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What Pakistan Army Reshuffle Means

By RANA BANERJI
August 09, 2022 19:01 IST
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The timing of these transfers, while being projected as routine, is significant in both strategic and political terms, asserts Rana Banerji, who headed the Pakistan desk at the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency.

IMAGE: Pakistan's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa examines a rifle at the Eurosatory International Defence and Security Exhibition in Paris, June 14, 2022. Photograph: Kiran Ridley/Getty Images
 

On August 8, 2022 the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) announced vide its press release PR-71/22 that Lieutenant General Sardar Hassan Azhar Hayat, currently Military Secretary, was being posted as Commander XI Corps, Peshawar.

Lieutenant General Faiz Hamid was transferred as Commander XXXI Corps, Bahawalpur while Lieutenant General Khalid Zia, Corps Commander there, was posted as Military Secretary, Pakistan army.

The timing of these transfers, while being projected as routine, is significant in both strategic and political terms.

The Pakistan army leadership is displeased with the manner in which recent peace parleys with the Tehrik e Taliban (TTP) and the Afghan Taliban have proceeded in Kabul.

TTP interlocutors attended the recent Loya Jirga there (June 29-July 1, 2022) and the talks with visiting senior Karachi cleric, Mohammad Taqi Usmani (July 27, 2022), in both of which Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed participated.

These talks did not lead to any change in their stance, either on the demand of undoing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) or on prior renunciation of arms.

Meanwhile, there has been an increase in TTP-backed violence in FATA.

On August 7 evening, Omar Khalid Khorasani @Abdul Wali Mohammad, leader of the Tehrik e Taliban (TTP-Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction), who hailed from Mohmand, was killed in an explosion near Barmal in eastern Paktika, Afghanistan, while moving in a car along with two of his associates, Mufti Hassan and Hafiz Daulat. A TTP spokesperson acknowledged the incident.

The new XI Corps commander, Lieutenant General Sardar Azhar Hassan Hayat, who belongs to the Frontier Force regiment, may deal with the Pakistan army's subsequent contacts or continuing peace parleys with the TTP and the Afghan Taliban.

Lieutenant General Hayat has had experience of the region, having commanded a brigade earlier in Waziristan. He also worked in the Inter Services Intelligence as a major general before being promoted as Military Secretary.

He goes to Peshawar very definitely as Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa's man. His retirement is due only in November 2024.

American Ambassador Donald Blome visited Peshawar (August 3-4, 2022), where he met KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan and presented several vehicles which were part of an USAid pipeline.

Pakistan Tehrik e Insaaf politicians in positions of power at the provincial government level indicated to Pakistani journalists there that because former prime minister Imran Khan has continued to talk of 'a foreign (read US) conspiracy' behind his ouster, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed's presence there and the perception of his closeness to Imran had been a cause of visible embarrassment to them.

General Bajwa may have astutely taken note of this sentiment to ease out the high profile Faiz to the comparative backwater of a defensive Corps in Bahawalpur.

Faiz will still have some time there till his slated retirement in April 2023.

Lieutenant General Khalid Zia, the Bahawalpur corps commander, comes back to General Headquarters as Military Secretary. He belongs to the Punjab regiment. He had picked up the three star rank in September 2019 before which he was General Officer Commanding, 41 Division, Quetta. He retires in September 2023.

On August 5, after the tragic helicopter crash in Lasbela in which the XII Corps commander, Lieutenant General Sarfraz Ali and other senior army officers lost their lives, the ISPR took adverse notice of 'the regretful social media campaign' which caused 'deep anguish and distress' among the martyrs' families, as some pro-PTI trollers had apparently wished General Bajwa to be on the helicopter!

President Arif Alvi was thereafter advised not to attend the funeral of the officers.

Reacting to the chain of transfers, Dr Shahbaz Gill, lately functioning as Imran's chief of staff, tweeted on August 8 urging 'Army officers, rank and file', 'not to obey illegal orders of the bureaucracy and follow the law'.

The ARY TV channel, which has been openly pro-Imran in the recent past, carried this tweet.

This led to a directive from the federal government to take ARY off the air.

After the uproar, Gill tried to pass off his reaction as 'a serious conspiracy of the strategic media cell of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)'.

However, he seems to have been subsequently arrested (August 9, 2022) by mysterious personnel in civvies, as his car was leaving Imran Khan's Bani Gala residence.

PTI supporters have cried hoarse about this alleged 'abduction'.

Though it is not clear how the higher judiciary will react, the legal noose seems to be tightening against Imran Khan as references have been filed on the Toshakhana gifts case and the foreign/prohibited funding disclosures made by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, the newly elected chief minister of Punjab, has counseled Imran to reduce his anti-army tirade in public and even offered to mediate with the military establishment.

Imran has meanwhile, announced shifting of the venue of his planned August 13 protest from Islamabad to Lahore.

Interesting days lie ahead.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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