Pakistan: New army chief brings no change in policy
Pakistan: New army chief brings no change in policy
Lt. Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa will replace retiring Army Chief Raheel Sharif when his three-year term ends on Tuesday, a rare example of a smooth transition in a nation where army chiefs have a history of clinging to power.
Gen. Sharif, who is not related to the prime minister, has proved popular with ordinary Pakistanis but during his tenure relations between the army and the civilian government have often been tense.
Relations abroad have also frayed, with the United States and Afghanistan complaining of a lack of action by Islamabad against Afghan Taliban militants based on Pakistani soil, while a stand-off with old foe India over Kashmir has soured relations.
Bajwa was one of several high-ranking candidates put forward for the job by the army but little is publicly known about him or his ideological stance on key issues, including relations with India or how to tackle home-grown militants.
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif dampened any expectations that Bajwa would immediately push for a radical policy shift.
“The military policy will continue and there will be no immediate change in it,” Asif told Geo News TV channel.
“The legacy of Gen. Raheel Sharif would continue in the light of the examples he set,” Asif added.
Security in Pakistan has vastly improved during Gen. Sharif’s tenure, but the country remains vulnerable to internal strife, with militant groups carrying out major bomb and gun attacks. In recent months a hospital, a mosque and a police training college have been targeted.
Daesh, which has claimed several large-scale attacks in recent months, is also trying to establish a foothold in the nuclear armed nation of 190 million people.
The United States on Sunday issued a statement welcoming Bajwa’s appointment and said it wanted to assist Pakistan with its domestic and regional counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts.
In a statement, the US Embassy in Islamabad also said it wanted to help “Pakistani authorities to honor their pledge to prevent the use of Pakistan’s soil for terrorist attacks against its neighbors.”
India has in recent months sought to isolate Pakistan after an Indian army base in the disputed Kashmir region was attacked and 18 soldiers killed in a September raid that New Delhi blames on Pakistan-based militants. Islamabad denies involvement.
Gen. Sharif will become the first army chief in more than 20 years to step down at the end of his term. Previous army chiefs have either obtained extensions or in the case of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, staged a coup.
One Cabinet minister told Reuters Bajwa was chosen because of his low-key approach and a belief by Prime Minister Sharif that he would shun the limelight, in contrast to his predecessor, while ceding more policy space to the civilian government.
The army plays a big role in Pakistani politics, including dominating foreign policy strategy on key areas such as relations with India, Afghanistan and the United States. The military also runs a vast business empire.
Zahid Hussain, a security analyst, said heightened tensions with India, kept inflamed by fierce cross-border shelling in the Kashmir region, means in the short term the army was likely to maintain a tight grip on foreign policy issues related to India.
“Since the tension is so high, Nawaz (Sharif) is not in a position to maneuver out of that,” Hussain said.
Bajwa, who was first commissioned in the army in 1980, has served in Kashmir and other regions bordering India but it is not clear if he will take a less hawkish approach to Pakistan’s historic foe.
Gen. Bikram Singh, a former head of India’s army who served with Bajwa in the Congo as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force, praised Bajwa’s conduct as a soldier during their time in Africa.
“In the international environment, his performance was professional, outstanding,” Singh told India Today TV channel.
But when reporters asked Singh if he expected Bajwa to alter Pakistan’s military policy, he said: “I do not see any change.”
India and Afghanistan review their strategic partnership
- Afghan, Indian leaders “reviewed and positively assessed the progress of the multi-faceted India-Afghanistan strategic partnership”
- The two countries also decided “to strengthen connectivity, including through Chabahar port and the air-freight corridor.”
NEW DELHI: India and Afghanistan reviewed bilateral civil and military cooperation during a one day of meetings in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which the two sides “reviewed and positively assessed the progress of the multi-faceted India-Afghanistan strategic partnership.”
A press release from the Indian Prime Minister’s office announced after the meeting: “It was agreed to deepen the New Development Partnership in the areas of high impact projects in this field of infrastructure, human resources development and other capacity-building projects in Afghanistan.”
The two countries also decided “to strengthen connectivity, including through Chabahar port and the air-freight corridor.”
“I would like to thank the Indian people for their commitment to Afghanistan's future,” Ghani said in a speech in New Delhi before leaving for Kabul.
“What India-Afghanistan share is deep and binding trust in democratic institutions,” he added.
Modi supported an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace and reconciliation process” and pledged “India's unwavering commitment to support the efforts of the government of Afghanistan to this end, as also for the security and sovereignty of Afghanistan.”
“Peace with the Taliban is important so that we can concentrate on counter-terrorism. The Taliban is part of Afghan society, ISIS (using another term for the terror group Daesh) is not. We must make that distinction,” Ghani said in his address at the New Delhi-based think tank, India Foundation.
Commenting on Ghani’s visit, Vishal Chandra of Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), a New Delhi-based think tank, said: “The timing of the visit is significant; he has come at a time when the Afghan forces are under great pressure from the Taliban and Daesh.” He added that Ghani was looking for wider regional support in initiatives to stem the rising tide of terrorism.
Talking to Arab News, Chandra underlined that “there is no question of India involving itself militarily in Afghanistan, but it might step up its efforts to ensure that they have better air capability and they don’t have shortage of ammunition. I don’t expect India to supply heavy weaponry.”
Harsh V. Pant, director of the think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) said: “Despite India scaling up its presence in the defence sector, New Delhi’s military presence in Afghanistan is limited.
“The appetite in India for military involvement is very small; there is no consensus about the military footprints New Delhi should have in Afghanistan. But there is a consensus that New Delhi’s security cooperation with Kabul should be extended and should be robust and that is what India is doing.”
In his book “India’s Afghanistan Muddle” Pant argued that “India cannot evolve its equity in Afghanistan unless some form of military involvement happens.”
Pant told Arab News: “The visit of Ghani at this time is a sign of a certain maturity in the relationship where Afghanistan feels that India should be kept in a loop. The relationship has grown to an extent that two sides are comfortable with each other in sharing assessment about where the political trajectory is going.”