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Pakistan's New Army Chief Takes Command

Lt. Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa has been named Pakistan's new military chief.
Lt. Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa has been named Pakistan's new military chief.
Pakistan’s New Army Chief Takes Command
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General Qamar Javed Bajwa has taken command of Pakistan’s army, the sixth-largest in the world.

The official change of command ceremony took place earlier this week near the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

The former chief, General Raheel Sharif, called Bajwa a “strong decision maker” who faces a complex security situation.

Many Pakistanis did not want Sharif to leave office. Some put up large street signs asking him to stay. Others launched a social media campaign with the hashtag “ThankyouRaheelSharif.”

Many people believe Sharif improved security and reduced violence. They say he led the military to success against militants and extremists.

But some people say he expanded the influence of the military and took control of some duties usually performed by civilian officials. In this way, they say, he quietly took power away from the government.

In fact, Sharif at least once publicly criticized the government for not doing more to carry out the National Action Plan, created to fight terrorist violence. In his last public speech as army chief, he said that to deal with its problems -- including criminality and corruption -- Pakistan must enact the plan.

Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in extremist violence over the past 10 years. A military operation launched in 2014 has greatly improved the security situation. But attacks continue, showing that extremists are still active in the country.

The new army chief must also deal with increasing tensions with India. Indian and Pakistani troops often fire at one another across the Line of Control -- an unofficial border in the disputed Kashmir area. Bajwa formerly served as commander of the army unit which is responsible for areas around the Line of Control.

Bajwa must also deal with problems on his country’s western border with Afghanistan. Relations between the two countries have worsened since last year, when tensions lessened.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wanted Pakistan to help negotiate a peace agreement with the Afghan Taliban. Pakistani officials said they tried to do so, but could not force the Taliban to if the militants did not want a deal.

Afghanistan says Pakistan has continued its policy of supporting the Afghan Taliban, including giving the group’s supporters places to hide. Afghan leaders say the Pakistanis are doing this so they can keep some influence in Afghanistan and block Indian influence.

But the most important issue for the new military chief might be easing tensions between Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership. Publicly, the two sides dispute reports of tensions. The military leaders say they support the constitution. But for months, some Pakistanis have worried that the military is plotting to remove the civilian leaders and take control of the country.

Local media reports that some of the reasons General Bajwa was chosen as army chief is he does not seek attention and is not interested in political issues. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chose him even when other generals have served longer in the army.

This has happened before. Earlier prime ministers have chosen less-senior generals because they believed they were not interested in removing the civilian government. But that has not always been the case.

Years ago, then-Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto named General Zia ul-Haq over other, more experienced generals. But the general led a military rebellion against Bhutto and executed him.

More recently, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif named General Pervez Musharraf as army chief. Musharraf ousted Sharif in 1999 and sent him into exile.

Tensions between the civilian and military leadership increased in October after a Pakistani newspaper reported on an argument between the two sides at a national security meeting.

Pakistani officials said the report was not true. But the newspaper said that it was.

The daily English language paper, The Dawn, said the civilian leaders gave a warning to military officials at the meeting. They said that if the military did not stop supporting militants in Afghanistan and India, Pakistan would face international isolation.

The military leadership was reportedly angry about the story. They reportedly believe a civilian gave information about the meeting to the newspaper. Investigators are trying to find out who leaked information to The Dawn.

Whether General Bajwa continues the investigation with the same strength as the former army chief may show what kind of relationship he wants to have with Pakistan’s civilian leadership.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Ayeesha Tanzeem reported this story from Islamabad for Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

senior – adj. higher in standing or rank than another person in the same position

isolation – n. the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others; the condition of being isolated

leak – v. to give (secret information) to someone so that it becomes known to the public