ISLAMABAD: The government has appointed retired Lt Gen Zamirul Hassan Shah defence secretary in an apparent U-turn after initially opposing his nomination by the military.
Gen Shah assumed office on Thursday marking an end to what had virtually become a stand-off between the government and the GHQ on the bureaucratic posting. He replaced retired Lt Gen Alam Khattak, who completed his two-year contract on Aug 5.
Gen Shah had retired from military service earlier this year. His last posting was adjutant general of Pakistan Army.
The military had recommended Gen Shah’s name to the government for appointment as the defence secretary long before Gen Khattak completed his tenure. The government rejected the nomination and asked the military to nominate some other officer.
“The government had some reservations about Gen Shah’s nomination,” a source in the Prime Minister Office disclosed.
The army, according to insiders, refused to change the nomination and insisted that Gen Shah must be appointed.
The government then considered different options including continuing with Maj Gen Abid Nazir as the acting secretary till the succession in military in November; and appointing a civilian bureaucrat.
However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s advisers counselled him to avoid straining relations with the military on the issue and accept Gen Shah’s nomination.
Gen Shah’s appointment coincided with the easing of friction between the military and government on progress in implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism.
Responding to the military’s criticism of the government’s performance on NAP, Mr Sharif constituted Implementation and Review Committee of NAP under National Security Adviser retired Lt Gen Nasser Khan Janjua; approved creation of new wings of Frontier Corps; and expedited the process on enactment of antiterrorism laws that were allowed to lapse.
A day before the defence secretary’s appointment, the government appointed another retired general (Muzamil Hussain) as head of the Water and Power Development Authority.
Principal Information Officer Rao Tehsin rejected the reports of the government having previously blocked Gen Shah’s appointment. “It is not true. Categorically reject such reports based on speculations,” he said in a written reply.
The office of the defence secretary is the highest bureaucratic office in the defence ministry, but has a diminished role with the real powers resting with the GHQ.
The position, nevertheless, has gained significance because of the fragile civil-military balance and upcoming transition in military.
The federal government normally appoints the defence secretary on the advice of the army chief as part of an unwritten tradition. However, there have been exceptions. The Pakistan Peoples Party government removed retired Lt Gen Naeem Lodhi at the peak of Memogate in January 2012 and gave Nargis Sethi, a civilian bureaucrat, additional charge of the ministry for seven months before reverting to the agreed arrangement in July 2012 by appointing retired Lt Gen Asif Yasin Malik.
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2016