But the ISI chief did not retire giving the impression that he has won General Asim Munir's trust, notes Rana Banerji who headed the Pakistan desk at RA&W.
Three major generals were promoted in mid September 2023 to fill up vacancies emerging at the much aspired three-star level of lieutenant generals in the Pakistan army. However, contrary to past practice, details of the promotions were kept under wraps by a bridled Pakistani media.
This new approach bears the stamp perhaps of General Asim Munir, who became Pakistan's army chief in the backdrop of considerable controversy deliberately stoked by ousted prime minister Imran Khan. It may indicate also that General Munir could still be struggling to stamp his authority within the institution after the chaotic events of May 9, 2023.
Among those who retired on September 14, 2023 were Lieutenant General Muhd Aamer, Artillery, Corps Commander, XXX Corps, Gujranwala, 76th Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) Long Course; Lieutenant General Chiragh Haider, Frontier Force Regiment (FFR), 18th Officers Training School (OTS) course, Director General, Training & Evaluation (DG, IET) at General Headquarters (GHQ); Lieutenant General Khalid Zia, Punjab Regiment, Military Secretary, 77th PMA Long Course.
Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum, Director General, Inter Services Intelligence, who was also slated to demit office on September 13, did not retire. His long rumoured extension came out in the open around this time (September 14-16, 2023) though its exact duration still remains vague. While some reports suggest a year, others suspect it may be open ended and of shorter duration.
Only two other ISI chiefs have been given extensions in the past, one, the ubiquitous Lieutenant General Akhtar Abdul Rehman, who held rein for seven long years (1980-1987), almost entirely handling Pakistan's Afghan policy during the Soviet invasion and two, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, whose extension (2011-2012) under General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani; tenure as army chief created heartburn among peers and caused him to exit in somewhat controversial circumstances.
Lieutenant General Nadeem has apparently been able to win over the army chief's trust to play whatever supportive role is envisaged for him in the army's ensuing political engineering as Pakistan heads to the polls in January, 2024. He is involved also in the efforts being made under the newly set up Special Investment Facilitation Council to bring in army guided economic investments to bail out Pakistan's tottering economy.
Though seven or eight supersessions have taken place, as is usual at this level of the promotion pyramid, major generals from the 82nd Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul Long Course have been promoted.
Major General Amer Ahsan Nawaz, Baloch Regiment, who was serving as Commandant, Command and Staff College, Quetta, becomes the new military secretary, an important assignment coming the way of a comparatively junior general. Holding the CSC, Quetta slot usually marks out a professionally well rated officer on the career high road.
Postings of the other two promoted, Major General Tahir Hameed Shah, Artillery, Director General, Weapons and Equipment at General Headquarters and Major General Sarfraz Ahmed, Air Defence, General Officer Commanding, 8 Div, Sialkot were not immediately announced. The latter has now been designated Inspector General, Arms at GHQ.
Meanwhile, XXX Corps, Gujranwala remains headless for well nigh a fortnight and more, even as officers from the 80th PMA Long course, like Lieutenant General Asim Malik, Adjutant General, Lieutenant General Fayyaz Hussain Shah, IG Traininig and Evaluation, Lieutenant General Nauman Zakaria, DG, National Logistics Cell sweat it out to get Corps commands.
Prominent among those superseded in this round of two-star elevations is Major General Irfan Ahmed Malik, Artillery, who was serving as Commander, Strategic Forces, North, Sargodha. Till recently, he had worked under Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed at the ISI, in the high profile position of DDG, counter-intelligence.
He became controversial as some remarks ascribed to him threatening Maryam Nawaz -- former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's daughter -- went viral. He tried hard to live down this notoriety but failed! He has been appeased with a posting to an otherwise lucrative position, that of Director General, Military Lands and Cantonments.
The new Commandant at CSC, Quetta is Major General Naseem Anwar, Frontier Force Regiment, 87th PMA. He was previously serving as GoC, 15 Div, Sialkot. Two other changes at the major general level bear mention. Division commanders under IV Corps, Lahore have been replaced in the aftermath of perceived 'masterly inaction' of erstwhile incumbents during the disturbances in the Lahore cantonment on May 9.
Muhd Shuja Anwar, Artillery, moves from 21 Div, Pano Aqil as GoC, 11 Division Lahore (replacing Major General Malik Amir Muhd Khan, FFR). Major General Shoaib bin Akram, FFR moves from the post of DG, security and counter terrorism at GHQ as the new GoC,10 Division Lahore (replacing Major General Qaiser Suleiman). Shoaib is from the same unit as the army chief, 23 FFR, and is placed now as a trusted junior in a key slot.
With these promotions, 25 three-star generals are now in place, 6 from the Artillery, 3 from the Armoured Corps, 2 each from Engineers and Air Defence, 12 from Infantry (FFR- 5, Baloch-2, Sindh-2, Punjab-2, AJK Regt-1).
Two or three vacancies remain to be filled. Munir may be waiting for two more slots to emerge, after the retirements due in November, when his trusted aide, Lieutenant General Muhd Saeed, Sindh Regiment (19th OTS), Chief of General Staff and Lieutenant General Ali Amir Awan, Artillery, Chairman, Pakistan Ordinance Factory are slated to bid adieu. Rumours persist, that Saeed may also get an extension, like Nadeem.
Significantly, a serving 3 star General, Lieutenant General Munir Afsar, Punjab, IG Communications and IT, is being posted to head the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), an independent and autonomous agency which works under the interior ministry, to regulate government databases and statistically manage the sensitive registration database of all Pakistani citizens.
On the political front, Imran Khan's popularity has not abated. The Cipher leaks case is being seriously pursued to keep him in long incarceration, though he is now shifted to Adiala jail, Rawalpindi, from Attock pursuant to an Islamabad high court order.
The Election Commission of Pakistan is still prevaricating on whether Imran's party, the Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf will be banned from the next elections or not.
New problems of carrying out accountability within the army may confront an insecure Asim Munir if Chief Justice Qazi Faiz Isa takes to logical conclusion the hearing of review petitions in his 2019 Faizabad Mor judgment, slated to resume early next month.