OPINION

 

SELECTION FOR COMMAND

za-khan DJ requested Brig (Retd) ZA Khan, author of "THE WAY IT WAS" to examine the special characteristics for command in the light of his own experience as an outstanding soldier

Within the limit of its size an army's worth as a military instrument equals the quality and quantity of its equipment multiplied by its 'fighting power'. Fighting power has been defined as organizational foundation of an army and the mental and intellectual capability of its battle field leadership, its manifestations are combinations of discipline, morale, initiative, courage, toughness, the willingness to fight and the readiness to die fighting. The constituent of fighting power, that, perhaps more than anything else, decides the outcome of wars is leadership. An unlimited amount of literature exists to show 'it is what the leader does that counts', every thing connected with him, from the way he is selected to the system used for his promotion, is therefore of extraordinary, indeed decisive, importance.

The Pakistan army, with very limited resources for obtaining the best arms and equipment from abroad and no guarantee of continuity of supply, has to generate a very superior fighting power and therefore it must ensure that it has the best leadership it can muster.

In 1965 the Pakistan army was well equipped, by and large the troops, at company and below level, performed well but command failures occurred at the unit and above levels where it was by selection. There was command failure in Chamb which lost valuable time in re-establishing command, when the Indians attacked across the international border, General Musa gave up his aim of cutting off Kashmir by capturing Akhnur to the defence of the borders of Pakistan, in the 1st Armoured Division operations in Khem Karan the divisional commander and two brigade commanders failed as commanders, four armoured regiment commanders, two infantry battalion commanders and the divisional engineers commander failed. This was the command performance of the most elite formation of the Pakistan Army.

In the 1971 war with India, the performance of Lieutenant General A. A. K. (Tiger) Niazi who had promised to break the knees of the Indians if they dared to cross the borders of East Pakistan. Salik in 'Witness to Surrender', describing the events leading to the surrender in East Pakistan states that Niazi broke down on 7 December sobbed and cried in the Governor's house, the bearers witnessed the spectacle and spread the word 'the sahibs are crying'. Seven days later he opened communications with the Indians which ended in the surrender of the forces under his command, a permanent black mark in the annals of the Pakistan Army. Not satisfied with handing over his revolver and his badges of rank to Aurora as a token of surrender, he degraded the troops and the country further by asking for a copy of the photograph of him signing the surrender and autographing a copy for Aurora which is now enshrined with the surrender document in a glass case in Aurora,s house.

In West Pakistan the 18 Division commander, an officer with an excellent service record, failed to assert himself and his divisions operations failed miserably. Also in this division, the 51 Brigade commander lost his nerve before the operations commenced, he did not allow his armoured regiment commander to attack, he refused to form a base for an attack

by the other brigade and ordered a wi4hdrawal across the border. The 'Reconnaissance and Support' battalion commander, when ordered to take his battalion and attack, disappeared and was not seen till after the cease fire. A 'Border Security Force' company, a troop of light tanks and four aircraft defeated a division, not because our troops failed but because our commanders failed.

The above are a few prominent failures, there were many more. Why did the officers who had been promoted after a selection by a board fail?

The first quality for a command, at any level, from a naik to a general, is the ability to withstand the shocks and the stress of war. Command is usually exercised under unusual conditions when things have gone wrong or are going wrong, the enemy is spoiling our plans, that is when the subordinates look up to their commanders. In difficult circumstances, senior civil and military officers, either due to the unusual conditions or due to the responsibility, freeze and do not take any action. This freezing is noticeable on face of the individual and when in this condition he will do some of the things suggested by a subordinate but will resist resolute and bold action. The other tendency is to lock himself away from his subordinates so that they cannot present him with problems.

The psychological test administered by the selection board is inadequate to determine the ability of an individual to withstand the shocks and the stress of war. The Special Service Group, in its officers selection test used a very simple stress test, a surprising number of officers who volunteered for the Special Service Group, failed the test. The Germans designed and carried out extensive tests to test willpower and the ability to withstand the shocks, movie cameras recorded gestures and facial expressions which were analysed. The tests were devised by Dr. Max Simoniet and hundreds of psychologists, carefully selected from Ph.D.s in psychology and given three years training, were employed in testing for this quality. Officers produced by this system held the German army together under very adverse conditions, outnumbered three, five, seven to one, it did not run, it did not disintegrate, it fought on even though the homeland was being bombed to smithereens, it went on fighting wherever the local tactical situation was at all tolerable, it doggedly fought on for years after the last hope of victory had vanished. The men who lead the army were well selected and were exemplary.

