Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recommended General Raheel Sharif as General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s successor as Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, who will be appointed by President Mamnoon Hussain. The decision brings an end to the ambiguity surrounding General Kayani’s retirement from Pakistan’s most powerful military position. Sharif’s term is expected to last for six years, terminating on November 29, 2019. Raheel Sharif is unrelated to the Prime Minister.
In its coverage of the decision, The Associated Press cites one defense analyst and retired army general, Talat Masood, as stating that with Sharif’s appointment, “the army will continue to stay out of politics, and I think the power of the army will continue to get diluted over time.” Pakistan has had a somewhat strained history of civil-military relations, having seen several coups since its independence in 1947. Nawaz Sharif himself was overthrown in 1999 by Pervez Musharraf, who is currently being prosecuted for treason. Sharif’s reelection in 2013 marked the first successful transfer of power from one civilian government to another in Pakistani history.
Kayani, who will retire this month, maintained a low political profile but largely maintained the great power wielded by the Pakistani military elite over the nation’s foreign and security policy — particularly with regards to India and Afghanistan. Kayani’s political stance largely abetted the civilian transfer of power this year.
Raheel Sharif will inherit a complex security environment as head of the military. Apart from continuing Kayani’s political legacy, Sharif faces the prospect of managing ongoing operations against the domestic Taliban threat. Kayani’s tenure also saw relations between Pakistan and the United States grow increasingly strained after the United States carried out a clandestine raid against Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout without Pakistani consent or knowledge.
Pakistan’s Dawn ran a profile on Kayani’s successor. Sharif had an older brother who is considered a war hero and was killed during the 1971 war with India for which he was awarded Pakistan’s highest military award, the Nishan-i-Haider. The Dawn profile suggests that Sharif was mentored closely by Pervez Musharraf over the course of his military career, which culminated in Musharraf granting him command of the 11th Infantry Division in Lahore. Sharif was additionally a Commandant of the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad.
In its own profile of Raheel Sharif, the BBC pointed out his tactical acumen in counter-insurgency operations: “Those who know Gen Sharif say that during his last tenure he reshaped nearly all the important training courses, bringing them in line with the challenges of internal terrorism.” This could have driven Nawaz Sharif’s decision to nominate the General for Pakistan’s top military job, but some allege that cabinet politics led to the appointment. Abdul Qadir Baloch a retired general and mentor to Raheel Sharif, currently sits on Pakistan’s cabinet and is expected to have pushed for Sharif’s appointment.
The decision will be closely scrutinized by Pakistan’s neighbors, India and Afghanistan, as well as by the United States, which has had a somewhat strained relationship with the Pakistani military in recent years. The United States nonetheless needs to cooperate with the head of the Pakistani military to enable its operations against the Taliban and al Qaeda. India is certain to be closely observing events. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has lent plenty of rhetoric to improving relations with India but the civilian leadership has traditionally had its hands bound by the will of the Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The two countries have fought three major wars and regularly engage in skirmishes across their disputed border in Kashmir.
Ultimately, most analysts expect Raheel Sharif to continue Kayani’s legacy and share a similar moderate temperament. The new Chief of Army Staff, despite his sharp eye for counter-insurgency operations, will likely remain focused on Pakistan’s strategic situation vis-a-vis India. One retired Pakistani officer, speaking with Reuters, said that “Sharif has played a big role in convincing the army that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and assorted militants inside Pakistan are as big a threat (as India).” Given the severity of Pakistan’s internal Taliban insurgency, Sharif would do well to focus the Pakistan military’s energies on the struggle against violent domestic extremism and moderate its focus on India, allowing Nawaz Sharif to test the waters for peace.