Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Sept 24, 2014

Change of command Promotions and changes in the command of the armed forces have sometimes in the past engendered controversies, either at the time of such appointments or later during the tenure of the incumbents. It goes without saying that the closer such decisions are to the rules, procedures and normal processes, the more they enjoy legitimacy as they are seen as being based on merit and professionalism. To the extent therefore that the promotion of six Major-Generals of the army to Lieutenant-General and their posting to field and other professional tasks has proceeded smoothly and without hitch, the greater the anticipation that merit and professionalism have held sway, as they should. Five serving Lieutenant-Generals are retiring on October 1, and their successors have been named in advance as is the norm to allow a smooth transition. The change at the ISI is always the subject of much interest and the present one is no exception. The ISI’s past is littered with controversies on its role in politics. The elevation of (now) Lieutenant-General Rizwan Akhtar to the prized post of DG ISI merits the comment that he brings to the job impressive credentials in the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism field. Since the country is confronting these twin menaces, his appointment certainly meets with approval generally. However, having said that, it would be salutary for the new DG to cast a glance over his shoulder at his predecessors and how and why they became controversial. General Pasha got embroiled in questions about his extension in service of one year, the bin Laden raid, and Memogate. His successor General Zaheer was controversially accused by a media group of being responsible for an attack on a TV anchorperson and has been hinted at (or at least his outfit has) by some circles as having played a role in the current political crisis. Such speculations seem to be a legacy of the past, in which the ISI’s role in the politics of the country and its elevated importance during the Afghan wars convinced some that it had become a state within a state. Whatever the truth about those years, it is difficult to argue today that the ISI is not within the famed discipline of the armed forces. Of course it is another matter that theoretically the ISI chief is supposed to report to the prime minister, but in practice more often than not this chain of command is redirected towards the COAS. The four new Corps Commanders appointed reflect the assertion by COAS General Raheel Sharif of his stamp on the top brass going forward, as every new COAS is wont to do. After all if the army’s overall commander is to have unity of command and control, it is natural that he should want people in place in crucial posts in whom he has trust and confidence. So although the media is speculating that a younger, newer top brass as reflected in these appointments is a sign of the ‘taking charge’ of the top echelons of the army by General Sharif and moving on from the legacy of his predecessor General Kayani, this is in the nature of things and hardly something of note. There are also speculations in the air that the ongoing crisis brought about by the sit-ins of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek that are credited with putting the government on the back foot and weakening its position has borne its first fruit in the shape of all these appointments that bear the imprimatur of the COAS, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif merely acting as a rubber stamp in according them approval. It is pointless indulging in such speculation, particularly since these sensitive matters can then generate even more controversy, raise the political temperature and perceptions about civil-military relations to an intensity the country cannot at this point afford. The new appointments reflect in their generality the importance being given to the fight against terrorism and it is hoped the new incumbents will live up to their reputation in rescuing the country from the grip of the extremists who have damaged the state and society so grievously.

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