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New Pak army chief fills key posts with his men. ISI head replaced

Tilak Devasher | Updated on: 12 December 2016, 19:31 IST

As was expected, after taking over as Pakistan Army Chief on 29 November, General Qamar Javed Bajwa has been quick to place his men in key positions. His task has, no doubt, been facilitated by the belated resignation of four Lt Generals who had been superseded by his own elevation as chief.

Of these four, two were in contention for the top slot - Lt General Ishfaq Nadeem, Corps Commander II Corps, Multan and Lt Gen Iqbal Ramday, Corps Commander XXXI Corps, Bhawalpur. The other two Lt. Generals were not in contention for the top slot, though they were senior to Gen Bajwa.

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As result, six three star vacancies had been created (elevation of Gen Zubair Hayat as chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Qamar Bajwa as army chief; and retirement of the four superseded officers.)

Analysing the appointments

Though it is still early days to make a pronouncement, some trends do emerge from these appointments.

First, his replacement of the DG ISI Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar with Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar and the appointment of Lt Gen Bilal Akbar as CGS could impact the operational focus of the agency. Both these officers were part of the Sindh Apex Committee and had jointly demolished the power base of the MQM in Karachi. These two appointments could thus be indicative of Gen Bajwa's policy of prioritising internal security. If so, an operation in Punjab, that the government has been resisting, could well be on the cards.

Naveed Mukhtar's appointment as ISI chief could be indicative of Gen Bajwa's policy of prioritising internal s

Second, his shunting out of Lt Gen Asim Salim Bajwa from the high profile post of DG ISPR and leaving that post vacant, even temporarily, could well signal that he would prefer to lessen the visibility of the army chief in the media. It was the Bajwa-led ISPR that had created a larger than life image of General Raheel Sharif and made him far more popular than the civilian Sharif.

However, the real test for Gen Bajwa will be his relations with the civil government. As the initial interactions with Nawaz Sharif have shown, it is an emboldened Prime Minister who is trying to set new rules for the Army.

The real test for Gen Bajwa will be his relations with the civil government

The atmospherics include meeting Gen Bajwa across the table rather than the army chief sitting on an adjoining chair as with Gen Raheel Sharif, and leaking photographs to the media of the chief saluting him. The latest has been making Gen Bajwa walk through a metal detector in the PM's house, something unheard of in the past.

It remains to be seen how Gen Bajwa and more importantly, how the Pakistan Army as an institution would react to such an abrupt transition to civilian control.

Filling the gaps

Gen Bajwa has filled vacancies in four steps.

On 7 December, he appointed Lt Gen Shahid Baig Mirza, Military Secretary at GHQ as the new Corps Commander V Corps, Karachi, in place of Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar. Lt Gen Mirza was replaced as Military Secretary by Lt Gen Ghayur Mehmood, Chief of Logistic Staff (CLS) at the GHQ.

Next, seven Major Generals were promoted to the rank of Lt Generals on 9 December, by superseding as many as 24 Major Generals.

On 9 December, Lt Gen Sarfraz Sattar (GOC VIII Div Sialkot) was appointed as Commander II Corps, Multan (in place of Lt Gen Ashfaq who had put in his papers) and Lt Gen Zafar Iqbal (Corps Commander X Corps Rawalpindi) appointed as DG Joint Staff (due to the retirement of Lt Gen Najib on being superseded). Lt Gen Sattar had earlier served as DGMI and Defence Attache in India.

The fourth step was the posting and transfers of 10 lieutenant generals on 11 December 2016. The key appointments made were:

(1) Lt. Gen Naveed Mukhtar, Corps Commander V Corps appointed as DG ISI to replace Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar who has been shifted as president National Defence University (NDU). Theoretically, DG ISI reports to the PM and is selected by him from a panel of names. In this case, Gen Bajwa must have got the clearance from the PM is his very first meeting with him. An Armoured Corps officer, Lt General Mukhtar reportedly has vast experience in the field of intelligence and had earlier headed the counterterrorism wing of the ISI.

(2) Lt Gen Bilal Akbar (promoted on December 09) DG Rangers appointed as Chief of General Staff (CGS). An artillery officer, Lt Gen Akbar had commanded a division in Lahore and a brigade in Swat. As DG Rangers Sindh he led the operation in Karachi.

(3) Lt Gen Asim Salim Bajwa, the high profile DG ISPR appointed as Inspector General Arms at GHQ. He had been DG ISPR since June 2012 under the then COAS Gen Ashfaq Kayani and had continued in the post under Gen. Raheel Sharif. For the moment the post has been left vacant.

(4) Lt Gen Hidayatur Rehman, (Corps Commander XI Corps, Peshawar) appointed as Inspector General (IG) Training and Evaluation (IGT&E) at GHQ. Both Gen Raheel Sharif and Gen Bajwa held this post before being elevated as army chiefs'. The incumbent NDU President Lt Gen Nazir Butt has been appointed Commander XI Corps, Peshawar

(5) Lt-Gen Nadeem Raza (Commandant, Pakistan Military Academy Kakul) appointed as Commander X Corps. An officer from the Sindh Regiment, he has commanded a division in South Waziristan and a brigade on the Line of Control (LoC).

(6) Lt Gen Sher Afgun (Inspector General, Frontier Corps, Balochistan) appointed as Corps Commander XXXI Corps, Bahawalpur in place of Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday who had put in his papers after being superseded. From the Azad Kashmir Regiment, Lt Gen Afgun has commanded a Division on the LOC when Gen Bajwa was commander of the X Corps.

One more step to complete the changes would be the appointment of DG ISPR and DG Rangers, Sindh.

Thus, General Bajwa has lost no time in placing his own men in key slots of CGS, Military Secretary, and DG ISI. Among the Corp Commanders, II, V, X, XI, XXXI commanders are now his appointees. He thus starts with a big advantage.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

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First published: 12 December 2016, 19:31 IST
Tilak Devasher @catchhindi

Tilak Devasher retired as Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, to the Government of India. His book Pakistan: Courting the Abyss is releasing shortly.