For a civilian ruler in Pakistan doing his inescapable duty of appointing his Army Chief entails a grave risk: his appointee may send him into exile, or to the gallows or let him exist as a ruler sans power.  But the civilian rulers who met this fate were no less guilty.  Their choice of the Army Chief was either ill-intention or their despotic style of ruling made the common man look to the Army for help.

A glaring example of this was provided by Pakistan’s very first President under its very first (1956) Constitution. Iskander Mirza, who became the first President under the 1956 constitution and took oath to defend this very document, joined hands with the then Commander-in-Chief Gen Ayub Khan to abrogate the Constitution and impose Martial Law in the country on October 7, 1958.  He appointed Gen Ayub Khan as the Chief Martial Administrator and himself remained the President. Twenty days later, Gen Ayub Khan sent three of his trusted generals to Mirza’s house in the dead of night to tell that he was no more the President and that he and his wife must leave the county then and there. The wife of the President Mirza had always warned him to be careful of Ayub Khan. When the hollering three generals stormed into the house, the President and his wife jumped out of their beds in night dresses in a fright to hear the intruding generals ordering them to board a waiting plane to London. The Mirza couple lived there till their last breath. Now Ayub declared himself the President-cum-Chief Martial Law Administrator.

Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had chosen Gen Ziaul Haq because of his unmatched sycophancy ignoring the seniority of other generals and the advice of outgoing Army Chief Tikka Khan against the selection of Gen Zia. Bhutto, feudal and dictatorial in his style of functioning, must have considered Zia’s sycophancy a guarantee for his style of ruling.  But Zia quietly engineered an Islamic movement against secular Bhutto and overthrew his government on July 5, 1977 and two years later hanged him after much humiliation and subsequently persecuted his wife Nusrat Bhutto and daughter Benazir Bhutto.

Of all the civilian rulers, Nawaz Sharif, who is running the third stint of prime ministership, has appointed most Army Chiefs. Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua was the general to be appointed the Army Chief on August 17, 1991 by Nawaz Sharif after he became the Prime Minister for the first time in 1990. Sharif made this appointment against his wishes under the President’s pressure who had chosen Gen Janjua. Gen Janjua’s bad relations with the Prime Minister came to light when the Army Chief’s wife   Nazhat Nawaz accused the Prime Minister of killing her husband with poison.  Gen Nawaz had suddenly died on January 8, 1992 while talking his morning exercise.  She made this charge when the body was still to reach the graveyard.

Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar was the next Army Chief to be appointed not by Sharif but by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on January 12, 1993.  The Prime Minister’s dictatorial style of ruling brought the new Army Chief in conflict with him.  Uncompromising and authoritarian President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, used his constitutional authority to sack Sharif on April 18, 1993. The Pak Supreme Court in quick verdict reinstated Prime Minister Sharif in May 1993.  Mutually hostile President and Prime Minister were again face to face.  Army Chief Kakar intervened and told both of them to go home in 1993.

In 1997 Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister for the second time.  The topmost agenda of his second coming was to do away with the 8th constitutional amendment that empowered the President to sack elected governments and appoint Army Chief.  This was done by Parliament on April 1997.  Sharif now evolved an ‘apna banda’ (our own man) policy for appointing an Army Chief.  He appointed Gen Jahangir Karamat as his Army Chief considered him as his ‘apna banda’.  Gen Karamat quit the job as he could not go along with the Prime Minister.  Gen Parvez Musharaf, in his autobiography, “In the Line of Fire”, has written that Sharif used to humiliate Gen Karamat.

