Pakistan’s Fading General

Pakistan's powerful army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani will retire on November 29 this year. Pakistan's leading defense analyst Ikram Sehgal discusses the general's legacy.

Posted on 10/11/13
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
Pakistan's retiring army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani
Pakistan’s retiring army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani

The careers of our senior military hierarchy, a confidential prerogative of the military secretary’s branch of the GHQ (Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters), are being openly (and irresponsibly) discussed in the media, thanks to the indecisiveness of the present regime in making critical appointments. Not good for the country, let alone the armed forces!

The army’s bad image not only had a dampening effect on the morale of the rank and file, it also adversely impacted on the discipline and professionalism our khakis are renowned for. When Kayani took over as COAS (Chief of the Army Staff), several dozen task forces were tasked with evaluating the shortcomings and deficiencies across the entire spectrum of the operational and administrative functions of the army.

Kayani then set about implementing remedial measures at a careful pace given that the army was soon engaged in intense fighting in Swat and FATA; no plaudits are enough for this concurrent virtuoso performance.

Seeing as the army had suffered a decade of neglect, Kayani set in motion schemes to ameliorate the welfare of soldiers. Initiatives like housing for soldiers acted as a force-multiplier for the morale of the rank and file. The army was conducting counterinsurgency operations since 2003 without training; every unit destined for the war zone now went through the requisite training and field orientation.

The army schools of instruction were revamped. Starting from the Pakistan Military Academy to the National Defense University they were upgraded to cope with the requirements of the new kind of warfare, successfully breaking out of the straitjacket of obsolete World War II practices. On Kayani’s active encouragement the NDU went outside its faculty for advice and converted the two courses at the NDU, the army war course and the national security course, into one single superbly effective course.

The very best of Kayani’s initiatives were the promotions on merit, and merit alone, in the senior army hierarchy. Some officers who should have been promoted were overlooked. However, not one single officer was promoted to the rank of Maj-Gen or Lt-Gen who did not deserve the promotion.

Some of Musharraf’s promotions (over a 10-year period) were good men but as soldiers many did not deserve to go beyond the rank of Lt-Col; a few didn’t even deserve to wear the uniform, let alone given two and three stars rank. This disfigured the professionalism (and the respect) of the army hierarchy, and Kayani sent them quietly out to pasture. Possibly because he himself lacked combat experience, General Pervez Musharraf was also averse to those who had since they were more likely to question his motives.

Given the turnover of personnel in the Swat and Fata operations, Kayani gave combat performance maximum weightage for promotion. Those found deficient in leadership in combat conditions failed to get promoted. Very few of the senior officers today have missed combat service because of exigencies of service (like in Musharraf’s own case) for no fault of their own. Such quality in the upper reaches of the military hierarchy is a tremendous asset for any army in the world.

By the nature of his appointment, the COAS of Pakistan inherently has the task of operating on multiple fronts, quite a few not connected with the profession of soldiering. These include dealing with a corrupt civilian government without being provoked and ensuring that the national security concerns of the nation are not compromised.

Many do not know about Kayani’s great initiatives of integrating the youth of Balochistan (Pakistan’s southwestern province) into mainstream Pakistan; this will remain Kayani’s lasting legacy. Similarly his resolve to recover every single body buried alive at Gayari is really commendable. Consider in contrast Commander 10 Corps (Pakistan Army’s most sensitive Corp because of its close deployment to the country’s capital Islamabad)  Lt Gen Mahmood declining to claim his troops lying dead across the LoC in Kargil as belonging to his corps.

During Kayani’s first three-year COAS tenure, President Asif Ali Zardari did not feel confident enough to go all-out in blatant nepotism and corruption. With the army fully engaged in counterinsurgency operations and the not much happening on the NRO or the Swiss case, Zardari and his cronies went into full gear. This put pressure on Kayani from within the army to do something. The perception was that the blood of our soldiers in Fata and Swat was being spilt to help the corrupt line their pockets.

Kayani kept his soldiers’ frustrations and impatience in check, the price the army had to pay to keep democracy alive and well in Pakistan, “as I complete my tenure the will of the people has taken root and a constitutional order is in place. The armed forces of Pakistan fully support and want to strengthen this democratic order. The Pakistan Army has made its contribution towards this deserved end with complete clarity of mind and a comprehensive understanding of the trajectory Pakistan needs to take” (Kayani’s ISPR statement).

Even without physical intervention Kayani could have done more by rendering quiet but ‘targeted’ advice. He also set a few precedents to show that intervention was not necessary. When quiet counsel fails, a solid public posture is enough. While one agrees that sacrifices had to be made for the sake of democracy, the ceremonial guard of honor for Zardari (the supreme commander who never visited his troops in the field) on his exit as president should have been avoided.

The COAS appointment sums up Pakistan’s dilemma, the junior post being preferred because that is where the power lies. Kayani should have had the confidence to let go of the COAS chair after the first term. As the chairman JCSC he would have made the JCSC truly effective – an integrated higher defense command is a must for modern warfare.

Only two changes are required, the chairman JCSC must preside over the promotion board for officers of two-and-three-stars rank and all their postings. The GHQ must be the HQ for the chairman JCSC, the army component being known as Army HQ, which GHQ presently is. No conspiracies should be seen in Kayani’s assuming temporary charge of chairman JCSC, he simply happens to be the senior-most officer of the armed forces at present.

When no longer in uniform, Kayani will soon discover who his real friends and fans are; some controversies about his tenure will certainly surface but that is still in the future. To quote MacArthur speaking to the US Congress on his retirement, “old soldiers never die, they simply fade away.” Good soldier Kayani will hang up his uniform seven weeks hence, having in his own words “served this great nation and (had) the privilege of commanding the finest army of the world for six years to the best of my abilities and with the sincerest of my intentions”.

This article also appeared in The News International.

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