Change of command: Air Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt to be new air chief


The government on Tuesday decided to appoint Air Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt as the new Chief of Air Staff of Pakistan Air Force (PAF).

Butt, who now awaits the president’s decision on the matter, will succeed Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, who is due to retire on March 18 after completing his three-year term.

“Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has advised the president to appoint Air Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, being the senior-most air marshal, as the new chief of air staff of Pakistan Air Force,” said an official announcement.

Earlier reports indicated that five air marshals had been in the race to become the next air chief. However, upholding the principle of seniority, the government chose Butt, similar to when the government appointed the new chief of naval staff, last year.

“It clearly reflects that the government wants to ensure merit when it comes to such key appointments,” said a ruling party member, requesting anonymity.

Under the Constitution, the prime minister is given the prerogative to appoint three services chiefs. After Butt’s appointment, all eyes will now be on the prime minister to see whether he will grant further extensions to current Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, whose extended term also expires on March 18.

Meanwhile, Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani called on Prime Minister Gilani on Tuesday amid speculations that the two discussed the fate of Gen Pasha.

The government has yet to come up with a clear stance on the subject while there have been conflicting reports from the military brass. One military official claimed that Gen Pasha might be given another extension for the continuity of policies. However, others insisted that it was a highly unlikely step for the government to take.

Air Marshal Butt joined PAF on March 6, 1977 as a GD pilot. He assumed the office of Vice Chief of the Air Staff on October 5, 2010. In recognition of his meritorious services, he has been decorated with Hilal-i-Imtiaz (Military), Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Military) and Tamgha-i-Basalat.

The outgoing air chief has overseen a successful term which involved key inductions into the PAF, including the serial production and induction of the JF-17 fighter aircraft. Suleman will also be remembered for famously claiming, contrary to the government’s stance, the PAF had the capability to shoot down US-operated Predator drones. However, his claims came under scrutiny after US forces managed to infiltrate Pakistani airspace, conduct a covert operation in Abbottabad, and exit without confrontation.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 29th, 2012.

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