Original article by Gen Asad Durrani. Comments in red by Dr Hamid Hussain. Additional comments in blue by Major Amin.
LG Asad Durrani views and my two cents in red.
The Same Page Saga
Lt Gen ® Asad Durrani
The Chief of Army Staff in Pakistan is not just another head of service, nor is he, strictly speaking, a “chief of staff”; the designation that the late Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto believed would deny the man on the horseback the clout to take over the Country. His assumption went ruefully wrong when Zia-ul-Haq, his handpicked COAS, not only putsched but also hanged him. In ‘Pakistan Adrift’, an account of my journey through the corridors of power, I have tried to assess the military’s role in the Country’s polity and an army chief’s special status in the power matrix – in which he often played the ultimate arbiter. For people like me therefore the commotion over the present incumbent’s service extension in the last week of November came as no surprise. The following chronicle however is not about any technicalities of the issue at hand, but about the algorithm of this game of thrones.
The three-year tenure for a four-star general, and for his naval and air-force equivalents, was Zia’s idea. And, it had its Machiavellian logic. Since he intended to hang on for a long time; to provide some consolation to those waiting in line, he created another four-star office, that of the Vice Chief Of Army Staff – to be rotated every three years. Musharraf also found this arrangement helpful and promoted a few to this exalted office to keep the promotion ladder moving. The problem was that unless a COAS took over political power, he too was restricted to this limited stint
Aslam Beg, Zia’s successor, knew that President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, known to be a stickler for rules, would grant him no extension. He therefore sounded out a few quarters if he could be kicked upstairs, preferably as the Chief of Defence Staff: a concept that was considered sound but could not be implemented since the Army would not accept any impediment to its powers. GIK however was not impressed. Beg’s successor, Waheed Kakar, (? Beg’s successor was General Asif Nawaz Janjua) was beseeched by Benazir Bhutto in her second incarnation to continue after his three-years in office. Kakar refused as it would have deprived the next man of his chance. (Kakar’s this action and fading completely out of public view after hanging his boots elevated his respect. This was despite his direct involvement in a high profile ‘food fight’ between Prime Minister and President. Kakar was below average cadet and was relegated a term at Military Academy Kakul. He worked hard during his professional career as well as had less inclination for intrigue. He would have retired at LG rank but for divine intervention in 1993 with sudden death of COAS.)
KAKAR WAS A MIDGET IN EVERY WAY, PHYSICALLY AND IN CHARACTER.HE WAS ON RECORD ACCUSED OF BEING PARTY BAAZ AND PAROCHIAL BY GENERAL MUSHARRAF IN HIS BOOK . BIASED AND A SMALL MAN HE MOST UNJUSTLY PREMATURELY RETIRED THIS SCRIBES COMMANDING OFFICER AS HE HAD SHOWN CHARACTER AND REFUSED TO DOWNGRADE THIS SCRIBES ANNUAL REPORT AS THE MIDGET WAS PRESSURISING. THIS SCRIBE IN TURN HAD REPRESENTED AND GENERAL ASLAM BAIG HAD GIVEN A SEVERE DRESSING DOWN TO THE MIDGET. CANT CALL THIS MIDGET A MAN WHO HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH PRINCIPLES.
ITS HARD TO RATIONALISE THAT MIDGET RETIRES AN OUTSTANDING COLONEL STAFFOF 41 DIVISION JUST BECAUSE HE HAD SHOWN CHARACTER IN 1987 AND THIS OUTSTANDING OFFICER SERVES AS COLONEL STAFF IN ISI FOR 6 MORE YEARS !
Jehangir Karamat who followed him resigned (I think correct term will be early retirement. As I understand, if an officer resigns his commission, he forfeits his pension and other post-retirement benefits. If he takes early retirement, he keeps all these benefits.) a few months before his term was to end, but before that I had a little exchange with him. My view was that since the Country had only recently gone overtly nuclear, someone like JK with his deep understanding of the new complexities was best suited to head the Joint Staff Headquarters to put the nuclear doctrines in place. Karamat however was not interested. The next Army Chief who had to get his stint extended by an elected chief executive was Ashfaq Pervez Kyani. He secured a full second term because Zardari and Gillani, the President and the Prime Minister respectively, never cared for any institutional restraints. What did Imran Khan have in mind when he granted a three-years extension to the present incumbent?
Let me reminisce a bit.
When heading the ISI in the early 1990s, I got a message from Imran the cricketer that he needed help to take some foreigners (all housewives as it read), to our Northern Areas. After consulting the local commander, I agreed. He didn’t avail of this opportunity nor did I hear from him – till he came over to my house in early 1998 to invite me to join his party. I had to politely decline, but offered advice if it was ever needed on matters I had dealt with. Soon thereafter, India exploded a few nuclear devices and IK sent some members of his team to seek my views. He personally was against our responding in kind but accepted my suggestion that we had to carry out a few tests of our own. What persuaded me to attend some of his subsequent council meetings was that he publicly stated that his change of heart on the nuclear issue was because of an “expert’s opinion” (no one had heard of U-turns at that time, which in any case would have been the wrong description). Of course, I could not continue for long because Khan hardly listened to anyone even in his core group.
