Pakistan has already suffered through a long history of military coups that have thrown numerous politically elected leaders from office. Now, the newly elected Prime Minister Sharif must choose a new Army Chief to lead the military. This process is sure to be delicate and widely watched by governments and institutions around the world. In the past, recently promoted generals have launched coups.
Democracy in Pakistan
Pakistan was founded as a democratic country. Unfortunately, actual democracy has proven to fragile and fleeting. General Akbar Khan actually tried to stage a coup in 1951, shortly after Pakistan became an independent country. While his efforts were foiled, they would foreshadow events to come. In 1958, Pakistan was placed under martial law, initially at the request of the civilian government.
Martial law continued up until the 1971 split of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (Modern Pakistan). The Pakistani military lost a decisive victory and was forced to surrender to India and grant East Pakistan independence. As a result the military government all but collapsed, giving way to democratic elections.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto reorganized the country as a democracy under the 1973 Constitution and served as Prime Minister from 1973 to 1977. A series of failed socialist policies and other failed initiatives led to Bhutto becoming widely unpopular and facing unrest. In 1997, with opposition parties rapidly gaining power and conditions deteriorating, Bhutto held last-minute talks to discuss new elections and a national unity party. It was too late, however, and General Zia seized control of the government. Bhutto would later be tried and hanged for allegedly trying to murder a political opponent.
President Zia governed Pakistan through the next several years. His reversal of socialist policies did lead to economic growth and increased stability. He lifted martial law in 1985 and hand picked a Prime Minister. He promised to restore elections in 1988 but was killed after his plan was sabotaged. This ushered in a third era of democracy, later ended by General Musharraf.
Nawaz Sharif to choose a new Military General
Newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finds himself in a particularly uncomfortable situations. Sharif has already been elected to office twice in the past but ultimately had his leadership terminated by the military. His first term was cut short under military pressure in 1993. In 1997, amid is (non consecutive) second term, Sharif was thrown from power in an outright coup, and replaced by General Musharraf.
Given Sharif’s previous experiences, he will likely take extra caution as he moves to select a new general. In the past, Prime Ministers have often tried to select lower ranking officers who did not seem particularly ambitious. This is why Musharraf was picked during Sharif’s second term, a move that clearly backfired. Now, the Prime Minister’s spokespeople are claiming that the Sharif will respect seniority and choose the highest ranking military officials for the highest ranking positions.
General Kiyani praised for respecting democratic process
Pakistan’s army is currently under the leadership of General Kayani. So far, Kayani has been widely praised for respecting democratic processes and respecting civilian rule.
Lt. General Haroon Aslam is second in line and may succeed General Kayani. There are reports, however, that Aslam could be appointed to the Joint Chiefs, technically a senior position but also a largely ceremonial position. If Aslam is appointed to the Joint Chiefs, This would allow Lt. General Mahmood to take over the Army Chief position. Of course, the civilian government could break seniority again and appoint a lower officer.
The upcoming decision for Army Chief could have important military ramifications. General Kayani has been lobbying in recent months for permission to launch an attack in the North Wariristan region, a major stronghold for the Taliban and allegedly radical terrorists. This is a move the United States desperately wants to see develop. The Taliban has been able to find shelter in Waziristan while still managing to launch operations in Afghanistan.