Gen MacArthur’s adage, “old soldiers never die, they simply fade away” suited the upright and correct Gen Muhammad Shariff most, he was the role model of a professional soldier par excellence. He authored the concept of Higher Defence Organisation (HDO) in the early 70s which than PM ZA Bhutto adopted, not for military purposes but political expediency to cut the Army Chief (COAS) down to size. Bhutto appointed him Pakistan’s first Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) in 1976, a superior HQ controlling (and meant to run) the three Services.
When Gen Ziaul Haq did his 1977 coup the JCSC was revealed as a “paper tiger”, Army’s GHQ become the superior HQ, and has remained ever since, an hypocrisy for the 42 years. Even though sidelined by the coup, post-retirement Gen Sharif did not find it professionally responsible or in the national interest to publicly comment on the military effectiveness that an HDO was meant to be but the intent was frustrated because of Zia’s personal ambitious and later that of his successors Advocating integrated military command for the last 25 years without any success, on enquiring in 2010 in my article as to what the Chairman JCSC “did for a living”, the then incumbent Gen Tariq Majeed, perhaps frustrated at not being made COAS (in Kayani’s place), blew his top. A veiled threat about revealing “skeletons in my cupboard” was made through a good friend whom I respected and admired Maj Gen Athar Abbas, then DG ISPR, who was clearly embarrassed at doing so. Such attempts to shut those who speak up against such sham and hypocrisy is a recurring phenomena, particularly when undeserving individuals have the capacity to make merit into a disqualifier.
Our military hierarchy has been dangerously complacent in not correcting the contradiction of the Army Chief defacto exercising authority as the Head of the Armed Forces instead of the senior most person in the Armed Forces, the Chairman JCSC. The actual Head is quite comfortable being the Head only figuratively, he gets to visit Brunei, Burundi, whatever etc and given his professional acumen, give rip-roaring speeches to admiring civilian corporate groups. He does NOT wield any operational and administrative power over the three (and possibly four) Services, this hypocrisy can perhaps be successfully perpetuated during peacetime, the stress of war will expose the reality to our lasting detriment. That is why such people are more likely to go to war without there being an actual “casus belli”. Based on ground reality, the time for vacillating in decision-making was yesterday. Given the volatile and precarious security environment, this status quo needs correction.
For countries like Pakistan both airpower and sea power have a vital role to play but geography and lack of depth constricts our space to maneuver and thus dictates that the dominant role must be that of ground troops, i.e. the Army. Lecturing regularly in the PAF Air War College in Karachi and the Navy’s Naval War College in Lahore ie besides the National Defence University (NDU) Islamabad, I have a lot of respect and admiration for the Air Force and Naval officers, many of whom equal excel in their grasp of strategy their Army counterparts. However preparing for war is not a game, in a theater where the major battles will that be of Land Forces, which do not have the luxury of the time and space for large scale maneuver, the grand strategy will be to fight decisive tactical battles (1) in AK and Northern areas (2) Punjab Plains (3) Rahimyar Khan – Bahawalpur Sector and (4) Hyderabad-Chor-Badin Sector. What will be forced on us will be (1) air battles for our superiority, particularly over Karachi (2) sea battles to restrict or naval forces buying Pakistan’s territory and (3) their amphibious/heliborne capacities in the South. Each will be of the greatest consequence but any of the land battles will be decisive. Therefore as much as there may be heartburn among senior air force and naval hierarchy, the fact of the topmost individual in the higher command by a soldier is not a subject of debate. War is not a game, particularly when the country’s existence comes into question. That is also the main reason for our reliance on tactical nuclear weapons to offset the conventional numerical and material advantage that the enemy enjoys, NATO has found in necessary in Europe to have a Land Forces Commander be the head, administratively and operationally.
The complicating factor of hybrid warfare and the use of modern technology’s tools for its purposes makes the correction of this anomaly even more necessary. India’s hybrid war against Pakistan force-multiplies the reach of smart power with a judicious mix of hard and soft power. To quote the FT, “The war of the future will not necessarily be declared but will oversee a sliding scale of aggression and violence.” Today’s strategy combines conventional warfare with irregular tactics and terrorist acts, subverting the country’s ideology, and spreading calumny and falsehood a la “Kautilya Arthashastra” to muddy the reputation of our Armed Forces through their motivated proxies in our media. Employing both modern technology and modern mobilization methods, the aggressor avoids attribution or retribution through information warfare, combining kinetic operations with subversive effort.
