ISLAMABAD: On his first day in office, the new army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, on Tuesday voiced hope the volatile situation along the Line of Control (LoC) will improve soon.
Tension between Pakistan and India has ratcheted up in recent months, leading to almost daily cross-LoC shelling. Dozens of people – mostly civilians – have been killed by unprovoked artillery and small arms fire by Indian border guards.
Soon after assuming charge as the 16th chief of army staff, Gen Qamar told journalists in an informal interaction that the situation ‘will be alright’ in the near future, according to the state-run APP news agency.
His optimism was contrary to the grim situation on the ground where the two nuclear-armed neighbours in recent weeks not only exchanged fire but also hurled threats at each other.
Also, his statement was in contrast to the outgoing army chief General Raheel Sharif, who used his farewell address to warn India against any misadventure against Pakistan.
Unlike the outgoing army chief, Gen Qamar avoided using rhetoric in a move that apparently suggests that he may go for a fresh start and that his approach may be different. He is seen as an expert on Kashmir affairs and the LoC since he has spent considerable time of his professional career on these areas.
But, despite being the former head of the army’s largest 10 Corps that is deployed along the LoC, Gen Qamar considers the homegrown militancy as the main threat rather than the danger posed by arch-rival India.
If he does bring a change especially in the army’s take on relations with India, this will help Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to advance his agenda on reaching out to Pakistan’s neighbours, according to observers.
It is believed that the army, under Gen Raheel, had the veto on Pakistan’s relations with India and Afghanistan making it difficult for the Sharif administration to have its own policy. But with the change of command in the army, the civil-military leadership may find it easier to find common ground on impending challenges – be it relations with India or Afghanistan.
According to Radio Pakistan, Gen Qamar also said that Pakistan Army would continue safeguarding the country against internal and external threats. The army will take the war on terror to its logical end with the backing of the nation, he added.
Gen Qamar said the media in Pakistan should continue playing its part in boosting the morale of security forces. He said the media should not spread despondency in the country.
He also indicated that he would invite the media for a formal interaction, something that his predecessor had never done in his three-year term.
This again shows that the new army chief may be more accessible and reach out to the media directly.
Earlier, Gen Qamar formally took charge after he was handed over the baton of command by Gen Raheel, symbolising the smooth transition within the army.
A large number of dignitaries, including serving and former military chiefs, defence minister, National Assembly speaker and others attended a colourful change of command ceremony held at the Army Hockey Stadium, Rawalpindi.
In his last address as army chief, Gen Raheel defended the policies he had pursued in his three-year term.
As his legacy is now being scrutinised closely, Gen Raheel insisted that whatever decisions he had taken as army chief were always keeping in view the country’s national interest. “Pakistan changed the course of history by fighting a successful war against terrorism,” he said, adding that because of collective efforts of the armed forces, paramilitary force and police, peace has now returned to Karachi and Balochistan.
Lauding the efforts of Pakistan’s armed forces, the outgoing army chief said: “Our armed forces set standards of achievement, especially through Operation Zarb-e-Azb.”
He expressed the hope that Pakistan Army would continue to live up to the nation’s expectations. As his three-year term also marked by civil-military strains on counter-terrorism issues, Gen Raheel used his farewell speech to thank federal and provincial governments for extending support to make the fight against terrorism a success story.
Referring to the departure of the first cargo, Gen Raheel stated that the success of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was a proof of peace in the region. “Those who wished to sabotage CPEC must now give up and start supporting the project.”
He warned India not to consider Pakistan’s ‘restraint’ in the face of ongoing tensions as its weakness.
“Unfortunately, in recent months, increasing state terrorism in [Indian] Occupied Kashmir, and India’s aggressive steps have put the region’s peace in danger,” Gen Raheel said.
“I want to make it clear to India that considering our policy of restraint a weakness would be dangerous for her,” he said to applause.
“This is a reality that in South Asia lasting peace and progress is impossible without solution of the Kashmir issue. For that, the international community’s special attention is necessary,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2016.