-making during their second term as COAS except where it concerned their own survival.


This transition must take place smoothly and quickly therefore a task force must work out the modalities. With dogged single-minded adherence to the “selective and maintenance of aim”, Raheel Sharif is best suited to preside over this transition.  When he is about to retire, and provided a strong demand he should continue serving the nation remains, he could very well than be an odds-on favorite to become the Chairman of the revamped JCSC.


The writer is a leading defense and political analyst of Pakistan. He can be contacted at

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  1. He must clean the stables and ensure system is changed before he departs. This means that independence of the executive from Legislature – and not making the Sentors /MNAs becoming minister – but only to legisltate – period. The government be run by the professionals chosen by the Chief Executive and a House committee must approve and certify his/her moral and financial credentials.

  2. It is unfortunate that politicians failed to ensure a corruption free legislature and administration, however, you have touched upon many good points in the aforementioned article. When I look around the developing political situation right on our frontiers, I feel, it would be in the fitness of things if the administration of ISI be given under the supervision of Chairman JCSC in coordination with the three Chiefs. Rana Abdul Baqi

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