Raheel Sharif’s retirement is certainly unusual and creditable in the context of strengthening institutional conventions in Pakistan, he being only the seventh army chief out of 15 to have quit on time.
The appointment of Lt. Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as Pakistan’s 16th army chief does not come as a complete surprise. His name was being mentioned as one of four strong contenders for the post in recent Pakistani media reports. Notably however, he was the junior-most in the pecking order of the current cohort of 3 star generals of the 62nd Pakistan Military Academy long course who were eligible for selection.
Pakistan’s president, Mamnoon Hussain, formally appoints the army chief under Article 243 of the 1973 constitution, though after the 18th amendment, the prime minister’s advice is binding on him. Nawaz Sharif may have exercised some discretion in making this choice, though it is likely that the recommendation of the current army chief, General Raheel Sharif, was given due weightage. The timing of the announcement is significant, coming as it does while Nawaz Sharif has just returned to the country from a visit to Turkmenistan. This would suggest there was no real civil-military discord over this choice.
Bajwa’s long stint in difficult terrain, confronting India across the Kashmir front in different assignments must have weighed in his favour. Starting as colonel, he served as general service officer to earlier X Corps commanders, then as brigadier and as major general in the same sector. He was Force Commander Northern Areas, before serving as GOC, X Corps, Rawalpindi under both Raheel Sharif and his predecessor, Ashfaq Kayani, from August, 2013 to September, 2015. In between, as a brigadier, he also did a UN peace-keeping stint in Congo. He was also commandant, School of Infantry & Tactics, Quetta – always regarded as an important faculty assignment.
The senior most lieutenant general eligible for elevation, Zubair Mahmood Hayat, has been kicked upstairs to the largely ceremonial post of chairman, joint chiefs of staff committee, replacing General Rashad Mahmood, who also demits office on November, 29, 2016. Though Zubair had done a year as corps commander in Bahawalpur and headed the Strategic Plans Division before moving in as chief of general staff, his peers were not too impressed by his caliber. The political leadership may have apprehended he would be too powerful if made army chief, as two of his brothers are also serving generals.
Apart from two other generals who were not eligible as they had not held corps commands (Lt Gen Syed Wajid Hussain and Lt Gen Najibullah), Bajwa pips to the tape Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, corps commander, II Corps, Multan and Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday, corps commander, XXXI Corps, Bahawalpur. These two officers were notionally senior to him and will phase out in August, 2017 unless they resign earlier.
According to the media grapevine, Ishfaq Nadeem, though reputed to be most efficient, was regarded as too brusque and blunt while Ramday, despite having family connections to the Pakistan Muslim Leage (Nawaz) was considered closer to brother Shahbaz, chief minister, Punjab than to the PM. In contrast, Bajwa was seen to be cool-headed and solidly proficient. Reports in sections of the vernacular media even suggested some resonance in views with Nawaz, as a comparative dove on India, as he is reported to have issued statements in recent times, condemning terrorism as a greater threat.
Historically, the Bajwas are known as ‘the clan of the hawk or falcon’ – a prominent Jat clan hailing from Sialkot and Narowal districts of Punjab. Qamar Javed Bajwa would be the seventh Punjabi to head the army, the fourth general from the Baloch Infantry Regiment (14 Baloch) to make it as chief, after Yahya Khan, Aslam Beg and Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. He also ascends to the top post following Raheel Sharif from the same staff position of director general, inspectorate of training and evaluation. Earlier regarded as something of a sinecure, this post is now proving to be a lucky mascot.
Raheel Sharif has retired on time, after serving a full tenure of three years, just as he had promised way back in January this year. This is certainly unusual and creditable in the context of strengthening institutional conventions in Pakistan, he being only the seventh army chief out of 15 to have quit on time. His determined actions under Zarb-e-Azb against the Tehreek-e-Taliban terrorists in North Waziristan and the Karachi cleansing operations made him extremely popular and significantly brought down terrorist violence and crime in these areas. This even led to periodic wall-postering by all manner of sycophants, suggesting he do a re-think on retirement. Raheel wisely chose to ignore these moves.
The new chief will undoubtedly emerge as his own man on major issues of security and foreign policy traditionally considered sacrosanct by the army, notably those concerning India, Afghanistan and nuclear issues. His style may be different. Early pointers suggest he may keep a non-controversial, low profile to begin with. He will also need to build his own team of officers without ruffling too many feathers of his peers. For one, he may like to bring in a new director general in the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). The current DG, ISI, Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar was regarded as close to Raheel Sharif. He may be moved to a corps command. These changes will be watched with interest.
Rana Banerji is a former special secretary in the Research and Analysis Wing, Government of India
Note: Lt Gen Bajwa is the fourth officer from the Baloch regiment to make it to army chief and not the third as was originally stated.