The appointment of Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa as Pakistan’s next army chief has surprised many. He was not the senior most among those in the reckoning. In fact, he was the second lowest in terms of seniority of the names submitted by the outgoing army chief to prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
What may have tipped the scales in his favour is his experience in the Kashmir corridor, say analysts.
His elevation to the top army post comes amid the friction military-civilian relations have been under in Pakistan, as well as the recent escalation in tensions along the Line of Control. Perceived by some as a hardliner, he is expected to continue the army’s policy of putting pressure on the civilian government in not engaging in a comprehensive dialogue with India.
Bajwa has extensive experience in operations in Kashmir, in the Pakistan’s Northern Areas, and in counter-terrorism.
The new army chief was chosen over the highest ranking contender, the army’s Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen Zubair Hayat, previously responsible for the security of the country’s nuclear programme; and over Lt. Gen Ishfaq Nadeem, commander of the strategic Multan strike corps and viewed by many analysts as favourite for the job.
Bajwa is currently the Inspector General for Training and Development at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Gen Sharif, who is set to retire on November 29, also served in this same post before taking over as chief.
Prior to this, he commanded the elite Rawalpindi-based X Corps, the largest and most important corps that is responsible for operations along the Line of Control in Kashmir. Pakistan’s most strategic defence installations, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat and government security are the responsibility of the commander of X Corps.
It was this corps – especially its 111 brigade – that played a key role in the past during military takeovers, the most recent being in 1999 when Gen Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup. In the X Corps, Bajwa also held the position of chief of staff.
Bajwa also served as chief of the Force Command Northern Areas and commanded a brigade in the same force. Bajwa also commanded a brigade in the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo in 2007, where he served alongside former Indian Army chief Gen Bikram Singh.
“In the international environment, Bajwa’s conduct was outstanding and he was an extremely professional soldier,” General Bikram Singh told Hindustan Times.
Senior Army officers described Bajwa as an “old Kashmir hand” with first-hand experience of operational aspects related to Line of Control and Kashmir.
A senior officer said it was too early to say whether Bajwa would carry forward the legacy of his predecessors or evolve an approach of his own.
The new army chief is from the infantry’s Baloch Regiment, which has given three officers to the post of army chief –– Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Aslam Beg and Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. He was commissioned in the 10th Baloch Regiment in October 1980. He graduated from the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College in Toronto and did a Naval Post Graduate from the Monetray University in California. He also studied at the National Defence University in Islamabad. He has also been an instructor at the School of Infantry and Tactics at Quetta.
(With inputs from Rahul Singh, New Delhi)