But then I was not the only military man who was taken-in by IK. Hamid Gul once told me that he intended to groom Imran for politics. No idea why the project was abandoned, but I do recall that Pervez Musharraf too once suggested that Khan could become a brand to market Pakistan.
i am surprised at this extremely naieve manner in which durrani has analysed Imran- as early as 1990s , i would say 1991-93 articles were published in pakistan army journal idolising imran khan as pakistans future leader and possibly prime minister.
now pakistan army journal is pakistan armys official journal and nothing is published in it without clearance from all levels including military intelligence. (A.H Amin)
Since the ISI at the time had only heard of branding herds in the Wild West, I could not follow-up. Musharraf however got a chance after he became the Chief Executive, but soon jettisoned Imran in favour of the Chaudhries. Khan thereafter went all guns blazing against Musharraf and called him a fake (doe numberia in our lingo).
Imran thus comes across as a person who may pander to the high and mighty for his interest, but would drop them as hot potato when they had served their purpose, or turn his guns against them if they could not. Benevolently, he could be described as pragmatic: taking U-turns, like granting extension to an army chief, an act that he was once opposed to, as a policy; being honest – he does not even posture to be the Prime Minister; and indeed for having no qualms about following the Military page by page.
When the pro and contra arguments on the extension business were at their peak in the Supreme Court, there were a few anxious voices, also from some of the ex-servicemen—who had earlier celebrated the government’s extension decision with such gusto that one suspected the alternative was a civilian as the next army chief—that now the honorable course for Bajwa was to make an exit. Not knowing him, I do not know why he didn’t, but I do know there are serious implications in accepting extensions. Some are known: denying someone else his rightful turn; and sending an unhelpful message that no one else in the queue was up to the job. Others, lesser known, are more serious: the beneficiary loses respect within the institution; and it tempts some others to suck up to their political bosses to get selected or extended – say as army chief. (This is correct assessment and in my own interactions with many officers, most hold the same view. Power has its own dynamics and ethos. Senior officers are not monks but fallible human beings. Un-restrained power has a very corrosive effect. Contrary to the traditions left by British as well as common practice of most professional armies, there is too much pomp and show and quite lavish modus operandi practiced by COAS. Hundreds of souls at GHQ, COAS secretariat and army house fulfilling every wish, sycophant attitude of even senior officers and a private jet to fly around. This invariably goes straight to the head. Ambitious lower middle class chap’s start to think that they were destined to be put in temples and worshipped. It may not be a bad idea to just look how Israeli Chief of Staff works and live. Some senior officers play their own little Byzantine intrigues and that is matter of bed time stories for another time.)
Maybe a word or two about the laws that might be made as ordered by the Apex Court. Whatever would be decided regarding the tenure or a possible future structure—creation of a Chief of Defence post, for example—was better put in practice for the coming generations. If the present office holders were to become the beneficiaries, the exercise would be seen to have been influenced by the powers that be. (we already have Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) foe higher direction of war. The post has become a consolation prize for a senior army officer who missed on COAS slot. This is causing a lot of resentment among sister services. Any way the post is purely ceremonial in its present set up. I recall a joke when General Muhammad Sharif was appointed first CJCSC by Z. A. Bhutto. One old JCO came to congratulate him and said: “Mubarak ho sir. Aaap Pakistani fauj key sadar Chaudhry Fazal Elahi ban gai hein”.)
And lastly about a chance encounter I had a few months back with the man at the center stage of the High Noon Drama in the Supreme Court. I asked the Chief Justice if the Judiciary and the Military were now on one page—as the late highly regarded Sahibzada Yakub Khan used to suggest could be the best remedy for Pakistan. “No, we’re trying to do our bit all on our own”; adjudicated the Honourable Mr. Khosa. And, so it turned out to be.
(Annoyed mule gave a parting kick. It was not to the head causing a fatal injury but has hit the knee very hard. General Bajwa will be lame for the rest of his career; whether 6 months, one or three years. However, it is not the person but fall out for the army that I’m concerned. When General Bajwa accepted extension in August 2019, I wrote that with this decision, he has taken the institution into a rabbit hole. This is the first act. Now, a slippery slope as far as army is concerned. With well-intentioned but completely in-disciplined Prime Minister house means that army must do everything. It must rope in allies as well as cajole, bribe & threaten all opposition parties and that will not be a pretty site. More importantly, it finally dawned on the army that Chief Justice chair does not preside over only cases showing doors to Prime Ministers but can topple the biggest god in the temple of Somnath at Rawalpindi. This means adding another portfolio to ISI and MI workload. If a mild-mannered Chief Justice can deliver such a kick, just imagine what an angry Qazi F. Isa can do in 2023? Looking at the optics of just first week, where General Bajwa attended the cabinet meeting, one wonders whether he is not listening to some saner advice or no one daring to utter even few words of common sense. He was standing in a pile of mud with only boots soiled. Rather than carefully moving, he decided to march left-right splashing it all over the uniform.
“As far being a General; at the age of four with paper hats and wooden swords we were all generals. Only some of us never grow out of it”. Romeo & Juliet by Peter Ustinov