ISLAMABAD: In a possible indication of his priorities in office, Gen Qamar Bajwa, the new army chief, is set to begin his first full day in office on Wednesday with the stocktaking of the ongoing counterterrorism operations and a possible visit to the conflict zone.
Gen Bajwa has taken over the command of the army at a time when the troops are consolidating the gains made during the operations. He would, therefore, be defining the direction of the new phase, which may be distinctly different from the previous stage that saw kinetic operations.
The change of command ceremony at the Army Hockey Stadium in Rawalpindi on Tuesday marked the completion of transition in the army on the retirement of Gen Raheel Sharif. It was the first time in 20 years that the transition took place on time.
Gen Sharif handed over the command baton to his successor at the ceremony attended by ministers, services chiefs, political figures, armed forces officers and diplomats.
Gen Sharif hands over command baton to new army chief
Gen Bajwa is the country’s 16th Chief of the Army Staff. He was picked by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif superseding four generals, whose future still remains unclear. The tradition is that the superseded officers step down, but there have been exceptions.
The transition has further taken place under the shadows of dangerous escalation at the Line of Control (LoC), where 53 people, both civilians and troops, have been killed over the past couple of months.
In his brief interaction with journalists after the passage of command, Gen Bajwa expressed the hope that the situation at the LoC would soon improve. He, however, did not elaborate what was the basis of his optimism. But clearly there was a hint that he may be reassessing the strategy regarding the situation on the LoC and the Working Boundary with a view to de-escalating.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz would over the weekend travel to Amritsar (India) to attend the Heart of Asia ministerial conference despite the Saarc snub by India. The Heart of Asia is a regional initiative for cooperation between Afghanistan and neighbours for promoting regional peace and security.
Pakistan has indicated the possibility of a bilateral meeting with India, but so far there has been no development in that direction, a top diplomatic source said.
Gen Sharif, while handing over the command to Gen Bajwa, reminded him of the persisting challenges from the nexus between corruption, crime and extremism at home, India’s aggressive posturing and absence of peace in Afghanistan.
Speaking at the ceremony, retiring army chief Gen Sharif reflected on his tenure, particularly the fight against terrorism and the commencement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Gen Sharif had taken over three years ago amid rampaging terrorism and is credited for launching Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan, from which his predecessor Gen Ashfaq Kayani had kept shying away, and intelligence-based operations against support networks of terrorist groups across the country.
His actions helped reduce frequency of terrorist attacks, though questions remain about the sustainability of the progress. There have also been reservations, both within the country and outside, that the action was not as broad based and indiscriminate as people were made to believe.
“Challenges facing our country haven’t ended as yet,” Gen Sharif said in a candid assessment of his tenure and called for fully understanding the situation.
He advised implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism in letter and spirit and breaking of what he described as the “nexus between criminality, corruption and extremism”. He believed it was causing “internal weakness” in confronting external challenges.
Gen Sharif used the occasion to defend his relations with the civilian leadership, which for most of his tenure looked tense. “I gave precedence to the national interest while taking decisions,” he maintained and at a separate point in his slightly over 11-minute speech said he believed in supremacy of institutions and their stability and continued to strive for them to work together for the country’s integrity and prosperity.
On the external front, he listed India’s aggressive posturing and absence of a political settlement in Afghanistan as the key challenges.
“India’s escalatory moves are threatening regional peace. I want to make it clear that mistaking our policy of restraint for weakness would prove dangerous for India itself. Sustainable peace and development in South Asia is not possible without the resolution of Kashmir issue for which world’s attention is required,” he said.
Gen Sharif recalled the efforts made for political reconciliation in Afghanistan and said they were made in earnest. “A political resolution of this issue is must for regional peace,” he observed.
About the CPEC, he said, it was a guarantor of peace and prosperity in the region and there was no stopping to it. He asked CPEC opponents to better “join it and benefit from its fruits”.
The outgoing army chief praised his successor as a thorough professional and one with strong decision making power.
CJCSC: New Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Zubair Hayat made a courtesy call on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after assuming office.
“PM congratulated him on assuming his new assignment and the two discussed matters related to professional issues,” said a statement issued by the PM Office.
Published in Dawn November 30th, 2016