Choosing Merit over Friendship


Lt Gen Mohammad Yusuf Khan, Chief of General Staff (CGS), and Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz Khan, Commander 4 Corps at Lahore were respectively appointed Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), both promoted to the rank of General in keeping with their new appointments on Oct 7, 2001. General Pervez Musharraf’s tenure as COAS had expired the same day but his retirement as COAS could have created a legal imbroglio due to the Supreme Court (SC) Judgement mandating him by name to complete the democratic process before Oct 12, 2002. A five-day gap between Oct 7 and Oct 12, 2002 necessitated an extension without a time limit instead of the “one year” mandated by the Constitution.

Gen Pervez Musharraf’s penchant for clearing the decks for battle and his timing thereof are both exquisite. Very much as he did immediately on taking over as COAS in 1998, he removed the weak links in his chain of command. In a way he has used one crisis to control the other. In choosing Lt Gens Yusuf (37th PMA) and Aziz (1st war Course) to supersede Usmani (36th PMA) and Mahmood (37th PMA), Pervez Musharraf made an agonizing choice as not only the leader of the Army, but as the leader of a country facing its gravest crisis since 1971. Mahmood has been one of his closest friends and a regimental colleague from 16 SP (Self-Propelled) Regiment (of Artillery). As Comd 10 Corps Mahmood led 10 Corps troops (111 Brigade) into the PM’s House (closely following SSG troops heli-lifted earlier from Mangla Airfield on orders of the CGS Aziz) on the fateful 12th day of October 1999. It was Muzzafar Usmani as Commander 5 Corps Karachi, who took over the Airport to allow the PIA aircraft in which the COAS was travelling, and which was dangerously low on fuel, to land. Usmani has again been his close friend and colleague for many years, first as a student and then fellow instructor in both Command & Staff College, Quetta, and the National Defence College (then at Rawalpindi). Yusuf was probably the odd man out of the loop in Multan on the fateful day as Aziz as the CGS masterminded the counter-coup which brought Pervez Musharraf back as COAS and de-facto ruler of Pakistan. But when it came to replace Aziz (who needed experience as a Corps Commander) he chose Yusuf as CGS, arguably the CGS-slot is the most powerful in the Pakistan Army after that of the COAS, particularly because the elite SSG Brigade plus is under his direct control. Aziz was the one who denied control of GHQ to the new team hastily selected by then PM Mian Nawaz Sharif’s COAS-designate Lt Gen Ziauddin Butt. Some feel that putting Aziz (who is junior to Yusuf) as Chairman JCSC means that he is being kicked upstairs, unfortunately they are ignorant of the many changes in the JCSC’s working that Pervez Musharraf has brought about in the two years of his incumbency, bringing the Armed Forces into an integrated command as envisaged in the creation of JCSC in 1976, 25 years earlier, at least in military minds if not in the political one of late PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who invented it more as an anti-coup device.

Mahmood has always been a good professional soldier with a good reputation throughout his career. As DG ISI he stayed very much in the background as it should be and never threw his weight around as other DG ISIs before him. He is from my alma mater, Lawrence College, Ghoragali as is Amjad (formerly DG NAB), both quite insignificant characters as schoolboys. Generally they have been clean except when putting their “Gallian” classmates (and chums) either into various lucrative slots (mainly square pegs in round holes), targetting people like Khalid Aziz (Additional Chief Secretary NWFP) just because he gave them a tough time in school as “Head Boy” and lastly, protecting some blacksheep friends better known for being drug smugglers, for extortion, etc. Unfortunately Mahmood is a GT Road warrior, ie he has never heard a shot being fired in anger, having no combat experience at all. In a news analysis “HARES AND HOUNDS” on Sep 15, 2001, I had said, quote “The decisions require both combat knowledge and maturity, Musharraf is thus out on his own, most of his immediate colleagues lacking war experience. Experienced combat commanders down the line must be chosen in the operational line-up, history has shown that commanders with battle experience tend to be far less bloodthirsty than paper tigers, they will also be far careful in the employment of their own troops to keep down own casualties”, unquote. Again the President has shown merit counts for something in posting Lt Gen Ehsan, formerly DG MI, who was only recently posted as Comd 11 Corps at Peshawar, as DG ISI.

