Leadership Changes in Pakistan: Portents for the Future
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Issue Courtesy: CLAWS | Date : 11 Dec , 2013

General Raheel Sharif

Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani finally demitted office on 28 November 2013, ending weeks of speculation. General Raheel Sharif has replaced him, marking an important change inPakistan’s hierarchical structure. Raheel Sharif was third in line in seniority and was not expected to assume the top post. Known as a simple career officer, he commanded the 11 Infantry Division in Lahoreand was later posted as Commandant, Pakistan Military Academy Kakul. On promotion, he commanded the Gujranwala Corps and later took over as Inspector General Weapons, Training and Evaluation; a post, which many assumed, was a retiring slot. His promotion surprised many in Pakistan as some believe that even his earlier elevation to three star rank was fortuitous.

…Nawaz was comfortable with Kayani and was keen to give him another extension but resistance from the military hierarchy forced him to abandon such an option.

What tipped the scales for him was perhaps his closeness to Lieutenant General (retired) Abdul Qadir Baloch, a close confidante of PM Nawaz Sharif. That, and his low profile, could have made the difference. Having been bitten twice earlier by Chiefs he had appointed during previous terms in office, Nawaz Sharif would have been wary of an ambitious man as Chief. The Prime Minister however, is not related to the Army Chief, though they share the same surname. Some reports suggest that Nawaz was comfortable with Kayani and was keen to give him another extension but resistance from the military hierarchy forced him to abandon such an option. Raheel is expected to follow an approach similar to his predecessor, which too could have weighed in his favour.

The new chief’s foremost test would be combatting internal conflict within Pakistan. Here, he confronts a major challenge in both the Western provinces adjoining Afghanistan. In particular, he faces serious opposition from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a confederation of local militant groups whose leadership too has changed following the killing of their erstwhile leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in FATA. The Nawaz Sharif government was in the process of initiating peace talks with Hakimullah when the US drones removed him from the scene, putting paid to whatever chances there were of such talks fructifying. In a paradoxical reversal of role, Hakimullah, the erstwhile most dreaded terrorist in Pakistan, was suddenly eulogised as a man of peace after his killing, despite the fact that he was the most wanted terrorist on the list of the Pakistani security establishment. In a further travesty of common sense, the ameer of the Jammat Ulema-e-Islami (JUI)[1], Munawar Hassan declared Hakimullah a martyr. His statement was supported by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Chief of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) who went ahead and said that anyone killed by theUnited States, even if it is a dog is a martyr. This has understandably annoyed the Army, many of whose soldiers have died fighting the Taliban.

It would be naïve to think that any of the above changes could cause a shift in Pakistan’s stance towards India. The Army will continue to be the major background player in the country’s affairs, especially its dealings with India.

Raheel Sharif is supportive of the change in military strategy, which started in 2007, shifting the focus of the Pakistan Army towards addressing internal security threats from the earlier stance where the Army was solely preoccupied with India. In this more nuanced approach, the internal threat from the Taliban has become the main priority. As the Army Chief, he now confronts Mullah Fazlullah who has replaced Hakimullah as the TTP Chief. Fazlullah, also known as Radio Mulla for his virulent radio broadcasts, was the leader of the TNSM (Tehreek Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi). He merged his party with the TTP after the Pakistan Army cleared the Lal Masjid of Islamic fundamentalists in a bloody operation in July 2007. He led the Taliban’s brutal two-year rule in the Swat Valley, which ended only after the Pakistani Army cleared the area in 2009. Fazlullah escaped to the mountains of East Afghanistan where he currently remains underground and continues to orchestrate attacks on Pakistan’s military. Some of these have been particularly brutal and humiliating, such as the beheading of 17 soldiers in an attack in June 2012 and the killing of Major General Sanaullah Khan and two others in a bomb blast in Upper Dir in September this year. He espouses a hard line against the Pakistani state, in his bid to enforcing Islamic Sharia, stating, “Our goal is very clear – we want the law of Allah in Allah’s land”.

While the focus of General Sharif would likely be on confronting the challenge posed by the Taliban and by secessionists in Baluchistan, the ability of the Pakistani Army to defeat the Taliban remains suspect. As of now, the Pakistan military lacks the capacity to do so. The Taliban on its part, though a formidable force does not have the capability to defeat the Pakistan Army. Internal conflict in the region will hence continue as hitherto fore, with little likelihood of rapprochement between the two.  It remains to be seen whether either side will be willing to up the ante. Drone strikes by the US forces are unlikely to abate, as it suits Pakistanto have the Americans take out the top leadership of the TTP, though outward protestations of the same will continue for public consumption.

Another leadership change, this time in the judiciary, is scheduled to occur on 12 December 2013, when Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry demits office. The Pakistan Government has appointed Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani as the new Chief Justice. Mr Chaudhry was widely admired by many for standing up to the military but was also criticised for interfering in politics and exceeding his brief. Jillani is expected to be more low-key. Known popularly as “The Gentleman Judge”, he is expected to maintain the Court’s focus on rights but avoid intervening in government policy. The earlier standoffs between the government and the judiciary are likely to be a thing of the past. This could give respite to former President Zardari as also to General Musharraf, currently facing charges of treason under Article 6 of the Pakistan Constitution.

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It would be naïve to think that any of the above changes could cause a shift in Pakistan’s stance towards India. The Army will continue to be the major background player in the country’s affairs, especially in relation to its Afghan policy, its nuclear policy and its dealings with India. India must therefore continue to be circumspect and move forward with caution in its dealings with Pakistan. Within Pakistan, the changes would for the time being lead to improved relations between the political establishment and both the military and judiciary. Within the Army, while General Raheel Sharif is not rated very highly professionally, he is a gentleman from a very respectable and reputed family, his elder brother having won Pakistan’s highest gallantry award posthumously, for bravery in the 1971 war against India and the Pakistan Army will line up behind its new Chief. For the moment, he will play the waiting game and a continuation of the status quo is likely.


[1] The JUI is a Deobandi religious conservative political bloc inPakistan. It refers to three different political blocs, the largest and most influential of which is the JUI-F. The other two are JUI(S) led by Maulana Sami-ul-Haq and the JUI(N) led by Maulana Asmatullah Khan.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch

former Director of CLAWS and is currently the editor of SALUTE Magazine.

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