ISLAMABAD: It is time for a new leader at the Joint Staff Headquarters as the incumbent chairman, Gen Zubair Hayat, is retiring on Nov 27. He has begun making the ritual farewell calls.
Gen Zubair’s successor is likely to be named by the government over the next few days. The top contenders for the office of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) are Strategic Plans Division (SPD) Director General Lt Gen Sarfraz Sattar, Chief of General Staff (CGS) Lt Gen Nadeem Raza and Commander V Corps, headquartered at Karachi, Lt Gen Humayun Aziz.
The government must be, by now, mulling over the advice received from the Ministry of Defence on who should be promoted.
Unlike the intense debate over the filling of the two vacancies of four-star generals witnessed in 2013 and 2016, the race for the lone post this time is lacklustre because the government had in August announced a full second term for the incumbent Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), Gen Qamar Bajwa.
In the current hierarchy of the armed forces, the position of CJCSC is technically superior to that of the COAS with jurisdiction over all three services — army, navy and air force — but with the latter being practically more powerful than the former, there is little public interest in who gets elevated.
Out of the 16 chairmen so far, 13 have come from the army
The CJCSC, in principle, is the highest-ranking military officer across the armed forces. He serves as the government’s top adviser on matters related to national defence and security. His job description also includes working for promotion of ‘jointness’, or cross-service cooperation, in all military processes. But in practice the position has been reduced to a ceremonial one in scheme of things.
There could not be a better explanation of how redundant this office has become than the fact that during the entire three-year tenure of Gen Zubair, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, created in 1976 to address the shortcomings of ‘joint effort’ in East Pakistan war, met only once, on July 3, 2018, although the forum has to meet quarterly.
A keen observer of military affairs quipped that notwithstanding the fact that the CJCSC office has become ceremonial because it lacked operational authority over the three services, Gen Bajwa would get to become more powerful once the change in command at the Joint Staff Headquarters is completed because all the generals around him would now be too junior to him. Gen Bajwa was commissioned in the army in October 1980, whereas the senior most among the contenders — Lt Gen Sattar — joined the service in 1984.
The situation would be reminiscent of Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s second tenure.
Another issue attached with this appointment is that by virtue of being a tri-services office, the position has to be rotated among all three services, but it has come to be dominated by the army, especially after the establishment of the National Command Authority (NCA), because it controls the key areas of nuclear command and strategic assets. The CJCSC is also the deputy chairman of the National Command Authority’s development committee.
Of the 16 chairmen, who have served the office so far, 13 were from the army, two from navy and one from air force. Within the army, the position has mostly been bagged by men from the infantry.
Outgoing Chairman Gen Zubair was, however, from the artillery. He had the honour of being the first gunner to become a four-star general since Gen Musharraf retired in 2007. After Gen Musharraf, all four-star generals in the army before Gen Zubair’s promotion in 2016 — Gen Tariq Majid, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Gen Khalid Shamim Wynne, Gen Rashad Mehmood and Gen Raheel Sharif — were from the infantry.
Lt Gen Sarfraz Sattar is currently serving as head of the SPD, which works as the NCA secretariat. He has previously commanded the Multan-based Strike Corps II and remained General Officer Commanding of 8th Infantry Division in Sialkot. He has also headed the Military Intelligence as its Director General. Prior to that, he was Pakistan’s Defence Attaché in India. He belongs to the Armoured Corps. A couple of days ago, he was installed as Colonel Commandant of the Armoured Corps.
Gen Sattar’s seniority, being last of the three-star generals from Gen Raheel Sharif’s era, and his tenures at the SPD and as commander of strike corps make him a strong candidate for the CJCSC office.
Lt Gen Nadeem Raza, who had in August last year became the Chief of General Staff, the most prestigious appointment in the military after the army chief, as it is the organisational lead on both intelligence and operations, is being seen by the defence observers as the front runner for this post, as per his profile. As CGS, Gen Raza worked closely with Gen Bajwa and one of the considerations for the government while making this appointment would be working relationship between the two four-star generals over the next three years.
The historical trends also favour Gen Raza. Most of those who reached this office before were from the infantry and he too is from the infantry’s Sindh Regiment. Moreover, out of the last 16 officers getting four-star general designation, 10 had previously served as CGS.
Gen Raza has also commanded 10 Corps in Rawalpindi.
Karachi Corps Commander Lt Gen Humayun Aziz is third on the seniority list. Previously, he remained IG Communication & IT at the GHQ and commanded Artillery Division in Gujranwala and led a military operation as general officer commanding in Tirah. He is from the artillery and has an intelligence background as well, having had a stint in the Military Intelligence Directorate.