Our Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD

After much nail-biting, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finally on Tuesday made two top appointments by elevating Lt-Gen Raheel Sharif as Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) and Lt-Gen Rashad Mahmood as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC).

President Mamnoon Hussain, who is also supreme commander of the armed forces, on the advice of the prime minister notified the promotions in exercise of his powers under Article 243(a) and 243(b) of the Constitution.

The whole exercise of making appointments on these coveted slots in the Pakistan Army was kept secret and even the federal cabinet members, expect for a few, were not aware of the decision of Premier Sharif.

On Wednesday morning, the PM held separate meetings with Lt-Gen Rashad Mahmood, second on the seniority list of the Army, and Lt-Gen Sharif, the third on seniority, at the PM Office, and intimated them about his decision.

The senior most, L-Gen Haroon Aslam, currently working as Chief of Logistics Staff at GHQ, was superseded in the process and would likely get early retirement as per the military’s tradition.

Political and defence analysts believe the prime minister partly considered the proposal of the outgoing COAS Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, hence both the coveted slots staying with the Pakistan Army.

Premier Sharif, however, exercised his discretionary powers by alleviating the third on the seniority to the top slot of Chief of the Army Staff, while the 2nd on the seniority, Lt-Gen Rashad Mahmood, got the post of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the top-most but a ceremonial slot in the armed forces.

Sources in the PML-N-led government said that PM Nawaz wanted to hand the CJCSC slot to Pakistan Navy, perhaps that’s why he had turned down the summary for elevation of Lt-Gen Haroon Aslam to the slot of CJCSC at the time of Gen Khalid Shamim Wynne’s retirement (as CJCSC). PM Sharif had turned down the summary taking the plea that the names of other services chiefs should also be included in the summary.

The slot of CJCSC, which used to rotate among the three services, has been with the Army since 1997.

Sources in the PML-N government said that the matter of filling the two top slots in the armed forces was kept so secret that only two party leaders were taken in the loop by Premier Sharif; besides his younger brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

Though seniority has not been strictly followed, the lieutenant generals promoted to the top two slots have immaculate professional credentials.

Analysts believe PM Sharif played smartly – while he fully exercised the power of making top appointments in the armed forces, he also obliged the outgoing Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

It is pertinent to mention here that PM Sharif, in his previous government, had picked Pervez Musharaf as COAS by superseding his two seniors – a decision that haunted him later.

The change of command will be held on November 29 (Friday) at the General Headquarters (GHQ), Rawalpindi.

Agencies add: The change of command comes with the country facing a daunting array of challenges — the six-year Taliban campaign which has claimed thousands of lives, vexed relations with India and the winding-down of the 12-year Nato mission in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Gen Sharif is a veteran infantry commander whose elder brother Major Shabbir won the highest military award Nishan-e-Haider for valour in the 1971 war with India.

There has been much debate about how to deal with the campaign of violence waged against the state by the Pakistani Taliban.

The government has said it wants to pursue peace talks, but some have argued that a military offensive is needed to clear militant hideouts in the tribal northwest. The new commander is likely to take an uncompromising approach.