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Pakistan Government Slow on Key Military Appointments


FILE - Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani.

FILE - Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani.

The Pakistani government has been slow in making key military leadership appointments.

Khalid Shameem Wynne, Chairman of Pakistan Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, retired this week after 42 years in the military. His post has been assumed by the country's powerful military figure, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the army's chief of staff.

But Kayani has already announced his retirement, set for November. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has yet to indicate who will fill both posts. Kayani is seen as the second most powerful man in the country.

Michael Kofman of the Washington-based Institute for National Strategic Studies says Sharif's pick for the next military leader will need to align his vision for peace talks with the militant Taliban.

"The chief of army staff at the end of the day oversees not only the military but still a large percentage of the national security policymaking in the country, and to an extent, foreign policy as well," said Kofman.

Writer and analyst Ahmed Rashid says Sharif will choose the new military leaders carefully, given that the army ousted him from power in 1999. But Rashid adds that silence from the prime minister's office is indicative of a government that has no clear national security policy.

"I think what we are seeing is that this dithering and this lack of decision and decisive decision making by the government is playing in to the hands of the Taliban in the sense that they are trying to create propaganda value for themselves," said Rashid.

Prime Minister Sharif says that the only way to resolve the years-long Taliban militancy in Pakistan is through negotiation.

But the Taliban has a list of demands that includes the release of all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of the military from their northwest strongholds, the imposition of sharia law and an end to U.S.-conducted drone strikes

Analysts say the government will be hard pressed to agree to the conditions. Meanwhile, multiple factions of the Taliban have kept up their bombing campaigns, leaving dozens of people dead and injured.

Kofman, who said his views did not necessarily reflect those of The Institute for National Strategic Studies, says Pakistan has reached a pivotal point.

"Pakistan's military deployment is almost at 40 percent which is very, very hard to sustain in the long-term, unrealistic, and I am sure there are many people wondering whether they will have to intensify operations, or whether they should be looking to cut a peace deal or make some other type of agreement," he said.

So far, the Pakistani army has been unable to eliminate the Taliban.

A recent on-camera interview with Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud showed him very at ease. His attitude, some analysts say, is that of a man who feels he is winning. Analyst Kofman:

"That means for the Pakistan Taliban, that if this is the worst, that this is the best that the Pakistan army can do against them, then they should hold out, because if they are still alive, and if they still represent a real fighting force today, this is probably the most that the Pakistani army can do," he said.

But other analysts argue the military is only hampered by a lack of political will on the part of the government. Analyst Rashid:

"I think there will come a time quite soon when the military will go to the prime minister and say, 'I am sorry, but this offer of talks with the Taliban has not worked,'" he said.

After several military coups and years of army rule, many Pakistanis are deeply proud of the current civilian rule. But privately, many believe the civilian leadership will only remain in charge as long as it is able to maintain stability.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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