ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan on Saturday chose Lt. Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, a military commander with a solid soldierly reputation and a firm belief in civilian supremacy, to lead the country’s powerful army.
General Bajwa replaces Gen. Raheel Sharif, an immensely popular commander in Pakistan for his successes against Taliban militants. General Bajwa will take charge this coming week when General Sharif’s retires, the prime minister’s office said on Saturday evening.
The new army chief faces multiple challenges, including deteriorating relations with neighboring Afghanistan and archrival India as border clashes escalate, as well as conflict with militants within the country. General Bajwa is said to believe that nonstate actors are the biggest threat to the country and that the military should not interfere with civilian structures, according to those who know him.
How far General Bajwa will stay true to those convictions remains to be seen in a country where the military wields tremendous power and drives security and foreign policy.
General Bajwa was most recently inspector general of training and evaluation at the military’s general headquarters. He is a graduate of the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, the Naval Postgraduate School in California and the National Defense University in Islamabad. He also commanded the army’s X Corps, which is based in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and looks after the Kashmir region.
The appointment ended months of speculation on the future of General Sharif, who is not related to the prime minister. General Sharif, who will retire on Tuesday, announced in January that he would retire on time, but for the past few months speculation swirled that his term might be extended. Two other former army chiefs, Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, stayed on beyond their terms.
While making the announcement, Prime Minister Sharif also announced the promotion of Lt. Gen. Zubair Mahmood Hayat to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
In appointing General Bajwa, Mr. Sharif passed over two senior generals, including Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem, who was believed to be the choice of General Sharif and has the reputation of being a hard-charging general.
General Sharif’s stature and popularity rose to unparalleled levels as the military consolidated its grip on power and overshadowed Pakistan’s civilian government. Almost all army chiefs are revered here, but General Sharif enjoyed an unprecedented public adulation because of his successes against Taliban militants in the country’s northwest. His popularity was also partly because of savvy publicity campaigns by the military’s media wing.
That larger-than-life reputation raised hopes and expectations of many in the country, where people are often wary of politicians, regarding them as inept and corrupt. In recent months, there were surreptitious public campaigns urging General Sharif not to retire, but to instead take control of the government.
“The long drawn-out controversy over his succession is a natural consequence of Pakistan’s complicated civil-military history,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, a columnist for The News, an English-language newspaper.
“In the long run, General Sharif will be remembered for escalating the war against anti-state terrorists that had been emboldened by almost a decade of Pakistani passivity,” Mr. Zaidi said. The military’s heightened standing under the general, he said, has been “a result of the military dedicating itself to what Pakistanis expect from their military: to fight off enemies, domestic and foreign.”
Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a retired lieutenant general who has served as defense secretary and a corps commander, said of the departing army chief, “He leaves a legacy of clear thinking, rapid decision making, and in spite of his tremendous popularity in the public, he stuck to his mandate and never overstepped his limits.”
“Some bloated expectations from him were never reasonable if he had to remain within constitutional limits, which he did,” Mr. Lodhi said, referring to the voices in the country that urged the general to take control as Prime Minister Sharif grappled with charges of corruption and fraud in the last general election.
Mr. Zaidi, the columnist, added that General Sharif would leave behind a mixed legacy on relations with elected leaders. “His successor will inherit that mixed legacy,” he said, and with it the burden of transforming the relationship between civilian and military structures in the country.
“However, perhaps most importantly, he will inherit the burden of the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba as reminders of the long road Pakistan must continue to tread on the path to a total and comprehensive victory against nonstate violent actors,” Mr. Zaidi said, referring to militant groups that have launched attacks in Afghanistan and India.
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