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New Pakistan CoAS can infuse new thinking

After intense speculation, Premier Nawaz Sharif has finally appointed Lt Gen Raheel Sharif as the Chief of Army Staff. Although he is being portrayed as an apolitical and a thorough professional, only time will tell what the system makes him of. History is evident that in Pakistan there is always a lack of balance between the real functioning of military and civilian government. If Nawaz Sharif truly wants to bring a change in Pakistan, he must restructure Pakistan’s security apparatus even at the cost of his personal interests. The new CoAS has some special quality as he has studied military leadership in Germany, apart from UK and Canada, but not exposed to US paw which is popular among Pakistani generals.


Nawaz Sharif has been the victim of a military coup once before and Pakistan as a country has suffered enough political turmoil from the overarching control of politics by the military establishment.

If Nawaz Sharif is indeed serious about bringing real and positive change to his country, then a mere tactical appointment of the Chief of Army Staff is not enough.

He must amend the entire structure of the security apparatus and decision making hierarchy in such a manner so that all institutions enjoy reasonable autonomy and independence.

That can allow the political and military establishment of Pakistan to operate with a balanced approach and coordinate to further Pakistan’s long term national strategic interest. Currently, this is not the case. The Pakistan military and ISI routinely interfere every now and then to assert their supremacy in all forms of governance and policy making while severely undermining the status of civilian control.

Although technically the ISI falls under the control of the Ministry of Defense, its chief directly reports to the Prime Minister and this proximity gives strength to ISI to misuse its influence. Even, the ISI has little regard for CoAS and others.

Overtime, the ISI in Pakistan has emerged as a monstrous body that seems to operate outside any scrutiny thinking that it is beyond the purview of the rule of law.

It has become the power center in itself and often politicizes military activities and interferes in domestic politics. Yet, it undermines the authority of the civilian government in Pakistan and its foreign policy. This has been proven all through Pakistan’s political history.

Thus, Nawaz Sharif must realize that there is a loophole in the basic structure of Pakistan’s decision making process at the leadership level of civilian and military authority which the ISI has often used to its advantage and caused political turmoil.

If he is really serious about addressing this issue for the long term interest of Pakistan, he must fix this loophole so that the ISI is controlled and accountable. Thus, while the appointment of the Chief of Army Staff and the Joint Chief of Staff’s Committee is a mere tactical and political concession, the real change must happen in the context in which these leaders function.

By appointing Lt Gen Raheel Sharif as the new Chief of Army Staff, a third in rank officer with an impressive military background, alone will not help and Sharif must address the core issue of institutional sanctity and balance of functioning.

But this is a gamble as Sharif is relying too much on General Sharif’s clean image. In the long run, if the system makes him overambitious, just like some of his predecessors, Nawaz Sharif could be well in trouble.

This is why other measures like amending and restructuring the security apparatus of Pakistan’s civilian and military decision making process is important. One way for Nawaz Sharif to proceed is by making the DG ISI directly answerable to the Chief of Army Staff, which is currently not the case.

Initially it may seem like the military could be all powerful but in the long run it will lead to a restructuring that will make policy making smoother as decision making will be segregated and divided equally among the civilian and military leaderships. Also, each will not be threatened by the other’s perceived ambitions.

Currently, under a leader like General Raheel Sharif, who seems to be a thinking man with knowledge and understanding of military doctrines of other countries, Nawaz Sharif would find little resistance from him to propose such an important step as the General would understand that this is for the larger interest of the country.

In addition, the imposition of the rule of law is perennial to the entire situation because in the long run it will help the Prime Minister to consolidate power.

Nawaz Sharif should realize that working towards the dignity and sanctity of democracy in Pakistan will open new avenues for his government, both domestically and globally.

Pakistan also needs clarity to advance its security, defense and foreign policy so that the civilian and military leadership work together on important security and defense issues.