Pakistan's outgoing Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, left. gestures as he arrives with new Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif. The Army may shift to a three-command model. (Agence France-Presse)
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Army continues to inch toward a long-planned reorganization of its operational command structure, but some analysts are uncertain if the changes will go ahead soon.
The reorganization calls for absorbing the current 11 corps into the relevant Southern, Central and Northern commands, overseen by General HQ in Rawalpindi. The reorganization is aimed at rationalizing the Army’s decision-making, allowing greater flexibility and efficiency.
According to analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank, the issue was discussed during the Army’s Nov. 28 Corps Commander’s Conference. It was the final such gathering outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani chaired.
Khan said that raising of the issue, and the recent promotions of officers connected with devising new strategies and training regimes, bode well for change.
“The possibility is good for this new formation of command since Gen. Raheel Sharif [subsequently promoted to Army chief] was instrumental in establishing the new manual for training and evaluation, plus the new doctrine to counter India’s Cold Start Doctrine,” Khan said.
He also highlights the promotion of Maj. Gen. Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad to lieutenant general and his appointment to the position of chief of General Staff (CGS).
“[Ahmad] previously held the position of Director General Military Operations and [Sharif and Ahmad] both worked together in forming this new three-command structure,” he added.
As a rationale for the change, Khan cites the need to counter India’s ‘Cold Start’ doctrine that has also seen Pakistan deploy battlefield tactical nuclear weapons, therefore making the battlefield “more centric and dependenton command and control.”
“To releases this pressure, the Army wants to have sealed compartments of command which can assess and counter the aggressor’s strength and preference at any given point,” he said. “These tactics make things difficult for one central command to monitor the battlefield situation. The three-command model led by a four-star general will therefore be an unmistakable continuum without huge gaps.”
Details of any potential changes are sketchy, but Southern and Central commands already nominally exist and have had formations allocated to them.
The commander of IV Corps in Lahore is also the commander of Central Command, which also consists of I and XXX Corps.
The composition of Quetta-based Southern Command is slightly different as it faces east and west. The main responsibility of Quetta-based XII Corps is the Afghan border, and Karachi-based V Corps is focused exclusively on the eastern border.
How this geographically opposing orientation would work in practice remains to be seen.
A possible Northern Command would consist of X Corps and also perhaps XI Corps. There will not be a separate command HQ, and the commander of Northern Command will continue to be one of the existing corps commanders.
Despite the recent promotions and allocations, however, and though supportive of the prospective reorganization as it would offer “nothing but benefits,” former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley said he is unconvinced wholesale change is imminent.
“The big problem with this is nonavailability of high-quality officers for the three separate HQs. The Army is already suffering badly from an officer shortage, and such a massive staff expansion will really strain it.”
He also cites the operating costs of the new commands and does not believe the new Army chief will “leap into anything dramatic so quickly.”
The Air Force is currently structured around a three-command model. According to Kaiser Tufail, a former Air Force pilot and analyst, “It has to be emphasized that this structure is largely a peacetime arrangement that helps in overseeing routine activities at operational bases, a task which had previously overburdened the [Air HQ] at the expense of sufficient attention to plans and policymaking,” he said.
During times of conflict, things would be rather different.
“The wartime role of the PAF’s regional commands is rather limited, and largely pertains to vetting [and accordingly apportioning] the air support requirements of the Army’s Corps HQ that fall within the respective area of responsibility,” Tufail said.
But he sees potential benefits for Air Force/Army interaction in reorganization.
“Perhaps, the Army’s commands would allow a more efficient one-to-one interaction for the air support tasks to be worked out between the Army and PAF Regional Command HQs.”
However, to be truly effective, Khan said any changes would ideally be made in conjunction with another much- talked about change: an appointment of a tri-service commander/Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) and joint HQ.
“It would be ideal to have a five-star CDS,” Khan said. “Appointing a CDS, who would oversee all three services, the Strategic Plan Division, the ISI, promotions and procurements in addition to being a single point of contact between the military and the government.”
However, he does not believe the Army will allow this to happen.
“There will be no movement in making the office of [the Joint Chief of Staff] a viable institution because the Army is not willing to accept the chief of JCS on rotational basis,” he said.