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Who will succeed Gen. Bajwa when he finally retires as Pakistan’s Army Chief next month?

Pakistan’s Former Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@AfghanistanTime)

As indicated in my earlier assessment , Army Chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa’s informal comment during an interactive luncheon at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington (Oct 05, 2022) that he would not be interested in any further extensions, sets at rest speculation on this count at a moment when disgruntled former Prime Minister, Imran Khan had pegged his entire agitational narrative on making this issue controversial.

Observers at a three – hour long `breakfast interaction’ with Think tanks in Washington, on Oct 06, 2022, found Bajwa quite relaxed and candid. Though too many details in this context are yet to emerge and are bound by Chatham House rules, Bajwa projected to the US audience that he favoured open regional relationships, and deeper Pak- US ties, unconnected with US – India relations. This has been his fairly consistent position for a while now.

Contrary to speculation in the Pakistani electronic media about important senior Generals like the Chief of General Staff (CGS) and the Director General, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) being part of his delegation to the United States, no senior officers were accompanying him.

Defence Minister Khwaja Asif indicated at a press conference (Islamabad) on Oct 05, 2022 that the appointment procedure for the new Army Chief (COAS) would commence by the end of this month or latest, in early November. A panel of five names would be processed and sent up to the Prime Minister (PM), who is constitutionally empowered to select the COAS [Art 243 {3}]. After the 18th Amendment of 2010, the President as appointing authority is bound to accept the PM’s advice.

Interestingly, due perhaps to Bajwa’s current US sojourn and the absence, immediately prior, of Defence Minister Asif in UK, details about the Three Star Lieutenant Generals retirements due on September 30, 2022 and connected reshuffles/ promotions have not emerged in public domain. This would seem to be a routine delay.

Going by existing data, after these retirements, the seniority list of Lieutenant Generals which may figure in the preparation of the panel for the Chief’s selection could include Syed Asim Munir Shah, Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Azhar Abbas, Nauman Mehmood, Faiz Hameed and Mohd. Aamer.

Lt. Gen Asim Munir is slated to retire on November 27, two days before Bajwa’s term ends. This leaves a question mark on whether his name would be included in the panel. Presently Quartermaster General at GHQ, Asim Munir belongs to the Frontier Force regiment, otherwise famously known for its valour in Anglo- Afghan wars as the Pfiffers. He has been a favorite of Bajwa, having served as General Officer Commanding, Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA), when Bajwa was Corps Commander, Rawalpindi. As Army Chief, Bajwa brought him in as Director General, Military Intelligence (DGMI) and later, on promotion, as DG, ISI (Oct. 2018). However, he was shifted as Corps Commander, Gujranwala after only a short stint in ISI, (June, 2019), after he acted as internal whistle-blower about corruption indulged in, allegedly by the First Lady, Bushra Sheikh @ Pinky Pir, wife of then PM Imran Khan.

Now Imran Khan and his cohorts in Pakistan Tehrik- e- Insaf (PTI) are fearful that the Army’s vengeance would befall Imran if Munir makes it as COAS. Former Minister, Sheikh Rasheed implied as much on a Pakistani TV channel yesterday ( Oct 05), suggesting that both Maryam Nawaz (who left for UK on Oct 06) and her father, former PM Nawaz Sharif were batting for Munir. However, he belongs to a previous Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul (PMA) long course, others from which cohort would have retired earlier. Ironically, if he did become Chief, he would be the first ever `Sword of Honour’ (topper) from PMA, Kakul to have made it to this prestigious and powerful post.

It is more probable, therefore that the two seniors most eligible in the panel would be Lt. Gen. Sahir Shamshad Mirza, followed by Lt. Gen Azhar Abbas. Two Four Star posts would fall vacant at the same time as Gen Nadeem Raza, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) also retires at the same time. The collegiate leadership of Senior Generals which has stood behind Gen Bajwa recently, may be satisfied with a consensus choice, which sees one of the above two elevated as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the other as COAS. Of course, the former post would be more ceremonial, except for overseeing the Pakistani nuclear hierarchy. Real power would lie with whoever is elevated as the Army Chief.

Though hailing from heartland recruiting ground of Potohar (Chakwal), Sahir Shamshad Mirza belongs to the Sindh Regiment. Professionally, he has had an excellent career, holding assignments as Director General, Military Operations (DGMO), CGS and currently, Corps Commander, X Corps, Rawalpindi. He has remained very low profile during the last few months, when Imran Khan was desperately trying to spread divisions within higher echelons of serving and retired Generals.

Azhar Abbas belongs to the Baloch Regiment (Bajwa’s own). He too has had an excellent professional profile, having served as Staff Officer to former Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, Corps Commander, Rawalpindi and currently, as CGS. There have been some unconfirmed reports of his being a Shia, which could lessen his prospects but if incorrect, it may not matter as Abbas has the reputation of being very suave, unflappable during crises and an expert on Indo-Pak issues.

If dark horses were to figure, given the penchant of the Sharif family to dig deeper in past selections, Nauman Mehmood could also figure. Nauman is from the Baloch Regiment too. He served in ISI and as Corps Commander, Peshawar, before holding his current position in the National Defence University. He is believed to be a hard-core hardliner on India, if such a distinction can at all be made for Pakistani Generals reaching the helm!

Lt. Gen Faiz Hameed, recently shifted from Peshawar as Corps Commander, XXXI Corps, Bahawalpur is next on the seniority list. A Baloch Regiment Officer, he too was close to Bajwa and served as his staff officer earlier. However, his stint in ISI and close association with former PM, Imran Khan has made him rather controversial. Institutionally, Army Generals have never liked their peers to kowtow to civilian politicians.

Mohd. Aamer, an Artillery officer currently Corps Commander, Gujranwala could also be on the panel. He is from the next cohort of Generals. His selection could leave too many disgruntled seniors on Shahbaz Sharif’s plate, which he can ill afford at present.

Whoever is finally chosen as Army Chief will have his hands full dealing with domestic dissension created in recent months by an ousted former Prime Minister, who has challenged the credibility of most conventionally powerful institutions of the Establishment and yet continued to receive almost benign condescension from Pakistan’s higher judiciary, which seems to have only encouraged him to continue treading on his megalomaniac and fascist ways.

For India, it would be unrealistic to expect any dramatic shifts in policy or mindsets of the senior Army leadership in using its known tactical gambit of enhancing trouble, especially in Jammu & Kashmir through use of the asymmetric option of non-state elements, belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e- Mohammed (JeM).

Also Read: Will Pak Army Chief Bajwa or his successor reconcile ties with India?

(Rana Banerji was Special Secretary (retd.) in the Cabinet Secretariat. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)