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Changing of the guard

Career military officers never really stop acting like subalterns, they try neither to be seen nor heard unless so required by their superiors. For a smooth advancement to the upper reaches of the military hierarchy they do need to be heard of within the Army. Gen Aslam Beg achieved a facelessness of sorts as late Gen Zia’s Chief of General Staff (CGS) and then later as his Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS), remaining on the edge of the public eye but well-known within the Army. Gen Asif Nawaz was better known among the citizenry before his elevation as COAS because of his stint as Commander 5 Corps in Sindh. Like the two COAS before him, Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar, is wellknown within the Army, having served as Adjutant General before he became a Corps Commander but in contrast to his predecessors is almost an unknown quantity to the general public, except in Upper Sindh and Quetta.

Gen Beg is soft spoken but extremely loquacious with respect to the media, on the other hand Gen Asif Nawaz was always extremely conscious of the fourth estate but remained taciturn and almost monosyllabic with journalists in public.

Gen Beg horrified military traditionalists with his policy of Glasnost, Gen Asif Nawaz came from a mainline military background but he realized the value of openness and did nothing to reverse the process, though he did stop further erosion of the Army’s fortress mentality. Gen Asif Nawaz was a son of the soil in all senses of the word, his career from his cadet days at Sandhurst to his eighteen months as COAS Pakistan Army was a model of military probity. He was much more relaxed and warm with friends and close associates in private, a totally different personality. Gen Asif Nawaz lived in a simple military world of black and white, with no shades of grey in between. If you were not a friend you were a foe. His predecessor’s penchant for extended intellectual discourse debate militated against his ingrained military training and heritage. Gen Beg’s wider vision of a world canvas was persisted upon by Gen Asif Nawaz as a necessary feature of his unique job as COAS, he did not subscribe to it voluntarily and was never comfortable in that role despite the fact that he, in contrast to Gen Beg, was much more liked by western diplomats. To that extent, while Gen Asif Nawaz initial desire was to be focussed primarily on military matters but he soon understood (and enjoyed) the political ramifications of his job description.

As Muslims we are resigned to death at any time, as such being felled by heart attack is a fate that can befall anyone at any time. Rumours about two of Gen Asif’s arteries being blocked is extremely serious and raise questions about the medical care and advice that he was under. In such circumstances, jogging would be fatal, three weeks earlier he had to leave a JCSC meeting in circumstances resembling heart problems. The inner circle of his military staff are believed to have constantly fed him with conspiracy theories, mostly to highlight their own importance. Gen Asif Nawaz was particularly sensitive to persisting references to the “Gul Hassan example” where a serving COAS (of that name) was removed by subterfuge by politicians because of alleged Bonapartist tendencies. Knowing that the PM had a special soft corner for the former ISI Chief, Lt Gen (Retd) Hameed Gul and with the present DG ISI, Lt Gen Javed Nasir, the PM’s choice over and above his head, there was an element of mutual suspicion and restiveness in the PM-COAS relationship. Friction with the President was also rumoured because of the field imperatives of the Army action in Sindh, the famous list of Untouchables is supposed to have contained special interest groups closely linked and/or allied to Ghulam Ishaq Khan. The close staff and associates of any leader exist to act as a buffer, to absorb shocks, to protect their mentor from being overburdened, to act as honest brokers in laying out analysis and options thereof, etc, in short to act a lightning rod and keep their leader from being overtaken by the stress and strain of his office. This they obviously failed to do.

Given the varying demands and compulsions of his office, Gen Asif Nawaz was an honest man committed to accomplishing the task that befalls any COAS of the Pakistan Army, to act as an Atlas to the many burdens of Pakistan, these include the political demands of his office. Impatient to get on with military matters, Asif Nawaz was forced to go off at a tangent attending to internal and external problems. One of his most far-reaching decisions was to go for a third Armoured Division, a prime necessity given Pakistan’s vulnerable Southern flank. As a member of the Troika that rules Pakistan, he was more equal than the others but was understandably helpless at the state of the economy, the root cause of most problems bedevilling Pakistan.

One major mistake of the late COAS was not to appoint a full time Vice Chief of the Army Staff, someone who could take a load of weight from the shoulders of the Chief by negotiating the mundane and the routine. The obvious choice, Lt Gen Hameed Gul, had never reconciled to Gen Asif Nawaz’s elevation as COAS. Gen Asif Nawaz reacted to this by seeing him as an implacable rival. After at least two Asif Nawaz-initiatives at reconciliation of sorts were seen to be rebuffed by Hameed Gul, he sidelined him by posting him to the post of Director General Heavy Rebuild Factory (HRF). By refusing to move to HRF, which he perceived as an obvious insult, Gen Hameed Gul violated the basics of military discipline and was prematurely retired, we thus lost the services of a good soldier of Pakistan. Gen Asif Nawaz may have erred by ruffling Hameed Gul’s feathers, in the final analysis it was his prerogative as COAS, you cannot have two swords in one scabbard. The loss of the COAS and the uncertainty that shrouded Pakistan for 48-72 hours only points to the necessity that the chain of command must be established by appointing a full-time VCOAS, or at the very least a Deputy COAS. The seven who have been superseded may have accepted their fate quietly, it goes to their credit. The under-the-surface bitterness was tailor-made for exploitation by the Un-Godly.

