What Gen Bajwa’s elevation signifies
The suspense is finally over. After months of debate about who would replace the outgoing Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has been appointed as the 16th army chief of Pakistan. Gen Bajwa was the junior-most in the short-list of four Lt Generals who were being considered. Gen Bajwa is from the 62nd PMA Long Course and belongs to the Baloch Regiment. He would be the fourth Army Chief from this regiment. Others in contention for the post of army chief were Multan Corps Commander Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem and Bahawalpur Corps Commander Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday. Given the current tensions with India on the Line of Control (LoC), Gen Bajwa’s appointment is significant. Among all the contenders, Gen Bajwa has probably had the most field experience of Kashmir. He had served in X Corps, the Pakistan army’s biggest corps which is responsible for the area along the LoC as Lt. Colonel when he was GSO, as Brigadier when he was chief of staff, as Major General when he commanded the Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) and finally as Corps Commander. Bajwa’s long stint in difficult terrain, confronting India across the Kashmir front in different assignments must have weighed in his favour. Starting as colonel, he served as general service officer to earlier X Corps commanders, then as brigadier and as major general in the same sector.
He was Force Commander Northern Areas, before serving as GOC, X Corps, Rawalpindi under both Raheel Sharif and his predecessor, Ashfaq Kayani, from August, 2013 to September, 2015. In between, as a brigadier, he also did a UN peacekeeping stint in Congo. He was also commandant, School of Infantry & Tactics, Quetta – always regarded as an important faculty assignment. Historically, the Bajwas are known as ‘the clan of the hawk or falcon’ – a prominent Jat clan hailing from Sialkot and Narowal districts of Punjab. Qamar Javed Bajwa would be the seventh Punjabi to head the army, the fourth general from the Baloch Infantry Regiment (14 Baloch) to make it as chief, after Yahya Khan, Aslam Beg and Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. He also ascends to the top post following Raheel Sharif from the same staff position of director general, inspectorate of training and evaluation. Earlier regarded as something of a sinecure, this post is now proving to be a lucky mascot. He would be in a position to handle the heightened tensions on the LoC, given his extensive experience there. This could work both ways – escalation or reduction of tensions. At the same time, his views on domestic situation being the priority rather than India could also suit Sharif’s business interests of trade with India rather than prolonged tensions. What could in due course restore a semblance of sanity on the LoC would be the preoccupation of Gen Bajwa to try and fill big shoes that Gen Raheel Sharif is leaving behind. Raheel Sharif has retired on time, after serving a full tenure of three years, just as he had promised way back in January this year.
This is certainly unusual and creditable in the context of strengthening institutional conventions in Pakistan, he being only the seventh army chief out of 15 to have quit on time. The new chief will undoubtedly emerge as his own man on major issues of security and foreign policy traditionally considered sacrosanct by the army, notably those concerning India, Afghanistan and nuclear issues. His style may be different. Early pointers suggest he may keep a non-controversial, low profile to begin with. He will also need to build his own team of officers without ruffling too many feathers of his peers. For one, he may like to bring in a new director general in the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). The current DG, ISI, Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar was regarded as close to Raheel Sharif. He may be moved to a corps command. These changes will be watched with interest.