General Kayani’s term has ended and a new Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif has been chosen by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as the next Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan. This practice of Prime Minister choosing COAS followed by COAS choosing Prime minister is called “Circle of Life” in Pakistan and is an essential part of its political structure. In accordance with the solemn tradition practiced since independence, such a transition of power is commemorated in Pakistan with frivolous articles filled with bogus facts and inaccuracies profiling the new Chief. This article filled with ungrounded speculation written by someone with no information or expertise whatsoever is a fitting tribute to that tradition.
General Raheel Sharif, like all Chiefs of Army Staff of Pakistan (at the time of their appointment and before they conducted their coups), is a professional soldier with no political ambition and healthy respect for democracy. How these attributes will change after he conducts a coup is anyone’s guess. To understand the expectations from General Raheel Sharif and his possible policy decisions, it is important to understand the achievements of his predecessor General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani:
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who, according to many, is one of the best “thinking generals” of Pakistan army has had an impressive tenure. It is well known that the four* canonical expectations of an ideal Pakistani COAS is
- Not losing a war with India
- Not conducting a coup
- Not rigging elections
- Retiring when it is due
and Kayani managed three out of the four. While this by itself does not sound impressive, it is a 400% improvement over his predecessor General Pervez Musharraf who managed to score a zero on four in his tenure and is outstanding considering that very few COAS in the history of Pakistan have measured up to these expectations.
General Raheel Sharif will be held to the same exacting standards as General Kayani’s achievements and therefore has leeway to violate only one of the four canonical expectations. However, his choices are even more constrained — It is important to note the window of opportunity to conduct a coup or rig elections has closed shut in Pakistan. An increasingly assertive judiciary and a vibrant media has made coups all but impossible and stripped Pakistan Army of its traditional power over the civilians. The once all-powerful Pakistan army has now retreated to only controlling the foreign policy, the ISI, all aspects of internal and external security, beating up errant journalists, extra judicial killings, policymaking in sensitive provinces like Balochistan, wheeling-dealings with all manner of “non-state actors”, and the nuke button. Some would say that Pakistan Army has even been rendered toothless — the power to unilaterally nuke India and getting Pakistan annihilated in subsequent Indian retaliation is hardly a symbol of power or a compensation for the inability to freely conduct coups.
With the possibility of Coup out of the window and rigging all but ruled out, General Sharif has a difficult choice: giving himself extensions or losing a war with India?
Only time will tell.
*Some argue “Not conducting a genocide” should be in the list of canonical expectation of Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan. Others contend that this would lead to a slippery slope which could lead to the prohibition of extra-judicial killings. Such a prohibition is unacceptable to many.