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In the aftermath of India's surgical strikes, who will be Pakistan's next army chief?

Catch Team | Updated on: 2 October 2016, 13:00 IST

The surgical strike by the Indian army has unnerved the Pakistani military and political establishment. It has also led to speculations whether Raheel Shareef will go out quietly by November end, or if he would go in for, what Pakistani generals are notorious for, an overthrow of the civilian government.

After the strikes targeting terror launchpads across the LoC, the Pakistani security and political establishment are seemingly in a bind.

Asim Bajwa, the Pakistani Army's spokesperson, has gone from denying the strikes took place, to now claiming that India is hiding its casualties. Clearly, the Pakistani military and the political establishment were rather shaken by the moonless night raid by the Indian army's special forces.

What are the odds?

General Raheel Shareef, according to Pakistan watchers in Delhi, has been the most popular army chief largely because a weak Nawaz Sharif has ceded too much space to the army. With him retiring in two months, there are speculations of a coup in Pakistan.

Shareef has refused an extension, which leaves Pakistan with just two possibilities, that one he may hang up his boots, with the shadow of this surgical strike on his hero's image, or, go in for a coup before the end of November.

"He would not like to go with his tail between his legs," is how a strategic affairs analyst put it.

And a coup may not be all that bad news for India, for then there will be clarity as to who runs the country. Unlike now, when the Pakistani army can go on with business as usual of using non-state actors, while civilian leadership tom-toms its claim that it is ready to discuss all issues.

Who's next?

Meanwhile, according to a report by Reuters, four names have been shortlisted to come in after Shareef and sent to PM Sharif. An strategic affairs analyst points out that Nawaz Sharif's grip over the governance has eroded over the last couple of years.

There was even a public spat with Raheel Shareef where the army general made clear as to who is running the show. Sharif would now want someone who would not whittle him down, like Shareef has done.

The Reuters report says Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal Ramday, one of the four, a commander of the XXXI Corps, who has been at the forefront of the Pakistani army's operations against TTP in the Swat Valley in 2009, is closest to PM Sharif.

His family, it is said, has a long association with PMLN, Sharif's outfit. And that he is equally liked by General Raheel Shareef, according to the Reuters report.

An analyst points out that appointing someone as the chief of army staff, can backfire too, like in the case of the appointment of General Zia by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Bhutto had superseded seven generals to appoint Zia ul Haq who eventually overthrew his government and later hanged him to death.

The candidates

"Lieutenant General Zubair Hayat, Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad, commanding officer in the eastern city of Multan, and Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who heads the army's Training and Evaluation Wing," are the others who have been shortlisted reported Reuters.

Zubair Hayat, who looks after the intelligence and operational affairs at the army's General Headquarters, and has been the head of Strategic Plans Division (SPD), the unit responsible for Pakistan's nuclear programme, according to Reuters.

The report says that "retired and serving officers who have served with Hayat see him as a compromise between the military and civilian government."

However, with about two months to go before Shareef's tenure ends, the analysts say it would be best to watch his reaction to the surgical strike.

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The strike has not only struck at the heart of Pakistani's military's long tested policy of sending jihadis to attack India, believing there would be no retaliation. The operation by the special forces has clearly changed that and the generals in Rawalpindi would be forced to go back to the drawing board.

It has also disrupted the symbiotic relationship between the Pakistani Army and the terror outfits. Like this analyst pointed out that operatives of the terror groups would now question the military establishment which helps them with the promise of a safe passage "across the border" to attack India.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

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First published: 2 October 2016, 13:00 IST
 
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