The civilian government in Pakistan is crumbling as military top brass over ruling the government decisions and implementing their diktats…writes Manzoor Ahmed
As usual and very much on the expected lines, Pakistan’s military has yet again browbeaten the civilian leadership by imposing a retired general as the country’s defence secretary. It has done so in the face of dogged opposition from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had reservations about the military’s nomination of retired Lt Gen Zamirul Hassan Shah. The announcement was made on August 25, after several weeks of internal tussle. After opposing his nomination for long, the government, in an apparent U-turn, made the announcement.
All this is happening even as there are rising demands of the Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, being given extension, even though the latter announced earlier in the year that he would retire when due and was not interested in seeking an extension. Nevertheless, demands from various quarters have included raising the retirement age from 60 years to 65 and even promoting Raheel as Field Marshal. Shah’s appointment had become a bone of contention for a while as the civil-military relationship, always simmering, was strained.
In a similar fashion last year, the military had forced the prime minister to take away the post of National Security Advisor from retired diplomat Sartaj Aziz and imposed retired Lt. Gen. Nasseer Khan Janjua. At official instance, Janjua was projected by sections of the media as a “thinking general” who headed a think tank and a man with deep intellectual and strategic insights.
In Gen. Shah’s case, the civilian leadership was not allowed to wait for the impending retirement in November of the Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif. The government had wanted to continue with the present Number 2, Maj Gen Abid Nazir, another retired general, by making him as the Acting Defence Secretary. But the military pressures have prevailed. The post of defence secretary, the highest civil service position in that ministry, has for long been usurped by the military brass to accommodate retired or retiring fellow-generals.
Shah, who retired as the Adjutant General in January this year, replaces Lt. Gen.Alam Khattak who ended his two-year contract with the government in that post. His contract had ended on August 5. But the internal wrangling had prevented the announcement of successor for over three weeks and the place was lying vacant. Retired Gen Shah assumed office quickly on Thursday, along with the announcement, marking an end to what had virtually become a stand-off between the government and the GHQ on the bureaucratic posting.
The military had recommended Gen Shah’s name to the government for appointment as the defence secretary long before Gen Khattak completed his tenure. The government rejected the nomination and asked the military to nominate some other officer. “The government had some reservations about Gen Shah’s nomination,” a source in the Prime Minister Office conrirned to Dawn newspaper. The army, according to insiders, refused to change the nomination and insisted that Gen Shah must be appointed.
Awaiting Gen. Raheel Sharif’s retirement, the Nawaz Government had wanted to appoint a civilian officer in the key job. But the Prime Minister’s advisers counselled him to avoid straining relations with the military on the issue and accept Gen Shah’s nomination. Gen Shah’s appointment coincided with the easing of friction between the military and government on progress in implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism.
Even here, Nawaz succumbed to the military’s criticism of his government’s performance on NAP. Nawaz constituted Implementation and Review Committee of NAP under National Security Adviser, Gen. Janjua; approved creation of new wings of Frontier Corps; and expedited the process on enactment of antiterrorism laws that were allowed to lapse.
The military has continued to make deep inroads into areas and posts of rhe civilian bureaucracy. A day before the defence secretary’s appointment, the government appointed another retired general (Muzamil Hussain) as head of the Water and Power Development Authority.
The government’s Principal Information Officer Rao Tehsin has, for the record, rejected as ‘speculation’ the reports of the government having previously blocked Gen Shah’s appointment. The office of the defence secretary is the highest bureaucratic office in the defence ministry, but has a diminished role with the real powers resting with the GHQ. The position, nevertheless, has gained significance because of the fragile civil-military balance and upcoming transition in military.
The federal government normally appoints the defence secretary on the advice of the army chief as part of an unwritten tradition. However, there have been exceptions. The Pakistan Peoples’ Party government removed retired Lt Gen Naeem Lodhi at the peak of Memogate in January 2012 and gave Nargis Sethi, a civilian bureaucrat and the only lady to hold the position so far, additional charge of the ministry for seven months before reverting to the agreed arrangement in July 2012 by appointing retired Lt Gen Asif Yasin Malik.
The latest round of developments is bound to impact Nawaz Sharif’s choice of successor to the Army Chief for which the process, obviously a secret exercise, is supposed to be on. Analysts say Raheel Sharif will have a bigger say in the choice of successor than any previous retiring army chief.