ISLAMABAD: There will be no immediate shift in Pakistan’s military policy under the new army chief, said Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed a new military leader on Saturday.
Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa will replace retiring Army Chief General 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, who is not related to the prime minister, 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 the 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 news channel.
“The legacy of General Raheel Sharif would continue in the light of the examples he set,” Asif added.
Security in Pakistan has vastly improved during General Sharif’s tenure, but the country remains vulnerable to internal strife, with militant groups carrying out major bomb and gun attacks. In recent months a hospital, a mosque and a police training college have been targeted.
Islamic State (IS), which has claimed several large-scale attacks in recent months, is also trying to establish a foothold in the nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people.
The United States on Sunday issued a statement welcoming Bajwa’s appointment and said it wanted to assist Pakistan with its domestic and regional counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts.
In a statement, the US embassy in Islamabad also said it wanted to help “Pakistani authorities to honour their pledge to prevent the use of Pakistan’s soil for terrorist attacks against its neighbours”.