There will be no immediate shift in Pakistan’s military policy under the new army chief, the country’s defence minister said, after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed a new military leader on Saturday.
Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa will replace retiring army chief Raheel Sharif when his three-year term ends on Tuesday, a rare example of a smooth transition in a nation where army chiefs have a history of clinging to power.
General Sharif has proved popular with ordinary Pakistanis but during his tenure relations between the army and the civilian government have often been tense.
Relations abroad have also frayed, with the United States and Afghanistan complaining of a lack of action by Islamabad against Afghan Taliban militants based on Pakistani soil, while a stand-off with old foe India over Kashmir has soured relations.
Bajwa was one of several high-ranking candidates put forward for the job by the army but little is publicly known about him or his ideological stance on key issues, including relations with India or how to tackle home-grown Islamist militants.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif dampened any expectations that Bajwa would immediately push for a radical policy shift.
“The military policy will continue and there will be no immediate change in it,” Asif told a TV channel.
“The legacy of General Raheel Sharif would continue in the light of the examples he set,” Asif added.
Indian Army Chief Praise
General Sharif will become the first army chief in more than 20 years to step down at the end of his term. Previous army chiefs have either obtained extensions or in the case of General Pervez Musharraf, staged a coup.
One cabinet minister told Reuters Bajwa was chosen because of his low-key approach and a belief by Prime Minister Sharif that he would shun the limelight, in contrast to his predecessor, while ceding more policy space to the civilian government.
Bajwa, who was first commissioned in the army in 1980, has served in Kashmir and other regions bordering India but it is not clear if he will take a less hawkish approach to Pakistan’s historic foe.
General Bikram Singh, a former head of India’s army who served with Bajwa in the Congo as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force, praised Bajwa’s conduct as a soldier during their time in Africa.
“In the international environment, his performance was professional, outstanding,” Singh told India Today TV channel.
But when reporters asked Singh if he expected Bajwa to alter Pakistan’s military policy, he said: “I do not see any change”.