Muzaffar Usmani is an acute personal disappointment. Personally very fond of him I, got upset with my good friend and 34th PMA coursemate (and fellow Gallian) Maj Gen (now Retd) Malik Saleem Khan when he held up Usmani’s wearing of the rank despite his being approved as Maj Gen. Before that my close friend Ambassador Brig (Retd) Saeed Ismat, SJ had spoken of about an incident in Saudi Arabia where he felt Usmani would have been sent home on adverse report. As Comd 5 Corps in Karachi Usmani seems to have gone quietly berserk. Mullah Umar in Kandahar could not have held a bigger court than every evening in the Corps Comd’s official residence of 20 plus odd green-turbaned persons. While one commensurates with him for his personal problems (and which could have been a catalyst), he has also much to answer for with respect to Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Karachi, among them the imperial largesse of allotting of an amenity plot to a favourite, who promptly sold it for Rs 14 million (mentioned in my note for Maj Gen HUK Niazi, SJ in the Defence Journal August 2001 issue). Just before Sep 11, I had written on Sep 8 in THE NATION in an article entitled “ROADMAPS AND MR FIXITS”, quote “Pervez Musharraf must make the Presidency more powerful, keeping national security and accountability with the President. In the process he has to ensure that the Armed Forces does not get tainted by corruption of any kind, those who have shown any inclination must be retired now. A few black sheep cannot be allowed to tar and feather the entire khaki community on the strength of the regimental tie. Those GT Road warriors must be sent home”.

Earlier on Sep 1 in “SOLDIER AND GENTLEMAN”, quote “Three years into his COAS-ship, two years into his CE-ship and several months into President-ship has shown Pervez Musharraf to be really sincere about doing something solid and tangible for the country. The majority of his choices of close aides have been good but the choices have ranged from the likes of the late GA on the one side to at least some who are the virtual pits. Unfortunately public perception is very fickle, it rarely focuses on all the good done in the world, it homes in on evil. As a keen student of history Musharraf cannot afford that all the good he has done for their country is “interred with his bones, only the evil lives after him”, to paraphrase Shakespeare in Marc Antony’s funeral oration for Julius Ceaser. The President must see to it that he does not allow his place in history to become hostage to those who put their own individual selfish gain beyond that of the country. Ask Mian Nawaz Sharif about the indispensable Saifur Rahman! In the end such “loyalty” can become an albatross around the leader’s head,” unquote.

Let me also quote from Aug 25 in a ” A TIME FOR DECISION”, “Continuity demands that Pervaiz Musharaf see out his full five year term as President starting from the day he leaves the office of Chairman Joint Chief of Staffs Committee and COAS. As President he still remains the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Unlike Ziaul Haq who manipulated his subordinates appointments to remain in power, Musharraf is a self-confident product of his colleagues’ aspirations for a better Pakistan. Does he need to hang onto various jobs out of a prime motivation of his own security? If am not mistaken about the man’s character he will not allow his colleagues and so-called friends to influence him to manipulate things very much as the late Ziaul Haq did, instead he will boldly follow the full transparent route in processing the sanctity of appointments and tenures thereof in the Armed Forces. And in the appointment thereof he will chose professionalism over friendship, particularly when there is doubt with some reason about character and integrity. The country’s interests must supercede the regimental tie. Pervaiz Musharaf and the country are both at a symbolic crossroads of sorts, the nation’s supreme interest demand some sacrifices on his part. For the President, a man who has every reason to be confident about his own destiny, there is no choice, he has to choose the country over both friendship and self-interest. While Gen Pervez Musharraf must continue as President, he must appoint people with merit to the posts he vacates. Country over self is what patriotism is all about” unquote. Most probably it is not a fact but my ego would like to believe that possibly Pervez Musharraf may have been listening.

For 50 years, we have been looking high and low, far and wide, for a selfless national leader. We went to the extent of importing somewhat of a Jinnah look-alike in Moin Qureshi from the US for 3 months (famous last words as Caretaker PM in 1993, “I will permanently settle in Islamabad”). The only man at the highest level before Pervez Musharraf who put country before self was our Quaid. A few hours before the new Army appointments were announced, my friend Jalil Tareen, very impressed with Musharraf’s performance, asked me, “is Musharraf the man we have been looking for?” and I replied, “the future crucial appointments in the Army will show clearly if he is that person”. When a person rises to a level where he forsakes his personal preferences in the national interest, he is definitely someone special. Pervez Musharraf went the route of merit over friendship, answering this question quite unambiguously in word and deed. Even he can never estimate what he has done for this country in fulfilling his destiny and becoming odds-on favourite to become the particular leader that this country has been searching for in vain for over 50 years.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).