Pakistan shuffles army, India awaits chief

By: The Telegraph Calcutta
Updated: 14 Dec 2016 03:40 PM
NEW DELHI: Pakistan has retired and reshuffled its generals while India's army continues to play a guess-game.

General Raheel Sharif retired as chief on schedule and General Qamar Javed Bajwa has moved into his office at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's choice.

There is irony there because India's army chief, General Dalbir Singh Suhag, is scheduled to retire at the end of this month. But his successor has not yet been announced. Usually the name of a military chief is announced at least two months before his appointment.

If the Modi government abides by the seniority principle, Suhag's successor would be Gen. Praveen Bakshi of the armoured corps, currently the eastern army commander headquartered in Fort William, Calcutta.

In Pakistan, Bajwa has quickly brought into place his men. Among the first of them is Lt Gen. Naveed Mukhtar, who is heading the ISI. He has replaced Lt Gen. Rizwan Akhtar, who has been assigned to head a military academy.

The head of the ISI is always of interest to India as New Delhi has alleged that the spy agency is regularly sponsoring terrorist attacks.

Lt Gen. Naveed Mukhtar is a counter-terrorism specialist. He headed the "C" - counter-terrorism branch - of the ISI earlier. He is an armoured corps' officer, a tankman.

Lt Gen. Mukhtar has headed the V corps headquartered in Karachi. He led "clean-up operations" in the Pakistan port city against both fundamentalist elements as well as the political Opposition in the MQM.

His dissertation at a US college is much cited. He has argued in it that India must be kept out of Afghanistan. If his academic work is a reflection of his mindset, the ISI, under its new chief, will try to distance Kabul and Delhi in a way that Narendra Modi and Ashraf Ghani cannot embrace at the Heart of Asia summit in Amritsar again.

Gen. Bajwa's decision to replace the ISI chief could portend fresh attempts by Islamabad to rework fraught ties with the US and send domestic signals, officials said.

Officially, the Indian government has not commented on the changes in the leadership of the ISI. But Indian officials have said earlier this month that they will evaluate the changes in the Pakistan military establishment's leadership by any shifts these tweaks in personnel bring to that country's action on terrorism.

"Changes of the army chief etc are internal matters of Pakistan, but we will judge Pakistan by its behaviour and its track record and not by its personnel changes," foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup had said on December 1.