In Pakistan, the prime minister is the head of the country’s executive, but the army controls domestic security issues, the intelligence agency and the nation’s defense and foreign policies as well which is quiet prominent since the inception of Pakistan.
General Raheel Sharif retired as Pakistan’s chief of army staff, when his three-year term ended on November 29, 2016. In his place, Lieutenant-General Qamar Javed Bajwa has been appointed in accordance with the constitution.
General Bajwa’s appointment came at a time when relations between India and Pakistan are under stress due to prolonged cross-border shelling along their international border. Despite Prime Minister’s attempts to improve relations with India, General Raheel provided all his efforts as for him both internal and external threats to Pakistan’s security environment are interlinked. Undoubtedly the efforts of General Raheel Sharif towards making Pakistan free from the threats of extremism, militancy and all other security threats have been remarkable. In addition to this he even raised the morale of the Armed Forces as well as the general public which was greatly damaged previously.
By appointing Gen Bajwa as COAS, Prime Minister is trying to restore the delicate civil-military balance in Pakistan as it is considered that the new Chief will not be intervening in civil matters as such, thus providing necessary guidance in important matters as well.
General Bajwa is reported to believe that internal security is of prime importance. Therefore, it is certain that his tenure will bring normalcy in the relations between the two. Thus it is hoped that he would give a fresh ceasefire agreement between the two neighbors to bring an end to cross-border/LOC firing which has continued since September this year. But true to his professional reputation, he will fight back with full force in case he feels that India is unrelenting and is threatening to dismember Pakistan.
In such a scenario, Chief’s foremost priority would be to either continue the present status quo along the border or consider a possible shift in the Pakistan Army’s Kashmir policy. Having spent a considerable part of his military service in the Rawalpindi-based 10 Corps that is responsible for guarding the LoC, it is expected that he would try to use his organizational experience to influence the Pakistan’s civilian government’s Kashmir-centric India policy.
The future of any dialogue process between India and Pakistan is heavily dependent on the civil-military relations in Pakistan. Prime Minister will continue to internationalise the Kashmir issue. It is also possible that Pakistan will raise the Kashmir issue at the upcoming HoA conference in India. That will satisfy the domestic audience, whom PM Nawaz Sharif is targeting for the 2018 general elections, and will also send across a strong message to the new military leadership in a bid to strengthen civil-military relations.
General Bajwa had been handed over an army that has consolidated its position in the country’s tribal areas, which were once considered a breeding ground for militants. However, the challenge in this regard comes from the new Army chief’s ability to deal with militant groups based in Pakistan’s urban areas now.
Chief’s challenge rests in formulating a policy that would decrease tensions on external front without giving in to Indian demands. The military’s prestige as an institution in Pakistan is based on the foundation of considering India as Pakistan’s foremost enemy. Moreover, India’s policy to isolate Pakistan internationally is likely to receive some boost with Donald Trump’s rise in the United States as he labelled Pakistan as semi-stable and a safe haven for terrorists. Historically, Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have been managed by the military and under Donald Trump’s presidency, it might be hard to sell the policy of counter-terrorism, especially with India actively lobbying against Pakistan’s interests in Washington.
Thus, it is important to understand that the Pakistani military’s institutional thinking is unlikely to change in the near future. The army chief’s succession may not immediately bring about a major policy change in Pakistan but it could still have important implications on India and Pakistan relations.