Pakistan Creates Army Commands to Mollify Restive Military by Brig. Arun Sahgal SignUp

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Pakistan Creates Army Commands to Mollify Restive Military
by Brig. Arun Sahgal Bookmark and Share

Nearly six decades after the country came into being, Pakistan's military junta recently announced the reorganization of its army's operational deployment into three geographical commands with the ostensible aim of improving efficiency and strengthening its overall command-and-control structure.

The Northern, Southern and Central Commands that are being created are to be responsible for the administrative arrangements of the country's nine corps that fall under their respective commands.       

In organizational terms, the move to create regional commands can be attributed to the outstanding demand of the Pakistani military establishment to rationalize higher decision-making. Dealing with the collegium of nine corps commanders, who constitute Pakistan's ruling committee, has never been easy. It has always been fraught with personal ambitions and inevitable personality clashes.

Now, this has increasingly become even more acute as the nine Lieutenant Generals are required not only to take military decisions but also deal with national political and governance issues. It is important to highlight that while General Pervez Musharraf may enjoy his corps commander's confidence, the complex circumstances in which the Pakistani army is currently functioning makes the reorganization issue more poignant.

Besides, having refused to step down as army chief, thereby blocking the promotion of others in line for the top job, Musharraf has no option but to obtain the consensus of his corps commanders in almost all decisions in a move to contain dissent within the Service. Arbitrary or unilateral action is fast becoming a decreasing option for Musharraf.

Reports from Pakistan indicate that while the establishment of the Northern and Southern Commands have been finalized, the Central Command is to be raised shortly. And, like in the Indian Army, three-star generals will head Pakistan's new regional commands and the new appointments will be announced soon.

Once functional, the Pakistani Army will be the second service in the country to have separate regional commands. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) already has three - the Northern Command at Pehsawar, the Central Command at Sargodha in Punjab, and the Southern Command at Karachi.

In the army's case indications from Islamabad are that Southern Command headquarters would be Quetta, capital of Balochistan province whilst Central Command's location is yet to be determined and could be either Lahore or nearby Multan. For the Northern Command headquarters, the toss seems to be between Gujranwala and Mangla.

The question, however, that arises is why implement these wide ranging changes now? Particularly as Musharraf faces both civil unrest following the sacking of his chief justice and a countrywide Islamist backlash with two Islamabad seminaries, adjoining the president's house being occupied by armed jihadi's openly defying the state. The implication of the new commands on the existing military hierarchy at the functional level also needs elaboration.

The magnanimous explanation is that restructuring has long been under examination and after extended debate and consideration has finally been approved.

The rationale seemingly is that the extent and scope of the army chief's responsibilities and duties is far too large as he also doubles as Pakistan's president.

But the more realistic reasoning for implementing the new command stricture is that it is an attempt to cut the fractious corps commanders down to size by diffusing their authority and by filtering all direct communication to the president and Islamabad through the new dispensation.

It appears to be part of Musharraf's larger game plan to distance himself from the day-to-day functioning of the army, laying the onus of operational and administrative responsibility on the three new army commanders.

It could also be the president's attempt, in all likelihood under US and Western influence, to distance the corps commanders from civilian governance issues and instead concentrate on operational tasks.

It is no secret that the Pakistani Army dominates all civilian jobs, a situation that finds favor with overseas official and public opinion as reports of its covert association with global jihad proliferate and pressure mounts on Musharraf to undertake remedial measures.

Taking cognizance of Pakistan's special politico-military dynamics and Musharaff's proliferating problems, it will not be inaccurate to state that the creation of the new army commands is an attempt at organizational restructuring but more a stratagem to effectively neuter increasingly fractious and ambitious corps commanders. Rumblings within the army, though nascent, presage yet another nascent crisis that Musharraf hopes to defuse through these new measures.

(Brig Arun Sahgal is with the United Services Institution (USI). He can be contacted at  

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