Change in Pak military hierarchy

Harsha Kakar
Gen Bajwa, the new Pakistan Army chief, within weeks of taking over command, altered the hierarchy of the Pak army. He replaced his DG ISI, DG ISPR (public relations) and the Corps Commanders of 2,5, 10, 11 and 31 Corps. This is possible only in a country like Pakistan, where the Army chief once appointed becomes the all-powerful and changes the top brass. The basic significance of the change is that the team comprises of officers of his choice in right places. It provides him with complete liberty in implementing his decided policies. In India, the chief can only contemplate changing subordinates once their tenures are complete. Here again, all senior appointments are approved by the Appointment Committee chaired by the Prime Minister based on recommendations of the Defence Ministry, which may or may not agree with the chief’s choice.
A few of Pakistan’s appointments are significant. The first is the ISI chief, who would implement his chief’spolicies against India and Afghanistan. Officially the ISI chief is meant to report to the Prime Minister and hence is appointed by him. In reality,it is the army chief who decides on the DG ISI while the prime minister’s approval is only nominal. The second appointment is that of the Chief of General Staff (CGS). This appointment is most powerful in the army next only to the chief. He controls the operations and intelligence directorates. The third is the appointment of the corps commander of 10 Corps. He would be responsible for defence of the border against India in Kashmir, thus either maintaining tranquillity or increasing tempo along the LOC would be his decision.
While the civilian Government has repeatedly attempted to indicate a desire for talks and reduced tensions, the army, which controls foreign policy towards India and internal security has scuttled all such attempts. Post the Uri attack and the counter strike by India across the LOC, the tempo of ceasefire violations was on the rise, with casualties to both sides. It was Indian firepower verses Pakistan’s sleazy Border Action Team (BAT) attacks on Indian soldiers leading to decapacitation. Each ceasefire was retaliated with full force, resulting in damages to Pak posts. Post the conversation between the two DGMO on Pak’s request, the border has generally remained peaceful.
Firing reduced just prior to the changeover of chiefs. However, on the day of the turnover was the attack in Nagrota. India has not retaliated to the same, giving the new chief a chance to indicate his policies. It is expected that he is likely to be more practical in his views on exporting terror and firm in dealing with internal terror groups. With his own team in place, it is now time for assessing his intentions.While clearly in the immediate short term any major changes are unlikely; however, some aspects do need emphasis.
The new ISI chief, Lt General Naveed Mukhtar, is known to have strong views on India’s role in Afghanistan. He is also known to be related to Nawaz Sharif, hence maybe more receptive to their views. In his opinion, a strong, stable and friendly Afghanistan, with the Taliban as part of the Government, is essential for the future security of Pakistan as also providing strategic depth. His clear intention would be to reduce Indian influence there.To achieve this, Pak support to the Taliban would have to continue unabated. Unless the Taliban seizes enough territory, it could never be a major player in the country, capable of compelling the Afghan Government to change its India policy. If the recently concluded ‘Heart of Asia’ conference, where Pak was insulted by Ghani, is any indicator, Pakistan has no option but to openly support the Taliban.
There is unlikely to be any major change in their support to anti-India terror groups in the immediate future. Recent intelligence reports indicate a resurgence of launch pads close to the LOC and the IB. Post the surgical strike, the camps had been moved deeper inside. Their move back indicates Pak’s intention of signalling no change to its policy at present. Irrespective of Pak Government desires to initiate talks, the army continues to remain wary.
The appointment of Lt General Bilal Akbar as CGS is equally important. The CGS is vital for implementing the chief’s priorities. General Akbar was head of Rangers, which was largely responsible for restoring near normalcy in Karachi, post a turbulent period of lawlessness. Speculations are ripe of growing interest in controlling the internal security environment. This implies continuing emphasis in acting against anti-Pak terror groups. It could in time have the army involved in Punjab, an action the present Government has thus far avoided. The recent comment of the army chief of delinking terror groups operating in remote areas from their facilitators in urban areas indicates his strategy of confining terror groups in remote areas.
The chief has inducted those whom he trusts to implement his plans. Surprisingly, there has been no indication of any change in the National Security Advisor, retired General Janjua, who is a confidant of the previous chief. Once this change is announced, which could be once Bajwa settles in, then his control on all issues would be complete. A major internal issue which would always persist is changing the mindset within the army on its anti-India stance. Similar difficulties could arise at efforts on reigning in the LeT and HuM. The fact that the LOC has remained generally quiet since he assumed power is a positive indicator. If it continues, the two nations could commence dialogue. For the present, threat levels remaining the same, India’s security agencies continue to be on alert.
(The author is a retired Major                     General of the Indian Army)
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