Pakistan named infantry commander Lieutenant-General Raheel Sharif as its new army chief, as the country grapples with several domestic and regional security challenges.
Appointed on Wednesday. Sharif will begin his command on Thursday, succeeding General Ashfaq Kayani in heading the nuclear-armed nation’s a 600,000-troops military.
Kayani retires after six years of filling the post.
As the most powerful figure in the South Asian country, Sharif is expected to handle a set of challenges including six-year insurgency by homegrown Taliban fighters, that has reaped the lives of thousands.
Strained ties with India and the nearing pullout of most Western troops from neighbouring Afghanistan after a twelve-year mission will also be among his top responsibilities.
While little is known about Sharif outside military circles, defence analyst Talat Masood, a retired general, said he represented “continuity” with the Kayani era, according to Agence France Presse.
Through Sharif’s appointment, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hopes to avoid being overthrown again, as the last army chief he named, General Pervez Musharraf, ousted him in a coup in 1999.
Nawaz also hopes to curb the influence of the army in the political arena.
“Nawaz should know that whether it is Raheel Sharif or someone else as army chief, he won’t do the PM’s bidding – he will be driven by the institution first and last,” security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told Reuters.
Taliban recently named hardline cleric Maulana Fazlullah as their new chief after his predecessor was killed by a US drone, triggering fears of a fresh spate of violent attacks by the armed groups’ insurgency.