Quest for a Chief

Appointment of a new army chief is a matter that seems to concern every Pakistani. This needs to change.

By Javed Ansari | September 2022

Who will be Pakistan’s next army chef? This is a question that is being frequently asked these days as the retirement date of the current Amy Chief (November 29) draws near.

It is interesting that no one bothers about the retirement of other service chiefs, namely the Navy or Air Force and most people do not ask who the next navy or air force chief will be. In fact, the chiefs of these services are appointed in due course and, apparently, on seniority basis. All that one gets is a small piece of news in the media, that a new naval or air force chief has taken office. The usual biographical sketch and a photograph accompany the news story.

In the Pakistan armed forces, chiefs of all the three services are equal in rank and are four star generals. A four-star general heads the army, while the navy and air force are headed by an admiral (four stars) and air chief marshal (four stars), respectively.

The Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) is also of the rank of a four-star general. The post of CJCSC was created by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in March 1976. The first Chairman was a four star rank officer, General Muhammad Shariff.

As the title implies, the rank should normally be held in rotation by four-star officers of the three services. However, except for Admiral Muhammed Sharif, Admiral Iftikhar Sirohey and Air Chief Marshal Feroz Khan, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee has always been headed by four-star generals of the army. The current holder of the office is General Nadeem Raza who was appointed in 2019.

Why is the appointment of a new army chief always of interest to Pakistani politicians, media and the public at large? A good reason could be that the Pakistan Army had always been involved in the political affairs of Pakistan while the navy and air force (apparently) stayed away from such involvement.

It was General Ayub Khan, the third Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army, who imposed Martial Law in the country in 1958 and took the running of the nation’s poetical affairs into his own hands.

Gen. Ayub ruled for more than 10 years and then handed over affairs to his Army Chief, General Yahya Khan. Though Pakistan was dismembered in 1971 during this general’s time, but he at least enacted what were said to be ‘fair’ elections. It was obvious that it was the involvement of the army that made the elections possible.

Fast forward to 1977. Gen. Ziayul Haq was the army chief by then,. Though the country was beint ruled by civilian Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, he was accused or rigging his re-election, the Islamist elements got the better of him and forced Gen. Zia to impose Martial Law.

The army was again in charge of the country’s affairs and the source of power that Pakistan’s politicians had to take into consideration to become power-mongers.

Read More