The New Face of Pakistan’s Military

Despite the rumors of an extension or a possible promotion to the rank of Field Marshall for the outgoing Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif, the baton was passed on to a relatively unknown individual, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The transition of power between the two generals may indicate a new stage of power relations between Pakistan’s civilian government and its military.

The new COAS General Bajwa will have to deal with increased hostilities along the line of control (LoC) with India, an ongoing anti-militant operation, “Zarb-e-Azb”, in Pakistan’s Northwest, the completion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and an overall sense of distrust between Kabul and Islamabad. Furthermore, General Bajwa will have to mend tense relations with the current Sharif administration in Islamabad that came to light with a Dawn report that highlighted the military’s involvement with militant groups and Pakistan’s subsequent growing international isolation.

The new COAS most recently held the position of Inspector General for Training and Evaluation at Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and has served as a career infantry officer in the Baloch Regiment. General Bajwa was an unlikely pick for the position as he was fourth in line within the list of potential appointments that were forwarded to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The appointment of General Bajwa may have been a strategic appointment due to his proximity and knowledge of the tumultuous region of Balochistan and his expertise of the region may provide crucial support to the CPEC project. The appointment of General Bajwa may also lead to a tougher Pakistani stance towards India. General Bajwa most recently commanded the X Corps, Pakistan’s largest corps stationed along the LoC. He also served in the X Corp himself as Lieutenant Colonel. Yet, relations between India and Pakistan may also improve as General Bajwa, in 2007, was a brigade commander alongside former Indian Army Chief Bikram Singh during a UN mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Furthermore, the appointment of General Bajwa as COAS also indicates a possible civilian victory over the military as he holds “a firm belief in civilian supremacy.” Feroz Khan, a retired Brigadier and author of a book on Pakistan’s nuclear program, stated that the general is “a staunch believer in democracy and civilian supremacy.”  He is also believed to hold the view that militant groups are the largest threat to Pakistan’s long-term prosperity. A view that many agree with.

However, there are those who criticize the general’s appointment and argue that General Bajwa was chosen not based on merit but in order to protect the civilian government from a possible hostile takeover from the military. Retired Brigadier, Shaukat Qadir, stated that, “none of Nawaz Sharif’s army chiefs were appointed for the right reason, for being the best person for the job.” However, this fear held by Sharif and many in Islamabad is not totally unfounded as it was rumored by ministers that during rounds of protests held by Imran Khan two years ago, generals in the Army were considering possible action in the face of further instability. The likelihood of which was very unlikely.

Nevertheless, it seems that the merits of appointing General Bajwa as the COAS and being hopeful for a change in Pakistan’s internal and external dynamics is yet to be determined.