Any senior military commander has four essential functions which relate to his command and one that relates to his own person. Those that relate to his command are: to guide, supervise, educate, and administer; and the one that relates to his own person is: to reflect
The foremost question that might arise in the mind of any reader is whether an individual, like this author, whom the army, with good reason, did not think fit to promote beyond one-star rank — even if he did command three brigades, each under difficult circumstances — is qualified to address such a subject.
It is my considered view that it is not necessary to have first-hand experience of being a senior military commander to know of the qualities that are necessary to make a successful senior commander. Each one who has served in the military has seen enough senior commanders to identify the qualities that differentiate between a successful and an unsuccessful one; and each one has studied military history analytically.
It is necessary to reiterate that, despite the common perception to the contrary, senior ranks in the military actually require a high degree of intellect. Senior military commanders will be playing the ultimate chess game; in which real pawns die, real castles fall, real kings/queens are captured, and the destiny of nations will lie in their hands in case of war.
It is for this reason that this subject is not only fascinating for students of military history but might also be of some interest to readers of this column.
Before discussing the qualities of senior military commanders, it is essential to outline their functions. In my view any senior military commander has four essential functions which relate to his command and one that relates to his own person.
Those that relate to his command are: to guide, supervise, educate, and administer; and the one that relates to his own person is: to reflect. Let us attempt to briefly examine each.
Under the guidance that senior commanders provide, they issue clear and unambiguous instructions on what they expect from their subordinates; these instructions cover all aspects, from training for war and routine administration, to expected roles in the event of war. While each one of the senior commander’s functions is no less significant than the other, the importance of the first function is that in this he not only establishes his authority but also provides his subordinates with an insight into his personality.
Having issued his instructions, it is essential that commanders ensure these are being carried out in the spirit that they were issued in and not just in letter. For this their command needs their supervision. However, supervision requires a very delicate balance.
If the senior commander over-exerts his supervisory role, it will become counter-productive since, in actual combat, subordinate commanders will frequently find it necessary to take decisions without awaiting orders and, if peacetime training has not prepared them for this, they will err by doing nothing; which is far worse than erring in an attempt to do something. The senior commander must ensure that his supervision does not appear to be interference in the duties of his subordinate commanders.
Senior commanders must also ensure that subordinates are educated so that they too can, in due course, rise to senior ranks, with the necessary abilities required for these commands. It is important for senior commanders to realise that every single act of theirs is a source of education for their subordinates; each act they appreciate, they will attempt to emulate, while each act that they do not appreciate will teach them what not to do. Since rising to a senior rank is the natural aspiration of every single officer; it is but natural that senior commanders deem themselves to live in glass houses, under constant critical observation by their subordinates.
This, however, must not influence senior commanders to attempt to be anything other than their natural selves; since it is my considered view that the subordinates could invariably write a more accurate annual confidential report, ACR, of their commanders, than those senior to the senior commanders could.
Finally, every commander, at all levels must administer his command. Routine administration includes ensuring the provision of supplies, equipment, rations, POL (petrol, oil and lubricants), and all items that subordinate formations/units need to perform the duties that are expected of them. It also includes ensuring that all ranks under his command are suitably housed, fed, and provided all facilities that are their due. However, while these are the function of commanders at all levels, far more is expected from senior commanders.
Even during routine administration, problems arise which are not covered by military regulations and senior commanders are required to exercise their own initiative in addressing those.
In Kel, the farthest corner of AJK, supplies for six months from November to May, are stocked before the onset of winters, including livestock to provide the troops fresh meat during that period.
When I assumed command of the brigade in Kel I was faced with an unusual problem; we did not have sufficient accommodation for the livestock and, invariably lost a number of animals which died due to severe cold. My only option was to authorise my subordinates to receive cash in lieu of the livestock from the contractors and purchase livestock and fly it in by a helicopter during winters. I issued them written authorisation to that effect.
Administration includes writing reports on the annual performance of every officer under his command. This is a singularly heavy responsibility, since these reports decide the officer’s future. It is, therefore, essential for senior commanders to make every possible attempt to acquaint themselves with all officers under their command, so as to report on them accurately.
The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). This is the first article in a three-part series. The second article will appear on Saturday, May 10, 2008. Courtesy: Daily Times