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    New Pak Army Chief: A Ray of Hope


    New Pak Army Chief: A Ray of Hope

    Brig Anil Gupta

    29 November 2016 will herald in a new chapter in the history of Pakistan when for the first time in two decades the incumbent Chief of Army Staff will relinquish office on the appointed date. Despite best efforts by ousted dictator Pervez Musharraf and an appeal by the Pakistan Supreme Court, Nawaz Sharif refused to succumb to the pressure and exercised his constitutional power to appoint a new Chief of Army Staff. It would have been a very difficult decision to make for Nawaz Sharif because he has not been very lucky in his earlier choices for the same post. While Musharraf overthrew him in a military coup and exiled him, the civil military balance remained tilted in favour of the later during the tenure of Raheel Sharif. Raheel Sharif almost made Nawaz Sharif a lame duck prime minister as far as foreign relations and matters military were concerned. Nawaz Sharif's authority was confined to routine domestic affairs and social development projects. While Nawaz Sharif must be heaving a temporary sigh of relief and keeping his fingers crossed, the exit of Raheel Sharif and appointment of Gen Bajwa as his successor has aroused a keen interest in at a time when the relations between the two countries are at their worst phase.

    Though in Pakistan the constitutional executive head is the Prime Minister, de-facto control of nation's and security policies, domestic-security, strategic assets and the all-powerful ISI rests with the army meaning the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). Raheel Sharif not only exercised all these powers but also remained in a state of constant conflict with the Nawaz Sharif government leading some to believe that he harboured post retirement political ambitions. Only time will tell that. Despite Nawaz Sharif's attempts to improve relations with India, Raheel Sharif maintained a strong anti-India posture and scuttled all efforts made by the former. After the Panama gate leaks, Nawaz was forced to toe the line of Army and give up any hopes he had of improved Indo-Pak relations. While Raheel Sharif  launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb for eliminating terrorism within Pakistan, he continued to support “terrorism” as a low-cost war fighting doctrine against India. Most of the terror attacks during the tenure of Raheel Sharif were aimed at the Indian Armed Forces or the Police thereby signalling the Pak Army's intent to avenge the humiliating defeat suffered by it during 1971. Will Gen Bajwa be able to back track from this?  After the surgical strikes by the Indian Army, Raheel Sharif's professional reputation was badly hit and in order to restore his self-pride he brought Indo-Pak relations under severe stress through repeated cease fire violations amounting to nearly 200 and barbaric acts of their border action teams (BAT). He earned the distinction of being India's bete noire. Gen Bajwa will inherit this legacy of his predecessor. Will he alter this?

    It is believed that Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is a thorough professional with an image of being apolitical and the one who believes in not interfering much in the matters of civilian government. He has been appointed by Nawaz Sharif by superseding three other contenders. It is believed that Nawaz rejected the candidature of Lt Gen Ishfaq Naddem, Multan Corps Commander and a favourite for the job, for being overbearing. The reputation of being humble and rooted to the ground has tilted the balance in favour of Bajwa. By appointing Gen Bajwa as the COAS, Nawaz Sharif is trying to restore the delicate civil-military balance in Pakistan. We in India hope and pray that he succeeds this time around because it is near mandatory for restoring peace and normalcy in the sub-continent. This is the reason the appointment of new COAS by Nawaz Sharif has evoked lot of interest and debate in India.  Lt Gen Talat Masood (retd), defence analyst, told Al Jazeera that, “Gen Bajwa will no doubt give his advice on certain things but will not dominate the political scene, which will prove to be very hopeful in terms of military's relationship with the government.”

    Gen Bajwa is reported to believe that internal extremism is more dangerous for Pakistan than India. Therefore, one thing is certain that he will go hammer and tongs after the extremist elements at home. He will also need to address the menace of growing radicalism within the Army that is affecting its professional élan. A few have tried to sow the seeds of discord by questioning his faith and labelling him as Ahmedi, a sect declared non-Muslim in Pakistan.  Such scrupulous elements need to be identified and severely dealt with.  He will definitely carry forward his predecessors fight against domestic extremism and terrorism forcefully. One hopes that he would no longer consider the India specific terror groups as “strategic assets” and “force multipliers” but treat them as “liabilities” Pakistan can ill-afford to support. Given India's firm stance and denouncement of the policy of “strategic restraint”, Pakistan will not be able to bear the consequences of another attempt like 26/11 or Uri. Gen Bajwa will therefore not only have to cut the wings of Hafiz Sayeed or Azhar Massod and their terrorist groups but also rein in the ISI. Indian policy makers will very keenly watch this critical issue. Given his vast experience of serving as Commander FCNA (Gilgit-Baltistan), and Chief of Staff as well as GOC 10 Corps (the Pakistani Corps responsible  for operations along LOC) he would be well versed with the affairs and nuances of the management of LOC. It is hoped that he would bat for a fresh ceasefire agreement between the two neighbours to bring an end to cross-border/LOC firing which has continued unabated since September this year. But true to his professional reputation he will fight back with full force in case he feels that India is unrelenting and is threatening to dismember Pakistan. As far as Kashmir is concerned, it appears that there will be no change in the Kashmir policy of Pak Army under Gen Bajwa. But he is likely to permit the civil government to put the issue on the back-burner so that the talks with India can be resumed. Gen Bajwa will also have to recalibrate the Pak Army's interference in Afghanistan as well as its support to Taliban more so with Trump assuming the Presidency in USA. It will also have a bearing on Indo-Pak relations because the Indians and Indian assets in Afghanistan have been repeated victims of Taliban terror. However, conflict of interests between India and Pakistan for gaining strategic space in Afghanistan will weigh heavily in the mind of Gen Bajwa also.

    India seized the initiative from Pakistan after the successful surgical strikes on the terror launch pads and put the later on the back foot. India rightly feels that onus now lies with Pakistan to stop using terror as an instrument of state policy against her. Nawaz Sharif has shown his hand by naming his new COAS. One will have to wait and watch for a while whether the new Chief measures up to the expectations of Nawaz Sharif or he also prefers to follow the footsteps of his predecessors. To my mind while he may allow space to the civilian government to negotiate with India for restoring peace and normalcy he would not totally give up the military's prerogative of determining the India Policy. It is now for the Government of India to retain the initiative and plan its next move so that it is not forced to react to Pakistan and thus forfeit the initiative. Pakistan's offer of DGMO level talks should be welcome by us and utilised to turn the tide. Proposed visit of Sartaj Aziz to attend Heart of Asia Conference may also be utilised by India provided it is backed with certain assurances from Pakistan. The intent of Pakistan has always been under a doubt and now is an opportunity for Nawaz Sharif to change the narrative if he is really interested in development and prosperity of his country which is well-nigh impossible without peace and stability in the region.

    (The author is a based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at


    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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