The extended general
It is being posited that the army chief in Pakistan has a three-year term with the possibility of an extension being unclear. An extension tremendously lowers the morale of other army officers because then they feel that they never have the chance of snagging the top job, which is the dream of every army officer.
After the British left, Ayub Khan became the first army chief of Pakistani origin in January 1951. He demitted office in October 1958, serving almost eight years. Where did the precedent of a three-year term come from then? In 1958, Ayub launched a coup and became president of the country. He made himself field marshal in 1959. He resigned from the presidency in 1969.
Musa Khan became the army chief in October 1958. He remained army chief until September 1966, a full eight years. Once again, where did the precedent of three years come from? Yahya Khan took over as army chief in September 1966 and stayed army chief until December 1971, more than five years. He made himself president of the country from 1969 to 1971.
If you take the first three army chiefs, the minimum tenure as army chief was five years. Where did this imagined concept of three years originate from?
Gul Hassan Khan was only a Lieutenant General (not a full General) who served as army chief from December 1971 to March 1972 in the turmoil that followed the 1971 war against India.
Tikka Khan took over in March 1972 and served until March 1976, a full four years. And of course, we had Zia-ul-Haq who became army chief in March 1976 and stayed in the post until his death in August 1988. His tenure lasted over 12 years. Somewhere, in the beginning, he made himself president also and stayed put in that job also until his death. Can you imagine the number of generals whose dreams of becoming a chief must have gone unrequited? It must number in the hundreds. Perhaps it was one such general who knocked Zia out in his plane crash.
Mirza Alam Beg succeeded Zia and stayed in his job three years, the first time that an army chief who was a full general did so.
Asif Nawaz was army chief was just over a year, and then Abdul Waheed Kakar served for three years. Jehangir Karamat became chief in January 1996 and stayed there for just less than three years. He resigned after a spat with the then-PM Nawaz Sharif, not the first time nor the last time Sharif would get into a deadly confrontation with his army chief.
Karamat was also the first and until now the last army chief forced to stand down after a standoff with the PM or the president of the country. Usually, in Pakistan it’s the army chief who disposes of the PM or the president. Because he resigned, Karamat is hailed in Pakistan to be the first and only army chief to bow to civilian supremacy.
We then entered the era of Pervez Musharraf, who emulated Zia-ul-Haq, disposed of a duly-elected premier of the country, and remained army chief for more than 9 years. He also made himself president of Pakistan. The army, getting restive, finally made Musharraf drop what he called his second skin, his army uniform, in November 2007. Musharraf was shaken as he left office because he knew that without the cover of his second skin, he didn’t have much of a future in Pakistan.
Kayani took over in November 2007, gave himself a three-year extension three years later, and served exactly 6 years. In came Raheel Sharif who tried his best to get an extension, but then-PM Nawaz Sharif wouldn’t relent. Instead, Sharif was offered the million-dollar job of heading the Sunni alliance against Iran where he is now busy fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Nawaz Sharif hand-picked Bajwa for the job in November 2016. Bajwa rebelled against Nawaz and through the National Accountability Bureau and the court system deposed Nawaz, and then reportedly rigged national elections to have his own man Imran Khan in the job as premier. Imran says he had decided to give Bajwa a three-year extension as army chief almost as soon as he became premier. The exact definition of quid pro quo, you scratch my back, I scratch yours.
It seems Imran was not in order in giving the extension to Bajwa, but after much hoo-hah the Supreme Court of Pakistan has given Bajwa a six-month extension after which he could be eligible for another three years as army chief. That means that Bajwa could serve for six and a half years.
It’s clear from the above analysis, that once ensconced in the chair of the army chief, army chiefs in Pakistan do not want to let go. They do not care what damage they do to the normal progression of their institution. In India, the cutoff date for an army chief is 62 years. We do not want an old fogy running our army. Indian army chiefs have at most a three-year tenure after which they go home. There is no question of an extension.
It appears that the myth of a three-year tenure of army chief in Pakistan has been propagated by emulating India. Can you imagine? A Zia served more than 12 years as army chief and a Musharraf served more than 9 years. How old must they have gotten, especially when compared to their serving junior officers?
Civilian supremacy of the army is not happening in the near future in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif tried for it and look where he is. It’s also clear that no matter what Pakistani army chiefs say, most really do not care for their institution. They care for themselves. If this is so clear, then why make such a spectacle of yourself all over the world?
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.