News / Asia

Pakistan Names Army Chief Successor

Pakistan's Lieutenant-General Raheel Sharif attends a military exercise in Khairpure Tamay Wali in Bahawalpur district, Nov. 4, 2013.
Pakistan's Lieutenant-General Raheel Sharif attends a military exercise in Khairpure Tamay Wali in Bahawalpur district, Nov. 4, 2013.
Ayaz Gul
Pakistan’s prime minister has named a replacement for army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, ending weeks of media speculation and anxiety within the country prompted by an unprecedented delay in the announcement. 

The prime minister’s office, in a brief statement, said that General Raheel Sharif has been promoted and appointed as the new Chief of Army Staff, the most powerful post in Pakistan.

The new commander, who is not related to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, will take charge of the world’s sixth largest military on Friday when its incumbent chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, retires.

Wednesday’s announcement came as Pakistan faces an increasingly violent insurgency by Islamist militants, commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban. The army has conducted major operations to uproot bases of these extremists, who are mainly entrenched in the northwestern tribal belt near the Afghan border.

The 57-year-old General Sharif is a career infantry officer and is said to have played a key role in reshaping the army’s counterterrorism strategy.

Former general Athar Abbas, who was the army spokesman before retiring early last year, told VOA he does not foresee any major policy shift under the new leadership in terms of dealing with domestic or external threats facing Pakistan.

“Since everybody remains on board, there is a great discussion, debate before adopting or taking such policy decisions, so, therefore most likely the policy continues with minor or insignificant changes here and there [because] major policy decisions have been taken [and] there is unlikelihood of these getting changed,” Abbas stated.

It is a tradition in Pakistan that the name of the new army chief is officially known a couple of months before he assumes the post.  However, this time Prime Minister Sharif made the announcement just days before the incumbent army chief retires.

While there is no official explanation for the delay, observers believe the prime minister took time apparently to avoid repetition of the events of 1999, when his hand-picked army chief at the time, General Pervez Musharraf, ousted Sharif’s elected government in a bloodless military coup.

Some analysts are of the view that army chiefs in Pakistan do not do the bidding of the civilian leadership but are driven by their institution first.  Former army spokesman Abbas said that any delay in making such sensitive appointments undermines morale of the armed forces.

“I think it would have been better had they announced about two months back so that the new army chief was in a better position to take a stock of the situation, take his commanders in confidence, I mean a very clear sight of the challenges that are likely to be faced," said Abbas. "Yes, there was an anxiety in the army and since it was delayed unnecessarily so therefore it really gave birth to a lot of speculations.”

While NATO forces are reducing their presence in neighboring Afghanistan, there is no letup in the Taliban-led insurgency.  Abbas said the continued instability on the Afghan side of the mostly porous border remains a major challenge to Pakistan’s gains in counterterrorism.  He says that in addition to dealing with the internal insurgency, the new military chief will also need to better coordinate efforts with international forces in Afghanistan.

“This remains a great challenge because the situation in Afghanistan is likely to have great impact on this side of the border, and the army chief in the past was intensely involved along with the government, with the [Afghan] reconciliation [process], dealing with the ISAF officials and Afghan officials. So, this will become a great challenge for the new military chief,” noted Abbas.

Pakistan's military is accused of maintaining ties with the Afghan Taliban, and Islamabad's role in bringing leaders of the insurgency to the table for peace talks with the Kabul government is considered vital.

Pakistan’s military tensions with rival India over the disputed Kashmir region have also been running high in recent weeks, posing another major challenge for the new army chief to deal with. General Sharif's brother was one of the army’s most decorated soldiers and was killed in the 1971 war with India.

Pakistan has experienced several military coups since its creation in 1947 and the army continues to influence the country’s key foreign policy matters. The army’s alleged links to militant groups active both in Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir have long been a source of domestic and international criticism.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs