Who is Pakistan’s New Army Chief?

Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s new army chief, faces many challenges including combating religious extremism, resolving the Kashmir dispute and balancing relations with Washington and anti-Western Pakistani political parties.

army-chief-pakistanISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif has been appointed as the new military chief of Pakistan’s army and Lieutenant General Rashad Mahmood as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi on Friday after a major reshuffle took place within the Pakistani military.

General Ashfaq Perviz Kiyani, who retired on November 28, handed over command of the army to Raheel Sharif on Friday.

The change of command occurred at a ceremony held in the Army Hockey Stadium, close to the GHQ in Rawalpindi which was attended by Pakistani federal ministers, services chiefs, diplomats and senior serving and retired officers.

Kiyani thanked and praised military officers and soldiers for their service and sacrifice in protecting the country and playing their role in the “war on terror.” He also paid special tribute to those killed during the “war against extremism” that the country was going through, including the women and children who lost their  lives.

The Chief of Army Staff is the most coveted position in the military due to its control of the intelligence and security services in Pakistan’s 180 million citizens.

Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif, the head of the world’s sixth-largest army, faces enormous internal and external challenges. Tension with arch-rival India over disputed Kashmir is rising over the Line of Control – a boundary which separates the region in two, with one part under Indian sovereignty and one under Pakistani.

Moreover, right-wing political parties like Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and Jamaat-e-Islami are on a strike in northwestern Pakistan demanding the Pakistani government to sideline itself from the US-led war on terror and to stop US drone strikes in Pakistani territory. In the meantime, the United States is seeking Pakistan’s help in bringing peace to Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal of allied forces there in 2014.

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As the new army chief, Sharif will face many challenges including the threat posed by religious extremists in Quetta and Karachi and internal political tensions raised by right-wing Pakistani political parties demanding an end to US drone strikes and holding talks with Taliban insurgents.

Will Sharif continue the fight against the war on terror? If so, he will be tasked to provide safe supply routes to NATO convoys which use Pakistani roads and ports. Sharif  has the daunting task of simultaneously satisfying the demands of Washington and conservative parties in Pakistan who want a reduced Western influence in the country.

Additionally Sharif has to make important decisions on Kashmir with India and tackle religious radicalism in Karachi and Quetta.

Kiyya Qadir Baloch is a freelance Baloch journalist associated with the Daily Times based in Islamabad. He reports on foreign affairs, Baloch insurgency, militancy and sectarian violence in Balochistan. Read other articles by Kiyya.