Gen Musharraf was Sharif’s next ‘apna banda’ for the post of the Army Chief.  He appointed him as his Army Chief bypassing senior generals in the hope that he as the Prime Minster would have problem-free time.  But right from the beginning, Gen Musharraf began belying Sharif’s wishful hopes. When the Prime Minister was trying to befriend India, Gen Musharraf was conspiring to invade Indian territory in Kargil. This conspiracy was carried out soon after then India’s Prime Minsiter Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s historic visit to Lahore to meet Sharif. Vajpayee telephoned Sharif to remonstrate that India had been stabbed in the back. The Pakistan Prime Minister said he was not aware of his Army’s plans to invade Kargil. Kargil, in short, led to Sharif’s overthrow on October 12, 1999.  An anti-terrorism court tried him for terrorist act of hijacking the Pakistan International Airline (PIA) plan on which Army Chief Musharraf was returning from Sri Lanka.  The court sentenced Sharif to life imprisonment, but the Musharraf government petitioned for his execution. Saudi Arabia intervened and the Army Chief agreed to send Sharif and his entire family into exile for ten years in 2000. Thus, Sharif escaped the gallows.

Perhaps his overthrow, trial for terrorism and exile were not as tortuous and harrowing as the thorny crown of this third prime ministership.  In May 2013, his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) won the general election with a thumping majority.  His woes started after he had appointed Gen. Raheel Sharif as the country’s 15th Army Chief.  On Nov.11, 2013, during and after the electioneering Sharif made three promises without realising they were anathema to the Army.  They related to his plan to have peace talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP), to the trial of Gen. Musharraf to reason for suspending the Constitution in 2007 and to normalising relations with India.

Sharif appointed Gen Sharif the army Chief to succeed Gen Ashfaq Kayani who retired after completing three year extension period.  He chose Gen Sharif with a lot of secrecy.  When his name at last was made public it was thought he belonged to Prime Minister Sharif’s clan. But during his tenure the Sharif government powers were paralysed; the position of Parliament was devalued, courts’ role was restricted; and political parties, media and civil society activists were made to live in fear. The powerless Prime Minister used the oxygen to the Kashmir issue to breathe. A sinister project was undertaken in the form of character assassination of the leadership of largest party in Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) was and it was brought on the verge of liquidation. Now state-sponsored Islamist actors were used to keep the government, political media and civil society activists in line with the Army’s domestic and external policies.

The Army under, the leadership of Gen Sharif took a stand against Prime Minister’s policy towards peace talks with the Taliban, trial of Gen Musharraf and normalisation of relations with India.  In Pakistan, it is very widely believed that the long dharnas about eight months by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Canada-based Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), staged separately to paralyse Islamabad in 2014 had the backing of the Army.  The dharnas were meant to make Sharif to backslide or quit. Prime Minister Sharif succumbed to this warning. As a result, the peace talks with TTP were abandoned before Gen Sharif launched his much-trumpeted “Zarb-e-Azb” in North Waziristan on June 15, 2014.  The treason case against Gen Musharraf was as good as withdrawn after the government stopped pursuing it.  In September 2014, Sharif finally gave notice of renouncing the friendship-with India policy by raking up Kashmir and making accusations against India in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

To try to prevent emerging stalemate in Indo-Pak relations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Lahore on his way home from Afghanistan on December 25 last year to greet Sharif on his birthday and to bless his granddaughter on her wedding.  This bonhomie was quickly replied to by an attack on India’s airbase in Pathankot on January 2 by Pak Army’s protégé Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). This has obliterated the hope for normalising India-Pak relations in the near future.

Now, the beleaguered Nawaz Sharif is beset by a difficult duty of finding a successor to Gen Sharif who retires on the 29th of this month. In January, General Sharif announced that he would not accept an extension.  This kicked off a public upsurge perhaps orchestrated by the Inter-services Public Relations (ISPR), to demand extension.  There are also demands to make him the Field Marshal.  Sharif is also facing a case in the Supreme Court about money laundering in the names of children as revealed by Panama Leaks in April.  If found guilty, the Prime Minister may lose his post.

During Gen Sharif’s tenure, Pakistan was under virtual Martial Law when democracy existed in name only. Gen Sharif visited foreign countries as a military dictator subordinate to none.  How to skip past pitfalls while selecting the next Army Chief will be a big question before the Prime Minister Sharif. Seniority list of the Pak Army now already in circulation and speculations are already on, but whether Gen Sharif was granted an extension or a new Chief was appointed, for the neighbourhood one thing would remain constant, that the Pak Army’s pathological anti-India stance, policy of intervention in Afghanistan and a near-colonial approach to Balochistan would certainly continue.