The wait was long and the candidates all deserving. Finally it is official: PM Nawaz Sharif has appointed Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as the new Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) while elevating Lt General Zubair Hayat as the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Both the generals have sterling professional records.
Lt General Bajwa has served in key positions and brings with him a wealth of experience to the job that will see him commanding one of the largest armies in the world. He will assume responsibilities at a time when the relative decline in domestic terrorism is being replaced with increasing threats from across the border. The smooth transition from one commander to the other is yet another testament to the professionalism of the Pakistan Army and the institutional process that should be replicated by the political leadership.
Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa appointed new army chief
In well-entrenched democracies, it is a routine matter -the retirement of an Army chief, not worthy of more than a single column, or a bland announcement in broadcast media at the fag- end of a news bulletin. But in Pakistan such a development becomes the talk of the town for days and the media, print, broadcast and social, go to town with it interpreting a number of meanings out of what had to happen or, but did not at the end of the tenure.
Indeed, if one studied the retirement of General Raheel Sharif at the end of his prescribed three-year tenure in the backdrop of how his predecessors since Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the first native Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistani Army appointed in 1951 had chosen to ride or not ride one would feel like bestowing the highest honour to the professional that the outgoing General was for strictly abiding by the Constitution. If all of his predecessors had stuck to their normal tenures we would have had at least 24 Army chiefs against only 13. Four of them had staged successful military coups. One tried but failed. Of the two who retired, General Aslam Beg and General Wahid Kakar, the relation of the first one by the time he retired was bitter with his PM (Nawaz Sharif), and the second one had the distinction of sending home both the elected president and the PM and appointing an imported American Pakistani as the interim PM assigned to hold a general election.
PM calls Gen Raheel finest military leader of his time
As opposed to this saga of Bonapartism, General Raheel’s tenure was a period when constitutional democracy was seen to be getting entrenched imperceptibly, he acted strictly in defence of the country and its constitution throughout. He waged a relentless war against terrorism. His posturing towards Afghanistan was one of dignified patience. And his measured but no-nonsense response to the incitements from across the LoC was a classical demonstration of a chief of a nuclear armed country’s defence forces - calibrated but firm without showing an iota of weakness. Both President Mamnoon Hussain and PM Nawaz Sharif have paid glowing tributes to the retiring General. Indeed, on a number of occasions tailor-made situations had arisen for a military intervention, but General Raheel refused to be distracted from his constitutional responsibilities. There were invitations galore from a number of quarters for the Army Chief to oust the elected government but he resisted. There was also a poster campaign beseeching him to takeover which he spurned disdainfully.
On November 29, 2016 he will be calling it a day in a manner typical of a patriotic soldier hanging up his gloves. He has while restoring the prestige of his institution also promoted the cause of democracy. One hopes his successor would carry the baton to his finish line with equal dignity and patriotic valour. It is indeed a tough call to keep a balance in the transitional period, a period which is seemingly witnessing the institution handing over the powers it had enjoyed over the last so many years without tolerating any interference from the civilian governments to the latter which is still in the process of learning the rules of governance. General Raheel has rightly described the Pakistani Army as one of the best in the world. That is the Army that General Bajwa would be commanding and one hopes he would continue the traditions set by his predecessor.
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