Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed has emerged as the favourite for the post of Pakistan’s next army chief, but there is speculation that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will go for his own candidate despite recommendations sent to him from the army headquarters.
Current army chief Gen Raheel Sharif has begun his farewell tour of garrisons across the country, but there is still a question mark as to who will replace him in the most powerful position in Pakistan.
With November 29 set to be Gen Sharif’s last day in office, it now falls to the prime minister to pick an army chief for the record fourth time. Additionally, the premier will name a new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, another position falling vacant due to the retirement of Gen Rashad Mehmood.
Pakistani media reported on Tuesday that the word in political circles is Lt Gen Ahmed, currently the Multan Corps commander and a key player in counter-terrorism operations, will be named the army chief. In addition, Lt General Zubair Hayat was tipped to be appointed chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee.
Others in contention for the post of army chief are Bahawalpur Corps Commander Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday and Inspector General of Training and Evaluation Lt Gen Qamar Bajwa. All four generals are from the Pakistan Military Academy’s 62nd long course, but have had different career trajectories.
The influential Dawn newspaper quoted unnamed aides of the prime minister as saying that Sharif had already made up his mind about the next army chief but he has kept his cards close to his chest.
“Though the prime minister is the only person who definitely knows who the next army chief will be, the word in political circles is that Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem (Ahmed)…will be named the army chief,” the report said.
Lt Gen Ahmed, who belongs to the Azad Kashmir Regiment, earlier served as Chief of General Staff and Director General of Military Operations. In the past, the Multan Corps chief has traditionally been the strongest candidate for the top post. Generals Tikka Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Jahangir Karamat all headed the II Corps in Multan before becoming army chief.
Lt Gen Ramday was previously president of the National Defence University. Lt Gen Bajwa was earlier the commander of the important Rawalpindi Corps and is now the Inspector General of Training and Evaluation at the headquarters, a position Gen Raheel Sharif held before becoming army chief.
It is the premier’s prerogative to appoint the army chief by promoting a three-star general to a four-star rank. Lt Gen Hayat is the senior-most army officer while Lt Gen Ahmed is next in line in terms of seniority.
But it is believed Lt Gen Ramday, who hails from Lahore and comes from a political family, could be a strong contender. The dark horse among the four contenders is Lt Gen Bajwa.
The Pakistani media reported that the prime minister’s choice will be important because the new army chief would have to oversee a transition from counter-terrorism operations to the conventional role of defending borders.
The formal process for nomination starts with the General Headquarters sending a list of the senior-most generals to the prime minister via the defence ministry, but without making any formal recommendations. The premier then holds informal consultations with the outgoing army chief before announcing his decision.
In a statement on Monday, defence minister Khawaja Asif was quoted as saying that the prime minister would soon hold a consultation with Gen Sharif.