ISLAMABAD: A decision about Pakistan’s new army chief is expected in the next few hours for which deliberations with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have already been made. The premier will name his pick on his return from Turkmenistan.
Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif is stepping down after winning the hearts of millions with his bruising campaign against militants, leaving a vacancy for arguably the most powerful job in the country.
Whoever steps into General Sharif’s shoes will play an outsize role in national life, offering the armed reassurance against arch-rival India that many Pakistanis see as vital to their identity.
General Sharif was the figurehead behind a widely-lauded crackdown against militancy ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb’ that is credited with pushing extremists to the margins.
Many in Pakistan were so grateful – the hashtag #ThankYouRaheelSharif went viral – that some even called for the general to stay and take an extension.
But an announcement on Monday that the army chief had begun a farewell tour scotched speculation he would extend his three-year tenure, set to end November 29, as previous military chiefs have done.
His as-yet un-named successor will face challenges ranging from an increasingly hostile India to the conflict in Afghanistan, growing links between home-grown militants and Islamic State (IS) militants, and blowback from a Trump presidency.
The highest-ranking contender is the army’s Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Zubair Hayat, previously responsible for the safety and security of the country’s nuclear programme.
Behind Hayat in rank but seen by some analysts as a favourite, is Lieutenant General Ishfaq Nadeem, commander of the important Multan corps.
The others in the running are Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa, chief of the army’s training and evaluation branch, and Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal Ramdey, respected for an operation to drive out the Pakistani Taliban in north-western Swat Valley in 2009.