The surprise transfer of Lt. General Faiz Hameed from Peshawar to Bahawalpur has four significant pointers to the continuing churnings within the Pakistan Army ever since the ouster of Imran Khan as the Prime Minister.
First is the chance of Lt. General Hameed, a former Director General of ISI, one of the four senior Generals in contention for the post of Chief of Army Staff (COAS)–it has dimmed further. The present chief, General Javed Bajwa retires on November 29, 2022 and is likely to nominate his successor in the next two months.
Second is the possibility of a significant shift in Pakistan’s Afghan policy, beginning with the ongoing talks with militant group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), enjoying the patronage of the Afghan Taliban which rules Afghanistan. The abrupt removal of Hameed, reportedly with wide connections in the Taliban leadership, indicates his failure to find an early settlement with TTP.
Third is General Bajwa’s moves to reconnect with the US which seeks a visible role in Afghanistan and the region a year after the withdrawal. The Russia-Ukraine War, the continuing skirmish with Iran and growing belligerence with China have hastened Washington’s return to the region. General Hameed has boastfully claimed to have helped the Taliban oust the Americans last August. The Americans suspect his role in supporting Imran Khan’s outburst against the US for his ouster.
Fourth, Hameed’s transfer indicates the grumblings within the army leadership are not over yet but General Bajwa is determined to clean up the stables before he leaves.
For Lt. General Faiz Hameed, the transfer to Bahawalpur Corps (XXX1 Corps) had come as a big setback considering that less than a year ago, he was being hailed as the hero of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan. From sipping tea at Kabul’s famous Serena Hotel, on September 4, 2021, to Bahawalpur has been a long and contentious journey. As Director-General Counter-Intelligence at GHQ, he played a key role in bringing Imran Khan to Islamabad and remained steadfast with his protege even after General Bajwa had withdrawn his blessing. Hameed was moved out of ISI as Peshawar Corps Commander by Bajwa who was not happy with the subordinate officer usurping credit for the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan.
To keep him busy, Bajwa entrusted Hameed with the responsibility of bringing around TTP to a ceasefire. On a familiar wicket, Hameed went overboard in wooing TTP leadership with the help of his `friends` in the Taliban government. His efforts resulted in a truce between the Army and TTP but nothing more. The militant group was extremely cagey of the army and the possibility of being sold out to the US, a fear which came true with the killing of al Qaeda chief, Ayman al Zawahari and TTP leader Omar Khalid Khorasani. With the talks ending in a stalemate and the TTP carrying out attacks against the army, Hameed’s failure had become apparent, giving Bajwa an excuse to move him out to Bahawalpur and bring a battle-hardened Lt. General Sardar Hassan Hayat Azhar to Peshawar to deal with TTP.
With chances of Lt. General Hameed getting dimmer to become the new chief, three are left in the fray–Lt General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Lt General Azhar Abbas and Lt General Nauman Mehmood Raja. General Mirza is the senior-most serving officer and has been Rawalpindi Corps Commander since September 2021. He has a strong chance of either taking over from Bajwa or be appointed as the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee on retirement of the current Chairman, Nadeem Raja, in November 2022.
Lt General Azhar Abbas ,currently serving as Chief of General Staff (CGS) at the GHQ, is perhaps the strongest contender given his proximity to General Bajwa. He has excellent credentials–from personal secretary to General Raheel Sharif to Commander of X corps, a key command responsible for security along the Line of Control with India. The only drawback in his case is that he is a Shia. A Shia General leading a Sunni Pakistan is hard to imagine. Lt General Nauman Mehmood Raja, currently president of the National Defence University (NDU), meets all required parameters of being in the shortlist but never has aNDU president transited to Rawalpindi as the Chief of Army Staff.
The above officers became Lt. Generals in April 2019.
Next in the list are officers who were promoted as Lt. General in September 2019– Lt. Gen. Muhammad Aamer, Gujranwala Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. Chiragh Haider Baloch, Corps Commander Multan and Lt. General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum Sheikh, the serving DG ISI. Of these, Lt. General Anjum is the most qualified to be the next Chief. He also has the added advantage of being close to General Bajwa. He has wide experience of command, staff and instructional assignments. He is a graduate of the Combined Arms Centre, UK; Staff College, Quetta, Advance Staff Course, UK, the NDU, Islamabad, the APCSS, USA and the Royal College of Defence Studies, UK. He holds a Master’s degree from the King’s College, London and the NDU Islamabad.