On January 19, the expected re-shuffle of Lieutenant Generals took place, giving some indication about Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s views on who could be his successor in November, 2013.
One of the important changes announced is the posting of Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood, GOC, IV Corps, Lahore, as Chief of General Staff. This is an important staff position which could be a stepping stone to the top slot. In the past, five Generals who served as CGS made it as Chief — Yahya Khan, Gul Hassan, Mirza Aslam Beg, Asif Nawaz and Jahangir Karamat — but several equally competent CGS missed out.
Rashad Mahmood belongs to Kayani’s parent arm – the Baloch regiment. He worked under him as DDG, ISI, but so has his batchmate, Lt Gen Zahirul Islam, now DG, ISI. According to the grapevine among senior retired Generals in Pakistan, Rashad is not rated very highly professionally but is regarded a rather average officer who goes with the flow. They believe the inscrutable Kayani may well have thrown a ‘googly’ to keep people guessing about his real choice.
Other reports, however, indicate that Rashad Mahmood may have political or clan connections in Punjab, especially to the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Nawaz), which may go in his favour. The newly promoted Lt Gen Maqsood Ahmed goes as the new GOC, Lahore.
Lt Gen Haroon Aslam, GOC XXXI Corps, Bahawalpur, who is the senior-most in Rashad Mahmood’s batch, has been moved out as Director General, Logistic Staff with Zubair Hayat, another of those newly promoted, going in his place. From the Azad Kasmir regiment, Haroon held some crack assignments earlier, including as DG of the Special Services Group (SSG) in Cherat, but his slotting in the Logistic Staff assignment is considered a backwater job, where senior officers usually cool their heels before retirement.
Another senior General of the same batch who was till recently Corps Commander in Gujranwala, Raheel Sharif (of the Frontier Force regiment) has come in as Director General, Inspectorate of Weapons Evaluation &Training (IWET). This too is a routine staff job. Pakistani military analysts feel there is nothing exciting about Raheel and consider him as an average officer with a careerist approach.
The other two Generals in this cohort are Tariq Khan, GOC I Corps, Mangla and Zahirul Islam.
An officer from the Armoured Corps, Tariq is highly rated professionally and credited with the turn around against Islamists in Swat, where he was IG, Frontier Corps. He does not mince words and has tread on many toes. For this reason, he is sometimes regarded as too rash. He is believed to favour line command of deployed strategic assets. He has been often unfairly accused of being pro-American but his overall reputation as a good operational officer who can take hard decisions is well founded.
If Tariq has to be shifted from the Mangla command or if the Chief wants him to be in a lower key position in the Army Headquarters, he could be brought in as either Adjutant General or Quartermaster General. Alternatively, he could be left at Mangla and still be made the Chief, there being precedents of both Musharraf and Kayani himself not having done staff assignments before taking over as COAS.
Zahirul Islam is from the Punjab regiment. He belongs to a traditional military family (Janjuas). He is the junior-most in his batch. His main dilemma if one of his peers makes it as Chief would be whether to continue in ISI.
By the time Kayani’s term ends, a new prime minister and a new President (or Zardari himself, in a fractious second term) would be in position. Both would play a role in selecting the new chief from a panel of three or four names presented by the COAS. Whether Kayani conveys this preference in clear enough terms will be the million dollar question.
The author is a former special secretary, R&AW and a noted expert on Pakistan