Professionalism versus Political Exigencies

Lt Gens Ehsan ul Haq, DG ISI and Ahsan Saleem Hyat, Comd 5 Corps have both been promoted to the rank of Gen and appointed Chairman JCSC and VCOAS Pakistan Army respectively w.e.f Oct 7, 2004, the date the present incumbents of those offices retire. The President (and COAS) has persisted with the formula he opted for Gens Aziz and Yousuf, Aziz the nominally junior was in the “technically” senior post of Chairman JCSC, similarly Ehsan is junior to Ahsan. For the record, and in this he deserves plaudits, the President has chosen professionally competent soldiers, both with excellent reputation, they deserved their promotions. For someone who waited with bated breath (read “KNIGHTS OF THE LONG TABLE”, the Nation Oct 2, 2004) both are excellent choices. Despite the exigencies of his political life, the President has again proven once again that he is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, a soldier. As a professional, he has taken a decision based not only on merit but, by extension, has opted for what is good for the Army, and that is in the country’s supreme interest. These promotions give an clear signal to the hard working officers of mettle and calibre, primarily that merit matters, and the factor that will matter most for advancement will remain “professionalism” thereof. For an army drawn mainly from the middle class for its officer corps and the rural areas mostly for its other ranks, this is a very important consideration.

The President did not confine his merit-oriented selections to Lt Gens. The crop of seven major generals he chose to fill the vacancies of Lt Gens who retired because of supercession are also reputed to be hard-core professionals, this bodes well for the future of the Army. This batch (and the one following within the next six months or so), will be the nucleus of the higher command of the Army, and by extension the country, till 2010. The Army cannot afford any weak links at this level, in the retirements due to supercession that have taken place (and will take place in the immediate future), the President has swept some really undeserving ones deservedly into the dustbin of history. There was some apprehension about these controversial characters. There is no science as to how one can tell a professionally competent officer from a person who has made it only on connections and then proceeds to live high off the fat of the land. The former will be humble and respectful, the latter arrogant and dismissive. The same analogy is mostly also true for those who have seen combat and those who have only heard the sound of guns on the firing ranges. The arrogance of some who have risen to high rank and acquired power (and money through real-estate operations to go with it) surpasses all bounds. As army brats we were used to studying from second-hand books handed over to our fathers from one brother officer to another, and so on till ultimately the binding of the books came apart. There was no shame or embarrassment about it, it was simply the home-economics of the middle-class officer corps of the Army, very few parents could afford new books for their children. One army brat who survived on these hand-me-downs rose to three-star rank and forgot his origins, attempting to make his past bright with his new-found wealth. God rest the soul of his wonderful and honest father, a good professional soldier he would have died at the contrived arrogance of his snobbish three-star son.

Another round of promotions will take place in the next few months. One gets the feeling that the President has only gone through the first stage of what is a two-stage shuffle, one drastic change would have retired 8 to 9 Lt Gens in one go resulting in large-scale disruption in the hierarchy of the Army. Even though everyone and his uncle is betting that the recent changes mean that Gen Musharraf will keep his uniform after Dec 31, one feels he has kept his options open and he still might surprise one and all. As one of those who strongly feel that the President cannot keep his uniform as COAS in any truly pure democratic environment, sheer pragmatism causes one to realize that in the present circumstances Musharraf’s taking off of the uniform could be fraught with danger to the Federation. This is the dilemma of what Gen Yahya tried in 1971 after giving the only free and fair (relatively speaking that is) elections in Pakistan’s history. In trying to keep his word to the country about the return to democracy, the then President (and COAS) left us with a truncated Pakistan. Under such conditions “pragmatism” must take pride of place over “purity”. The personal security threats he faces notwithstanding, it is a difficult act to keep on wearing the COAS hat to go with the Presidential shoes. With the recent promotions, Pervez Musharraf has shown what one expects from him in all his decision-making, opting for merit and professionalism over political and personal exigencies.