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Thursday, February 15, 2024

PM Nawaz’s appointment of new Army Chief: Significance & Challenges

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on 26th November, appointed Lt. Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Inspector General Training & Evaluation, as Pakistan Army’s 16th Chief of Staff. Lt Gen Zubair Hayat, currently Chief of General Staff (CGS), has now become Chairman Joint Chief of Staff (CJCS)

Both, Bajwa and Hayat, will be promoted to the rank of four-star generals and would take up their new appointments from 29th November, when the incumbent army Chief and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif and Gen. Rashad Mehmood will retire. Lt Gen Bajwa was fourth, while Gen. Zubair Hayat was number one on the seniority list.

The formal process of selection of the new Army Chief starts with ministry of defense sending a list of the senior-most generals to the prime minister without formally recommending any of them. Senior officers who have not commanded a fighting Corps are not considered. PM normally holds informal meeting with the current COAS before announcing the decision. It was widely believed that Gen. Raheel had recommended Lt. Gen. Ishfaq Nadeem, Corps Commander Multan for next COAS.

Lt-Gen Bajwa belongs to the infantry’s 16 Baloch Regiment and 62nd Pakistan Military Academy Long Course. Before being Inspector General Training and Evaluation, he has commanded the Rawalpindi Corps or 10 Corps, one of the largest of Pakistan Army’s field formations that includes Force Command Gilgit-Baltistan,  based at Murree, 19th Infantry Division at Mangla, and 23rd Infantry Division at Jhelum.

10th Corps is mainly responsible for the area along the Line of Control (LoC). Gen Raheel Shareef was also holding the position of Inspector General Training and Evaluation, in 2013, when he was picked up as COAS by PM Nawaz Sharif. But Gen. Bajwa has also worked under ex-COAS, Gen. Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani and is sometimes informally referred to as his disciple – or belonging to Kayani school of thought.

Gen. Bajwa has served as Brigadier FCNA, in norther areas and given his command of the 10th Corps he has considerable experience of military affairs in Kashmir. But many insiders familiar with army’s internal discussion believe that he considers religious extremism and terrorism to be bigger threats to national security in Pakistan rather than India.

British paper, The Guardian, reported that Lt Gen Bajwa was appointed as the COAS regardless of a defaming campaign on social media sites that alleged that his relatives were members of the Ahmadiyya Community. Ahmadiyya community was formally declared non-Muslim by Pakistan’s parliament in 1973 under the then prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and most Pakistanis have discriminatory attitudes towards Ahmadis. Given the vacuum in Pakistani politics and the role which Pakistani military chief inevitably ends up playing, on either side, this allegation can resurface later and can be exploited by any of his political detractors. Reuters reported that he was selected because of his low-profile personality. He is said to be a genuine military man with no interest in politics and the one who doesn’t seek attention and protocol.

Lt Gen Zubair Hayat, new Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) is currently serving as Chief of General Staff (CGS) after heading Pakistan’s strategic command and nuclear assets, as Director-General of Strategic Plans Division (SPD). Earlier as Lt. General he served as Corps Commander, Bahawalpur and as Garrison Officer Commanding (GOC) Sialkot. As Brigadier and Maj. General he served as Principal Staff Officer with former Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Gen Zubair is a second generation officer. His father, Gen. Hayat, retired as a major general and two of his brothers are generals: Lt Gen Omar Hayat, Chairman Pakistan Ordnance Factories Wah and Maj Gen Ahmad Mahmood Hayat, DG Analysis Wing, Inter-Services Intelligence. Gen. Zubair had also served as Pakistan’s military attaché in London and evinces deep interest in international relations.

PM Nawaz Sharif has appointed more military chiefs than any other political executive in Pakistan’s history. This is formally, 4th time that he has picked up a military chief. Gen. Asif Nawaz, Gen Waheed Kakar and Jehangir Karamat in 1990’s were choices made by either President Ghulam Ishaq or PM Benazir Bhutto. PM of Pakistan has an unlimited prerogative in the selection of a military chief and his reasoning is never recorded or revealed. This wide prerogative is derived partly from Pakistan’s constitution and partly from Army Act and many political experts believe that this wide prerogative needs to be restricted to top three or four choices. Because it is widely believed that prime ministerial decision of selecting a military chief only reflects prime minister’s personal political priorities.

And as per tradition, senior officers bypassed during appointments are supposed to retire. Corps Commanders Multan and Bahawalpur, Lt. Gen. Ishfaq Nadeem and Lt. Gen. Javed Ramday, 2nd and 3rd on seniority list, will therefore soon be replaced. Gen. Bajwa will therefore be rearranging the deck with the appointment of new Chief of General Staff, Corps Commanders of Multan and Bahawalpur and heads of powerful intelligence agencies like ISI. Appointment of Chief, and the ripple effects of change, it produces in the military, thus helps the Prime Minister to control and influence the premier national institution.

Gen. Bajwa as Pakistan’s Army Chief will soon be dealing with many challenges that fall strictly within the domain of an elected government. But on many of these challenges the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is seen avoiding the difficult but necessary decision making – for instance country, believed to be internationally isolated, does not have a formal foreign minister. These challenges relate to a troubled relation with the US on Afghanistan, mounting tensions with India on LOC and an unfinished agenda of fighting intermingled sets of terrorist, sectarian and ethnic outfits in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Baluchistan and, Pakistan’s largest urban center, Karachi. Pakistan’s ongoing initiative of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) demand vigilant security from militant groups that are bent upon disruption and country needs to leverage CPEC to Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia without which it will not be economically meaningful.

In addition, the ongoing controversy referred to as ‘Dawn Leaks’ where top officials in Prime Minister secretariat are believed to be behind deliberate leaks to Dawn newspaper to defame country’s military and favor Indian foreign policy position is a headache which Gen. Bajwa has inherited from his predecessor. Nawaz government ended up appointing up a committee under a retired judge but media blamed this committee to be partisan, its proceedings are secretive and political opposition fears that matter is being hushed up. Supreme Court is also hearing an important case refereed to as ‘Panama Corruption” related to allegations of offshore accounts and ill-gotten wealth by Prime Minister’s family. Political opposition, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, lead by Imran Khan, is actively pushing that case in Supreme Court.