What Qamar Bajwa's appointment as army chief means for Pak and India
The suspense, the speculation and the rumours are finally over. After months of intense debate about who would replace the outgoing Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, Lt Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa has been appointed as the 16th army chief of Pakistan.
While the senior-most officer, Lt Gen Zubair Hayat has been appointed as Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee (CJCSC), true to form, PM Nawaz Sharif, has not stuck with the seniority principle for the army chief.
Gen Bajwa was the junior-most in the short-list of four Lt Generals who were being considered. Gen Raheel Sharif too was not the senior most when Nawaz appointed him as Army Chief in November 2013.
Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is from the 62nd PMA Long Course and belongs to the Baloch Regiment. He would be the fourth Army Chief from this regiment. Other who preceded him were Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Aslam Beg and Gen Ashfaq Kayani. Of course, none of them were ethnic Baloch.
Gen Bajwa is currently serving as Inspector General of the Training and Evaluation in the GHQ, a post that Gen Raheel Sharif held before being promoted as Army Chief.
Others in contention for the post of army chief were Multan Corps Commander Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem and Bahawalpur Corps Commander Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday.
Given the current tensions with India on the Line of Control (LoC), Gen Bajwa's appointment is significant. Among all the contenders, Gen Bajwa has probably had the most field experience of Kashmir. He had served in X Corps, the Pakistan army's biggest corps which is responsible for the area along the LoC as Lt. Colonel when he was GSO, as Brigadier when he was chief of staff, as Major General when he commanded the Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) and finally as Corps Commander.
Three interesting things about Gen Bajwa need to be noted.
First, In the run up to the appointment of the new army chief, a controversy was generated to disqualify Lt Gen Bajwa on the grounds that one his distant relatives was an Ahmadi and he too could well be one. This campaign was led by a senator, Professor Sajid Mir, of the Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, Pakistan who warned that he would lead the country to doom. In the event it turned out that Bajwa himself was not an Ahmadi.
Second, Gen Bajwa has served with a UN mission in Congo as a brigade commander alongside former Indian army chief Gen Bikram Singh, who was also there as a division commander.
Third, despite his extensive experience in Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, Gen Bajwa is said to consider religious extremism a bigger threat for the country than India.
For Nawaz Sharif, Gen Bajwa clearly ticked all the boxes. He would be in a position to handle the heightened tensions on the LoC, given his extensive experience there. This could work both ways - escalation or reduction of tensions. At the same time, his views on domestic extremism being the priority rather than India could also suit Sharif's business interests of trade with India rather than prolonged tensions.