Rawalpindi: The new head of Pakistan’s army takes over Tuesday as tensions have jumped with arch-rival India over disputed Kashmir and as ties with Afghanistan remain rocky.
General Qamar Javed Bajwa will be installed at a ceremony in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, replacing General Raheel Sharif, who steps down after completing his three-year term during which the military launched several operations against al-Qaida, Taliban and local militants to dismantle their sanctuaries near Afghanistan and elsewhere in the country.
Bajwa was fourth in seniority on a list of five army generals sent to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and had been little discussed until Sharif picked him. According to the constitution, the prime minister can pick any officer from the list forwarded to him by the defence ministry.
The change in command takes place when the outgoing army chief publicly gives his “Malacca stick” to his successor at a ceremony which is witnessed by civilian and military leaders, and diplomats.
The Malacca baton, which is made of bamboo produced in Singapore, is part of the Pakistan army uniform. The change in command has taken place this way starting in the British colonial days. Pakistan became independent in 1947 when Britain gave independence to Pakistan and India, although the military has ruled this Islamic nation for nearly half of the time since then.
Tuesday’s ceremony in Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad comes as tensions have climbed between Pakistan and neighbouring India over Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan region which is divided between the two nuclear-armed rivals and claimed by both.
Pakistan and India have been working with reduced number of diplomats in each other’s capitals for the past several weeks when both sides withdrew some of their diplomats amid tension over Kashmir.
Observers believe Bajwa will offer more support to Sharif’s efforts to improve ties with Pakistan’s neighbours, including Afghanistan and India. Pakistan’s relations with Kabul have also soured amid allegations from Afghan officials that Islamabad shelters the Taliban, who have intensified attacks against the government of president Ashraf Ghani.
Pakistan’s army says it has dismantled many militant sanctuaries in the tribal regions, but the militants have still been able to carry out high-profile attacks. Bajwa, who was commissioned in the 16 Baloch Regiment in October 1980, is a graduate of Canadian Forces Command and Staff College in Canada, and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. AP