The main reason being touted around for Waheed Kakar’s elevation to the post of COAS, that he ensures the re-election of the President to a second term is unfair to this professional soldier. He, as was Asif Nawaz before him, certainly recommended to the President by Gen (Retd) Rahimuddin Khan, former Chairman JCSC and ex-Governor of Balochistan and Sindh. Both Asif Nawaz and Waheed Kakar served as his COS when he was Corps Comd at Quetta and Multan respectively, Gen Rahimuddin thus has the satisfaction of seeing two of his proteges become COAS. While Gen Asif Nawaz went through a nervous 60 days wait before he assumed charge as COAS, once in power Gen Asif Nawaz was a changed man as he absorbed the unquestioned strength of his appointment over a disciplined force that would unquestioningly obey his word. One does not expect that there was vested interest in Gen Waheed’s choice as COAS. In case the President expects the new COAS to be a pushover he will be sadly mistaken twice over, the same way people were wrong about Gen Asif Nawaz. The general will be very correct, maybe even more so than his late predecessor, but as he settles into the responsibility that goes beyond the parameters of his new appointment, he will find that his first loyalty is to the nation and then to the Army rather than to any individual. One does not see him as a Commander of the Praetorian Guard. In short order he will be his own man, responding to developing situations and personalities in the greater national interest, conscious of the fact that if he succumbs to personal loyalties transcending his greater loyalty to patriotism, he will immediately lose the respect of the men in uniform he commands.

Lt Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar’s elevation as COAS Pakistan Army generated surprise only because he was way down the list of contenders. Professionally speaking, he is the same professional mould as that of his predecessor, perhaps even a shade tougher. Ordinary officers do not get to go to Staff College abroad, Gen Waheed did his in Canada having stood first in the Army in the Staff College Entrance Examination. As Chief of Staff to Comd 2 Corps, then Lt Gen Rahimuddin Khan, at Multan, he virtually ran the Corps while Gen Rahimuddin was concurrently Governor of Balochistan at Quetta. Promoted to Maj Gen, he was given command of 16 Division at Quetta, all three years were spent hunting dacoits in Upper Sindh, headquartered at Sukkur, away from his family except for the occasional leave. Even today he is remembered in the area for being tough but fair. As Adjutant General Pakistan Army, he took on the then President and COAS, Gen Ziaul Haq, writing to him on two occasions that “his directive was not in keeping with the principles stated by him (Zia)”, unquote. Many officers, retired or dismissed arbitrarily, gained from his penchant to stand upto pressure on behalf of justice. Promoted to Corps Commander, he took over the Corps at Quetta and kept it involved in training, exercises and other duties as is the wont of professional soldiers. In the backwaters, he remained out of sight but obviously not out of mind.

Every man must have ambition, that of the professional soldier is the top job of COAS. To that end one feels disappointed for those who could not make it to the post of COAS, each of the men ahead of Gen Waheed had his own particular strong point. However once the appointment of COAS has been made, any controversy must cease in the national interest. The steel and grit of the Army is the surest guarantor of freedom, the COAS is the symbol of the guarantee. As his two predecessors before him have shown, Gen Waheed will prove that he is very much his own man and as much as the supreme national interest dictated that he become the COAS superseding other gifted generals so one expects that he will be guided by the supreme national interest in supersession to all vested interest. The post of COAS Pakistan Army is like King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, anyone who grips it is transformed into the embodiment of all the patriotic wishes of the citizens of this country, the cause takes over the man.

Some of the Janjuas who inhabit Chakri Rajgan are cavalrymen mostly descended from Alexander’s Greeks (Grecian nose and features, fair colour and blue eyes) who made an opposed crossing of the Jhelum River against King Porus at a location hardly 15 miles away more than 2000 years ago. Alexander’s famous horse Bucephalus died in the battle, distraught the King made a temple (near modern Phalia) and held games in his honour before going onto his final destination in the South Asian sub-continent, Sugdala (near modern Sialkot). His distant forefathers would have been proud of this noble son, Gen Asif Nawaz may have been from the Salt Ranges, he was the salt of this Earth. The torch of Pakistan’s freedom has now been passed onto a new champion, from the words of “Taps” we quote a last farewell for one soldier who did not fade away, “rest in peace, soldier brave!”

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