Month’s long media-speculation ended on Monday as the Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa announced that Army Chief General Raheel Sharif has kicked off his farewell visits. It is pertinent to mention here that ISPR earlier this year in January had rubbished rumours regarding an extension in General Raheel Sharif’s tenure as Chief of Army Staff, quoting the army chief as saying he will “retire on the due date” in November this year.
However, despite this announcement speculations increased in the last few months whether the Army Chief will accept an extension, however true to his word the Army Chief will hang his boots on the due date and put an end to a highly successful three years term. The success of the Army Chief with regards to internal and external challenges is what had prompted the calls for his extension. The highly successful Operation Zarb-e-Azb (that still continues), the Karachi operation (that has brought peace to a large extent in the city), the insistence on completion implementation of National Action Plan (NAP) and his keen interest in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are just some of the achievements of General Raheel Sharif.
The new Army Chief will be from among the senior most General’s. Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Zubair Hayat is the senior most followed by Multan Corps Commander Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, Bahawalpur Corps Commander Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday and Inspector General Training and Evaluation Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. There are two other generals between Lt Gen Zubair and Lt Gen Ishfaq these are Heavy Industrial Complex Taxila Chairman Lt Gen Syed Wajid Hussain and Director General Joint Staff Lt Gen Najibullah Khan. However, both are not technically qualified to be appointed army chief since they have not commanded a corps.
Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee (CJCSC) General Rashad Mahmood will also retire along with General Raheel Sharif and a new CJCSC will be appointed along with the new Army Chief. The new Army Chief will have to a face a number of very serious challenges when he takes over the command as the operation Zarb-e-Azb is still on-going. The Karachi situation hasn’t yet completely settled but the biggest challenge could be that on the Eastern and Western borders with India and Afghanistan respectively.
The situation on the Eastern border is particularly tense due to continued Indian aggression as a result of which at least 30 civilians have been martyred in the past two months. On November 13, seven Pakistani soldiers also embraced martyrdom as a result of unprovoked Indian firing in the Bhimber sector. The Indian submarines failed attempt to enter Pakistani waters recently and the intruding Indian quad-copter on a surveillance mission that was shot down by Pakistani Army are just few of the Indian attempt to further aggravate the situation.
President-elect Donald J. Trump’s statements against Pakistan’s nuclear program are also a worry and the civil-military leadership will have to look closely at relations with the United States. Then there is the matter of the newsgate scandal and finally the growing sectarian attacks in Balochistan. The new Army Chief will have big boots to fill and will have some very serious challenges facing him.