NEW YORK: Leading American newspapers have emphasized new Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s pro-democracy credentials in dispatches on the change of guard at what is regarded as the country’s most powerful institution.
At the same time, tributes were paid to the professionalism of the outgoing chief General (rtd) Raheel Sharif, especially his leadership in fighting terrorism and bringing peace and order to the country.
The New York Times said Gen. Bajwa, a military commander with a “solid soldierly reputation and a firm belief in civilian supremacy”, would be having multiple challenges, including deteriorating relations with neighbouring Afghanistan and India as border clashes escalate, as well as conflict with militants inside Pakistan.
“To what extent 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,” Correspondent Salman Masood wrote from Islamabad. “General (Raheel) Sharif was seen as an overreaching figure in the civilian government,” the Times dispatch noted.
“That larger-than-life reputation raised hopes and expectations of many in a country where people are often wary of politicians,” it said. In recent months, there were surreptitious public campaigns urging General Sharif not to retire …”
The Wall Street Journal said Gen. Raheel Sharif became the first head of the army since 1996 to make way for his successor after completing a standard three-year term.
The Journal said, “Pakistan saw its first civilian transfer of power in 2013, when one elected government succeeded another after completing its term, bringing (Prime Minister Mohammed Nawaz) Sharif to office for a third time.”
Now, with this smooth transition for the top military post, Pakistan is moving toward becoming a more “normal” country, it said.
The Washington Post said Gen. Bajwa has “strong pro-democracy views and might be more open to civilian involvement in foreign and security policy than past army chiefs.”
“Despite (Gen. Raheel) Sharif’s reputation as a professional with no political ambitions, his departure after a three-year term had not been a foregone conclusion,” Post Correspondent Pamela Constable said, noting that in recent months, that there were calls that he stay on the job amid escalating tensions with India.
“It was a familiar temptation that has repeatedly kept Pakistan from evolving as a democracy in the name of safeguarding its stability,” the Post said. “The fact that Gen. Sharif resisted, analysts said, matters far more than the recent frenzy of drawing-room and barracks speculation over who will replace him.”
“Some of the hyper-nationalists, some TV anchors and retired [military] officials wanted him to stay, but he disappointed them,” Saad Mohammed, a retired brigadier, was quoted saying. “He stayed out of politics, he stood up to India, he brought the army out of despondency and he took on the challenge of terrorism that was eating at our vitals. He will go down in history as one of our best and most popular army chiefs.”