Welcoming new army chief

Askari Raza Malik

Taimur Hassan, the famous Pakistan golf champion, was once visiting General Zahid Ali Akbar, the president of Pakistan Golf Association. Taimur, nicknamed Timmy, has been a brazenly blunt person. As the general was giving his plan of bringing some significant changes in Rawalpindi golf course, Timmy was visibly amused. He volunteered to suggest an operational plan to the General. It was too much to stomach. “You are telling me how to plan an operation?” “Yes sir, exactly like you are telling me how to plan a golf course.” That much, for telling the new chief what is the dos and don’ts for him that is without knowing a fig about the way the
Military functions.
A dozen men can be credited with a victory. It is the general alone who has to own a failure. I happened to come across General Patton’s granddaughter. She was excited. “You must be a celebrity,” she asked. “No, generals become celebrities during the war only. In peace, they just serve, retire and fade away.”
In one instance, General Kiyani’s posters were carried in the tribal area with slogans of long live the general. The GHQ had not manipulated that grand display. If a Chief is always ready to be where the danger is, he is bound to evoke peoples’ love and devotion. General Raheel was the most famous General in Pakistan. He had earned praise and respect of friends and foes alike. No amount of manipulation or PR could have earned him the fame that his dynamism attracted. Strong personalities evoke strong reactions, both positive and negative. If a loner hates his guts, he can do only that bit to his reputation.
The GHQ functioning has developed into a highly sophisticated and professional mechanism evolved after decades of constant brainstorming and war gaming. The postmortem of an operation or exercise is a brutally frank appraisal where words are not minced and bitterness not sugarcoated. Men get quietly sacked in the name of the ‘Hazards of Command’. The proceedings remain confidential primarily for the morale of the fighting men. A Chief adds his own vision and experience to the planning process and displays his charisma in the field. That is all a Chief can do, and General Raheel did it admirably well.
Addressing the troops requires a typical rhetoric. When the men are dying, and others have to be made ready to die, a lot more sounds fair than it would in the quiet and calm of an air-conditioned office. Many military experts have reiterated it umpteen times that war against terror takes decades to win. At the same time, all the major victories need to be celebrated at the national level. The soldiers need to be cheered wholeheartedly to make more victories possible. An ordinary Pakistani to the chagrin of many has exhibited exclusive faith and love for the Armed Forces. General Raheel received his share of the cheers. It could never be detrimental to the national interest. As the war on terror continues, the Chiefs will keep enjoying the fruits of victory. We as a nation must pray for them.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa deserves all the felicitations for his appointment as the head of one of the finest war machines in the world. Like all his predecessors, he will, sooner than later, find himself to be one of the most influential persons in the country. In an Army where two to three percent rise to the rank of a general, and only one in one thousand earns the third star, all the serving lieutenant generals are more or less equally qualified to be the next chief. General Bajwa will not feel obliged to anyone for his present elevation. His public demeanour will follow the same familiar pattern. Dignity, forthrightness, and uprightness come naturally to a man of his stature as a part of institutionalised grooming backed by time-honored tradition.
Given Pakistan’s geopolitical compulsions and historical experience, our security concerns will continue to dominate our national narratives. All the policies, especially the home and foreign policies are a manifestation of the central theme encompassing national security. A naïve mind will remain under the impression that the civilian rulers merely follow the script prepared by the Military. We need to educate our opinion makers on the contemporary philosophies governing national policy formulation. During World War II, it was the British Naval Intelligence that dictated all the sea trade routes from the Romantic Room Number 40 to avoid deadly
U-Boat attacks.
How far the next chief gets involved in the political matters would entirely depend on the civil government. When the going gets rough, we tend to include the Military too soon and too often.
When the Military wishes to get over with the problem, diffidence creeps in creating that unbridgeable gap between political and military perceptions. The Military bashers thus have a field day.
Individual styles notwithstanding, the new Army Chief, is not going to be much different from Raheel Sharif. Institutional compulsions, obligations towards his command, the morale of the troops on the frontline, image and esteem of the Army, and above all, the harsh ground realities will also mould his behaviour and evoke familiar actions and reactions. And like all other leaders in uniform, he will heavily depend on peoples’ support for success.
Khalil Gibran had once lamented the attitude of an ungrateful nation that throws shoes on the outgoing and showers flowers on the newcomer so that it could treat him with shoes when he departs. Let us bid farewell to Raheel Sharif and welcome to Qamar Javed Bajwa and wish both of them well. For the two generals, I have a Persian couplet from Urfi to offer that reads, ‘Urfi, do not fear the hue and cry of the rivals; the barking dogs do not reduce the sustenance of a truth seeker’.


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