India’s hybrid warfare well-crafted gameplan includes staged urban violence, coercion and cyber warfare, using both state and non-state actors or a combination thereof. This new form of warfare envisages destroying the economy by currency manipulation, money-laundering, etc, subverting the ideology, sports, isolating us in culture, etc to force-multiply the mass civic frustration. Backing us into a corner due to FATF is a part of economic initiatives in hybrid warfare, currency manipulation is another. Understanding the inherent dangers former Governor SBP, Tariq Bajwa, asked me to give a talk to the SBP people “across the board” to apprise them of the damages that hybrid warfare could cause to the economy, unfortunately he left before I could comply with his request. Hopefully the truly brilliant and committed Gov SBP Dr Raza Baqir will grasp these ground realities of dangers inherent even though given an extended track record in a well-cloistered economy (Egypt should have certainly given him adequate and relevant experience).
All forces for meant nuclear warfare in the modern Armed Forces are grouped as an existing reality into a fourth service, “Strategic Forces”. Maybe the countering of “hybrid warfare” can be in the same service. Functioning as a separate entity for nuclear and missile protection, and almost outnumbering the PAF and the Navy, the Special Plans Division (SPD) forming part of all “Strategic Forces” whose command needs to be upgraded to a four star general rank.
Rotating the command among the three Services is not practical. Why not have a single person to be both the Chairman JCSC and the COAS? Being hands-on commander of the Land Forces with concurrent command of both the Chairman JCSC his presence must physically be located in GHQ (General Headquarters). A five star general, must have (1) operational control of all the Armed Forces. (2) the postings and promotions of Brigadiers rank (or Air Force and Naval equivalent) and above, and provide over (3) the Corps Commanders (and equivalent) Conferences of all four services. Procedural changes within the Defense Ministry do not require any Constitutional Amendment. We must have a four star Deputy Chairman from the Air Force or the Navy in rotation presiding over the JCSC Secretariat.
With a much needed new Service (already existing in all but name) created, out of the deserving four aspirants now in contention for COAS two should become four stars, one assisting the Chairman JCSC run the army as Vice Chief of the Army Staff (VCOAS) and the other as the Chief of “Strategic Forces”. This will also NOT impact and disturb the Army’s seniority structure.
With India beating war drums that could lead to Armageddon, the existing practice needs an immediate reality check. With a smooth transition to this UNIFIED COMMAND. This can only be effective if the individual chosen has the necessary hands-on experience for the transition for making the JCSC an effective unified command.
One must choose someone who not only subscribes to democracy but adherence to the rule of law, someone that the public trust because of his dedicated professionalism, integrity and hard work, delivering well “above and beyond the call of duty”. My detractors will love to say my recommendations are subjective and motivated. These suggestions by me have been repeated over the years in some well researched articles whenever we near a change of guard at GHQ an opportunity arises, as recently in 2010, 2013 and 2016 (all the references are given below). To ensure continuity, Kayani and Raheel Shariff would have been ideal for the job at the end of their tenure as COAS. Kayani chose extension (Raheel Sharif refused) to retain his power as the COAS and look what happened to his honesty and integrity in his subsequent three year tenure (not extension) as COAS. Promotion to the next higher appointment as an effective Chairman JCSC not only corrects a grave anomaly but is a win-win situation for Pakistan (A defence and security analyst Ikram Sehgal wrote similar articles in 2010 (1) “Extension in Service” on March 9 (2) “On JSCS Chairman” April 22 (3) “Extensions may seen to be a sell-out it” on July 4 (4) “On Extensions and expectations” on July 22. In 2013 (1) “Unnecessary Speculation on selection of Army Chief?” On July 25, (2) “Change in Guard” on December 5 (3) “The Higher Command” on December 7 and in 2016 (1) “A ‘Five Star’ General” on January 29 (2) “How (and Why) not to stage a coup” on July 22 (3) “The COAS’ Chair” on July 29 (4) “Effective Integration of Command” on September 23 and (5) “COAS, not Factory Manager” on October 21).