The characteristics required for command are honesty, selflessness, readiness to commit oneself, ability to generate and maintain trust, and professional competence and achievements, command in war is a matter of character above all. All the qualities listed can be assessed by reporting officers and it is the honesty and the judgement in reporting that plays a crucial role in the all important future command structure of the army and its therefore its fighting power.

Although the Military Secretary's directive emphasizes the importance of report writing, yet it has tended to have been largely ignored and the whims and fancies, the likes and dislikes of reporting officers prevail. There does not seem to be any absolute way to measure the qualities that have to be reported upon and added to this is the power of the written expression of the reporting officer, those that serve under those who express themselves with well turned phrases are lucky compared to those who serve under some well intentioned officers with poor written expression.

In the days when the whole report manuscript type report had to be shown to the officer who had been reported upon, it was found that almost every one received a 'high average' or 'above average' report and was recommended for promotion because the reporting officers did not have the courage to report correctly and show the report to the officer concerned. The reporting method was then changed and the portion of the form in which recommendations for promotion was made was not shown to the individual; the result can be ascertained from a incident that occurred when I was a GSO 2 in the Armour Directorate. I had gone to the office of the GSO2 to the Chief of the General Staff, while I was waiting there the GSO 2 told me that he was going to read out an annual confidential report and after hearing the report I should state what the grading and the recommendation for promotion should be, I heard the report and promptly stated that the grading should be above average, the GSO2 then showed me the grading, it was low average and not recommended for promotion.

The forced comparison point system which replaced the written report system made reporting officers grade every one in the same qualities but had too many abstract qualities which could not be measured in absolute terms and therefore the measure differed from person to person. Also the requirement of grading qualities like 'loyalty' whether by point count or otherwise makes creates difficulties, when a person is to be graded for loyalty, is the loyalty to the country, to the army, to the organisation or personally to the commanding officer, this has been used to destroy good officers.

Since good reports are necessary for promotion, careerism by manipulating reports is often resorted to. Some senior officers develop proteges and have them posted as staff officers or in subordinate commands, 'the sun shines through their -----'. By 'tagging along', in some cases officers have been known to have obtained all their critical reports from the same reporting officer, when this has been pointed out by some discerning person in the selection board and the officer has been deferred to obtain a report by another reporting officer, they have been found wanting.

Careerism by presenting a false picture to the reporting officer is also common. Reports and returns that reflect efficiency are falsified, range firing results are fudged, technical inspection teams and auditors are 'looked after'. Worse of all are some senior officers, who having 'white washed' their way, refuse to accept the actual reports and results because they consider these a reflection on their own efficiency and failure to produce better results.

There have also been instances where officers on getting adverse remarks and not being recommended for promotion have forced the reporting officer to re-write the report or made an arrangement where he could be reported up on by an officer who was favourably inclined and who would wipe out the adverse remarks.

All said and done, by the time an individual is reviewed by a board for suitability for command a clear picture of the individual should have emerged and his selection and rejection should be simple. Those that have been members of the promotion board, contend that the 'board is above board', yet instances are cited that the rule that relatives and kinsmen will not sit on the board when their relations are considered, is often flouted, proteges are strongly backed, regionalism, parochialism and 'baradari' are cited. Members of the board are allowed to over rule promotion of good officers and grudges are vented by remarks such as 'his attitude towards his senior officers is not correct'. Officers serve the army and the country and not the 'senior officers'.

Command inefficiency in both the short wars that we have fought must be recognised, this is a luxury that we cannot afford when we have every thing 'up in the shop front' and very limited resources. The country and the soldiers who serve in the army must have leaders with character, physical and moral courage, professional competency. Field Marshal Wavell in his lecture on 'The General and His Troops' says 'a man does not flee because he is fighting an-righteous cause, he does not attack because his cause is just; he flees because he is weaker, he conquers because he is stronger, or because his leader made him feel the stronger'.

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