ISLAMABAD - Perhaps for the first time, under normal circumstances, in the army’s history, the internal announcements on disclosing the names of the two top incoming bosses are not being made beforehand in an apparent bid to maintain maximum secrecy concerning the matter.

The practice of making prior internal announcements within the relevant military circles regarding the appointments at the top army positions have regularly been followed during General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s stint as Chief of Army Staff (COAS). In several cases, such kind of announcements were made over a month before the related appointments were actually made, military sources informed on Monday.

Following this practice, intimations were issued to the military authorities concerned as well the media men ahead of the important military and defence appointments such as corps commanders, principal staff officers (PSO), general officers commanding (GOCs) director generals of military, defence and strategic establishments and defence attaches’.

However, the scenario involving the upcoming appointments at the chairman joint chiefs of staff committee (CJCSC) and COAS positions, according to the military sources, makes an ‘extremely extraordinary’ scenario whereby the prior intimations are withheld following the government’s decision to ‘consume maximum time,’ on this count. Lieutenant General Haroon Aslam and Lieutenant General Rashad Mehmood, the two senior most military men after General Kayani, who are, although, believed to be the expected candidates for the CJCSC and COAS posts, internal announcements in Pakistan Army to confirm their elevations have been reportedly withheld following the government’s decision to announce the new CJCSC and COAS next Thursday, just ahead of General Kayani’s retirement the next day (November 29).

“It’s unusual but you can’t say it’s unprecedented,” said a senior army officer with reference to the mystery shrouding, even in the relevant military circles, the two top appointments. “Internal announcements have not been made in pursuance of the government’s policy. When the placements on CJCSC and COAS positions will be in place, intimations will be issued accordingly.”

On the other hand, the military insiders believe, the prior intimations regarding appointments on senior military slots are not issued only in the emergency situations or unforeseen happenings involving the sudden resignations or deaths of the officers concerned.

“With just ten days remaining for Pakistan’s longest serving military chief in the civilian rule to retire, his replacement not being announced even internally (in the army) is something that never happened under ordinary circumstances.”

Also, the prior intimations are not made about the postings where the army officers are to be appointed after the grant of promotions, it was further learnt. “Because you never know who would be promoted and who would be superseded. Sometimes, senior most aspirants for the positions of two-star and three-star generals get superseded and officers who are bottom in the respective seniority lists get elevated to the next rank,” officials commented.  

In a recent conversation with this correspondent, Lieutenant General (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch said, the practice of announcing beforehand (internally) the appointee for any given slot was actively followed in the military but with certain exceptions. “I think it also depends on the circumstances or conditions. At times, the circumstances do not allow to make prior intimations on account of secrecy involving the matter. It is the discretion of army’s high command to internally announce any decision or not. Usually, there are no prior intimations for intelligence appointments.”

On the CJCSC and COAS appointments, the former general said, “The army has followed the government’s policy, which is good. It augurs well for democracy that Armed Forces act in line with the policies of political leadership.” 

Since the appointment of Pakistan’s first army chief General Sir Frank Messervy in 1947 till General Kayani, the outgoing COAS, it purportedly happened only on two occasions  when military authorities were not intimated beforehand about the army chief’s appointment; during the respective deaths of General Zia-ul-Haq and General Asif Nawaz.

Haq had died in an air crash in August 1988 whereas Nawaz died of heart attack in January 1993. General Jehangir Karamat, another former army chief, had although resigned but the move was not sudden. He is said to have taken his close associates including the corps commanders and PSOs into confidence before deciding to call it quits in October 1998.

In case of General Zia-ud-Din Butt, the military authorities were not informed beforehand about his short-lived elevation to the COAS-ship, which is not recognised by the Pakistan Army. Shortly before his ouster on October 12, 1999, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had appointed General Butt as COAS before other generals refused to serve under his command and had him removed and detained to hand Pakistan’s reign to General Pervaiz Musharraf.