Prime Minister Imran Khan has approved an extension in the tenure of Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa for another three years, a statement issued by the premier's office said on Monday. The announcement comes nearly three months before Gen Bajwa was due to retire.
"General Qamar Javed Bajwa is appointed Chief of Army Staff for another term of three years from the date of completion of current tenure," read the brief notification issued by the prime minister's office, seen by Dawn.com.
It added that "The decision has been taken in view of the regional security environment." The notification was personally signed by Prime Minister Imran.
Gen Bajwa was appointed as the chief of army staff by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in November 2016.
His extension marks the second time in nearly a decade that the country's top general had their traditional three-year term extended.
The first time was in 2010 when then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, after consultations with then president Asif Ali Zardari, granted an extension of three years to the Chief of Army Staff at the time, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Prime Minister Imran's first year in office has been characterised by a rare harmony in the traditionally fraught relationship between the country's civilian and military leaderships, with Gen Bajwa last month defending the tough economic measures taken by the PTI government as "difficult but extremely essential".
The announcement of the army chief's tenure extension comes amidst critical developments on Pakistan's eastern and western frontiers.
Tensions between Pakistan and Indian flared this month after New Delhi decided to strip occupied Kashmir of its special constitutional status and imposed a crippling curfew in the territory that has continued for weeks. Islamabad angrily slammed the decision, taking the matter to the United Nations Security Council and expelling India's ambassador and suspending bilateral trade.
Relations between the two countries had already been strained after a suicide car bombing in February that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in occupied Kashmir led to an aerial dogfight between Pakistani and Indian jets.
The country observed a 'Black Day' on Thursday to coincide with India's independence day celebrations, in solidarity with the people of occupied Kashmir.
The decision also comes as Pakistan is playing a key role in ongoing peace talks between the US and Afghan Taliban that aim to secure a withdrawal of American troops in exchange for insurgent promises that Afghanistan will not be used as a safe haven for groups such as Al Qaeda or the militant Islamic State.
Analysts talking to DawnNewsTV termed the development "positive" in view of the existing geopolitical situation, which has been defined by rising hostilities in occupied Kashmir and progress in the Afghan peace process, which stands at a critical stage.
'Clear message to India'
Talking to the media later in the day, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Prime Minister Imran had used his "constitutional authority" to extend Gen Bajwa's tenure in view of the regional situation.
He said the decision would send a clear message to Pakistan's neighbours that there this is "continuity and clarity" in the country's leadership.
In the wake of warmongering statements emerging from India, "it was very important to [send] a clear message that Pakistan's political and military leadership are not only prepared but are on the same page," Qureshi added.
Who is Gen Bajwa?
General Bajwa, Nishan-i-Imtiaz (Military), was commissioned in 16 Baloch Regiment on October 24, 1980. He is a graduate of the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College, Toronto; Naval Post Graduate University, Monterey, California, USA; and National Defence University, Islamabad.
He has been an instructor at the School of Infantry and Tactics, Quetta; Command and Staff College, Quetta; and NDU. He has also served as the brigade major of an infantry brigade and Chief of Staff of Rawalpindi Corps.
He has commanded 16 Baloch Regiment, an infantry brigade, and infantry division in Northern Areas Commander FCNA. He has also commanded the Pakistan contingent in Congo.