Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may appoint Lieutenant General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed as the country’s next Army chief.
As current Army chief General Raheel Sharif will retire on November 29, PM Sharif plans to replace General Sharif with his “own” candidate. According to sources close to the Pakistani Army, the PM may ignore the Army’s recommendations while selecting the next chief.
Lieutenant General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, currently serving as Corps Commander in the eastern city of Multan, served as Director General (Military Operations) and Chief of General Staff (CGS) in the past. Many believe that Ahmed is the ideal candidate for the most powerful position in Pakistan mainly because of his extensive military operations experience against Taliban and al-Qaeda.
He is believed to be the man behind General Raheel’s success on the battlefield. As DGMO, Ahmed formulated the blueprint for ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb’ in tribal regions. “No one understands military operations better than him” is a common refrain based on his performance as a brigadier in Waziristan and major general in Swat. Ahmed’s added advantage is that he is deeply apolitical with temperamental similar to General Sharif’s. However, Ahmed is described by many as being blunt, assertive and straightforward – traits that may not put PM Sharif at ease.
Although Premier Sharif will be picking the Pakistani Army chief for a record fifth time, the job will not be an easy one for him this time. The Army has recommended three more people for leading the country’s ground troops that have a strength of 5,50,000 soldiers.
Lieutenant General Zubair Hayat is another candidate for the Army chief’s post. Served as CGS at the Rawalpindi headquarters in 2015, he worked closely with PM Sharif and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. However, Lieutenant General Hayat, described as a hard working and a keen reader, has not served in any conflict zone.
The PM may not select Lieutenant General Hayat for the top post because of his “close” connection with General (Retired) Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the former Army chief whose protégés gave many sleepless nights to PM Sharif during protests led by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri in 2014. Also, Lieutenant General Hayat replaced Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai, Pakistan’s longest serving head of Strategic Planning Division, which commands the nuclear arsenal, in December 2013. It was not an ideal posting for an Army chief aspirant because it’s held as a non-combat posting.
The third candidate is Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Interestingly, he is posted at the GHQ as Inspector General of Training and Evaluation – a position that was held by General Raheel Sharif before becoming the Army chief. Lieutenant General Bajwa is basically from the infantry’s Baloch Regiment that has given three officers to the post of Army chief – General Yahya Khan, General Aslam Beg and General Kayani. He also has extensive experience of handling affairs in Kashmir and the northern areas of Pakistan. Lieutenant General Bajwa has served with a UN mission in Congo as a Brigade Commander, alongside former Indian Army Chief General Bikram Singh, who was also there as a Division Commander. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s influential ‘Dawn’ daily has reported that Lieutenant General Bajwa, despite his extensive involvement with Kashmir and northern areas, is said to consider extremism a bigger threat for Pakistan than India.
The fourth and last candidate is Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal Ramday. Currently serving as Corps Commander in the southern Bahawalpur city, Lieutenant General Ramday hails from the infantry’s Sind Regiment. Served as General Officer Commanding in Swat during the 2009 military operations there, he got injured in sniper fire aimed at his helicopter by militants in 2011. Later, Lieutenant General Ramday served as the president of Islamabad’s National Defence University. According to sources close to PM Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) party, Lieutenant General Ramday could be the premier’s favourite candidate, given his family’s close association with the ruling party for many years. But some experts say that the same association could also hurt his chances.
The world will have to wait few more hours to know who is going to replace General Sharif, as PM Sharif has kept his cards close to his chest.