ISLAMABAD: For starters, he was not considered a hot favourite. Theoretically, he was 4th in order of seniority. He was discussed and debated less than other potential candidates. But in the end, he stole the limelight.
Such was the rise of Pakistan’s incoming army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who from being a ‘dark horse’ suddenly became a household name the moment Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif picked him for arguably the most powerful and challenging job.
The appointment of Gen Bajwa has come as a surprise to some given that he was second last in order of seniority among the five generals whose names were forwarded to the prime minister to fill the key slots of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) and Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
Although a military official said seniority was irrelevant in this case since all were course mates. Premier Sharif preferred Gen Bajwa over Corps Commander Multan Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadim Ahmed and Corps Commander Bahawalpur Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday in view of certain considerations.
What impressed Sharif about Gen Bajwa is his ‘apolitical nature’ and crucial role he is thought to have played in supporting the democratic process during the 2014 dharna by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Gen Bajwa was corps commander Rawalpindi at that time, one of the most important corps in the army responsible for security along the entire Line of Control (LoC) as well as strategic installations in and around Islamabad.
The prime minister overlooked Gen Ishfaq Nadim because of his ‘blunt nature’ while Gen Ramday’s appointment might have invited unnecessary controversy given his reported affiliation with a family which was closely linked with the Sharifs.
Profile of new COAS
Born in Gakhar Mandi, Gujranwala, Gen Bajwa was commissioned on
October 24, 1980 in the 16 Baloch Regiment, the battle-hardened force that in the past has given three army chiefs, including Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Aslam Beg and Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), he is a graduate of Canadian Forces Command and Staff College-Toronto, Naval Post Graduate University-Monterey, California and National Defence University (NDU)-Islamabad. He has been an instructor at the School of Infantry and Tactics, Quetta, Command and Staff College, Quetta and the NDU.
He has also been Brigade Major of an Infantry Brigade and Chief of Staff of Rawalpindi Corps. Bajwa has commanded the 16 Baloch Regiment, an Infantry Brigade as well as Infantry Division in Northern Areas.
He had also commanded Pakistan Contingent in Congo, where he worked alongside the former Indian army chief General Bikram Singh, who according to the Hindustan Times, described Gen Bajwa as an ‘outstanding and professional solider’.
Before being named the new army chief, Gen Bajwa was serving as the Inspector General Training and Evaluation at the General Headquarters (QHQ), the same post Gen Raheel was holding before being appointed as the army chief in November 2013.
Being the corps commander of Rawalpindi, the incoming army chief has vast experience of dealing with issues related to Kashmir and the LoC, which is currently the focus of attention due to the bloody exchanges between the border guards of the two countries.
‘Down to earth, intellectually very powerful’
A serving three-star general, who knows Gen Bajwa personally, described the new army chief a “down to earth and very hard working” professional.
“He rules hearts and is quick in decision making,” the military official said while speaking to The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity since his position does not permit him to speak to the media.
The official also described Gen Bajwa as highly educated and very powerful, intellectually.
Another official, who is aware of the working style of the new army chief, said Gen Bajwa is a ‘pure professional’ and easy going. “He is a tough guy when it comes to discipline and professionalism.”
Like his predecessor, Gen Bajwa would be leading his men from the front.
Challenges for new COAS
Gen Bajwa is taking over the army command at a time when the country is faced with serious internal and external challenges.
Though the overall security situation has improved significantly during the tenure of outgoing army chief, the recent upsurge in terrorist attacks in Balochistan and tribal areas is a grim reminder that the battle is far from over.
“Militancy remains the major challenge for the new army chief,” said defence analyst Lt General (retd) Abdul Qayum, who is presently a PML-N senator.
Gen Qayum was of the view that the local militancy has foreign link, referring to the alleged involvement of Indian intelligence agencies in fomenting violence particularly in Balochistan.
The question is whether Gen Bajwa’s anti-terror policy would be different than that of his predecessor.
For Defence analyst Ikram Seghal, the incoming chief is likely to be more proactive.
As an instructor at the School of Infantry and Tactics, Quetta, Command and Staff College, Quetta and the NDU, Gen Bajwa played a key role in changing the doctrine of army meant to deal with homegrown militancy more effectively as well as dealing with conventional threat, Seghal added.
He is also one of the generals who view militancy as the most immediate threat than danger being posed by arch-rival India. But the current tension, which is the worst in over a decade between Pakistan and India, has cut his work out.
“Here, his [Gen Bajwa’s] experience of dealing with the LoC and Kashmir affairs will be handy,” Gen Qayum said. Since, the army establishment has a major say on foreign policy issues, another impending challenge he will be facing is the strained ties with Afghanistan.
Although Gen Raheel became the first army chief in 20 years to retire on time and that too with dignity, the fact remains that civil-military relationship was not always smooth.
The army under Gen Raheel was not happy with the civilian government for lack of adequate steps to implement the National Action Plan (NAP).
These relations suffered a further blow after a story was leaked to a leading newspaper about reported differences between the civil and military leadership on how to deal with certain militant groups.
Analysts believe Gen Bajwa will certainly try to work smoothly with the civilian government in order to avoid any unnecessary controversy.
Credentials of the new CJCSC
The appointment of Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) was a foregone conclusion.
Gen Hayat, who has a strong army background, was commissioned in the Artillery Regiment on 24 October 1980. He graduated from the Fort Sill-Oklohoma, Command and Staff College, UK, and the NDU, Islamabad.
He has wide experience of command, staff and instructional appointments. He has commanded an artillery regiment, mechanised division artillery, an infantry brigade and an infantry division. He has been adjutant at the PMA, brigade major of an Infantry Brigade, army and air adviser at Pakistan embassy in UK.
He has also been chief of staff of a strike corps, private secretary to the COAS and director general staff studies directorate at the GHQ.
Hayat has also held the appointment of Strategic Plan Division’s (SPD) director general. He has commanded 31 Corps Bahawalpur and was presently Chief of General Staff at the GHQ.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2016.