Merit-based appointments

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CONTRARY to the upheavals that the issue created during the last several months, the process for making top level appointments in the defence forces has been accomplished in a remarkably serene, serious and prompt manner reflecting a sort of consensus among different players.

Prime Minister Mian Shehbaz Sharif, after consultations with the coalition partners and chairing a meeting of the federal cabinet, picked Lt.General Asim Munir, the senior-most in the seniority list as the next Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and Lt.

General Sahir Shamshad Mirza as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), from the panel of six officers recommended for the two posts by the General Headquarters/Defence Ministry, signed the summary and sent it to the President, who confirmed the appointments within hours ending wild speculations on the subject.

Smooth and friction-free completion of the selection process for the two top slots, especially for the coveted post of Army Chief, augurs well for a politically- polarized country as it has the potential to open windows for national unity, harmony and progress.

One of the salient features of the entire exercise was that two senior most officers have been selected and as a result, unlike in the past, no one has been superseded and hence there would be no need for any senior officer to opt for early retirement on being superseded.

The picks also dispelled the intensive propaganda that the present rulers would opt for favourites ignoring merit and seniority.

The Prime Minister, the leadership of the coalition government and cabinet members deserve credit for putting their weight behind the criteria of merit and seniority, which became a hallmark of Mian Shehbaz Sharif during his tenure as Chief Minister of Punjab when recruitments particularly in the Education Department (teachers) were made in a highly transparent manner.

There is general consensus that both General Sahir Shamshad and General Asim Munir were not only senior in the list and deserved to be elevated but were also competent enough in all respects for top positions they have been assigned.

Both of them are self-made, rose to the zenith of their careers by virtue of hard work, intelligence and professionalism.

No doubt, others on the panel nominated by the GHQ were equally good for the jobs but there was no justification to ignore the seniors in the list.

General Asim Munir has a distinguished career, remained topper and has a vast experience of command besides serving as Director-General Military Intelligence (MI) and Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Those who remained close to him regard General Asim Munir as honest, upright, straight-forward, committed to the task and the one who goes by the book.

It is also a good omen that the country would have a COAS who learnt the Holy Quran by heart and has a demonstrated capability of zero-tolerance against corruption and malpractices.

This was also borne out when, in his capacity as DG, ISI, he pinpointed instances of corruption by family members and friends of the former Prime Minister.

His commitment to the profession also means he would devote his energies on his own institution and respect in every respect and in the true sense of the word the decision to keep Pakistan Army apolitical.

Politicians, parliamentarians and civil bureaucrats, if allowed to work and deliver without leg-pulling, have the potential to take the country out of the woods.

The Army would earn more respect if it stays away from politics and instead focuses on professionalism, which is the need of the hour in view of internal and external security challenges.

The menace of terrorism is rearing its ugly head once again and hopefully with his intimate experience of counter-terrorism, the new COAS would succeed in achieving further successes against the threat.

General Sahir Shamshad too had an impressive career in the army, particularly in senior leadership positions during the past seven years.

He came to prominence as the Director General of Military Operations and formed part of the team that supervised the military operation against the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other militants in North Waziristan.

Moreover, Lt-Gen Mirza was closely involved in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group that brokered intra-Afghan talks involving Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and the United States. He was also a member of the Sartaj Aziz-led Committee on reforms for Gilgit-Baltistan.

Hopefully, he would become instrumental in infusing a new spirit to the office of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee that is entrusted with the task of coordination among the three services.

It was, perhaps, for the first time that the issue of appointment of next Army Chief became a national debate raising fears that this would harm the interests and prestige of not only the institution but also run contrary to the interests of the country.

President Dr.Arif Alvi and PTI Chairman Imran Khan, therefore, acted wisely by arriving at a prompt decision not to create hurdles in the way of smooth completion of the appointment process.

In fact, under the Constitution and the law, the President has almost no role in the matter and at best he could have delayed the process for some weeks.

In this backdrop, the announcement of Imran Khan that his party has decided to stay away from the issue was widely welcomed but on a day when the GHQ moved the summary, he declared that he and President Alvi would play with the issue as per Constitution and the law.

This sparked fears that the President might try to delay the approval of the summary till November 27, the day when General Asim Munir would have, otherwise, retired.

However, the Government also plugged all the loopholes to thwart such an eventuality by giving extension in service to General Asim Munir and issuing notification for the purpose, depriving PTI of taking any advantage through deliberate delay in the approval of the summary.

Apart from this, initiation of the summary made it absolutely clear that reports about difference of opinion between the Government and the GHQ were mere speculation and instead they were on the same page.

This also played a part in the prompt disposal of the summary by the President. Analysts also believe that PTI also realized the folly of entering into confrontation with the new leadership of the Army from the very beginning, especially when it hopes to return to power after the next general election.

Anyhow, all sides showed maturity vis-à-vis the issue of new appointments and they should demonstrate similar maturity on other issues as the country cannot afford destabilization in the face of a crippling economic crisis.