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Testing times for new Pak army chief as forces working to undermine him

Islamabad [Pakistan]: Having superseded six senior officers to be appointed Pakistan’s 16th Chief of Army Staff (COAS) by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, many would have thought that General Qamar Javed Bajwa would ease into the all powerful position, but contrary to expectation, it seems that his immediate future is rocky as powerful forces are working to undermine him.

According to well placed sources, not only are there forces within the Pakistani political and military establishment who are unhappy with his appointment and are working to undermine him, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who appointed him the COAS, is also expected to prevent him from becoming too powerful and not allow him to overshadow the civilian leadership like his predecessor General Raheel Sharif.

The first indication of this came within hours of his appointment when he went to meet Prime Minister Sharif and had to pass through a metal detector test like any other visitor, something unheard of when it comes to an army chief of Pakistan.

Sources say this was a sure sign that General Bajwa was being “shown his place” by the Prime Minister.

Sources have also said that General Bajwa was definitely not the choice of General Raheel Sharif, who over the years, had emerged as a larger than life personality, an image created by an overactive Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), revered by the ordinary Pakistani and supported by the country’s Islamic extremist leaders.

Undoubtedly, the new COAS is expected to face resistance from officers within the army supporting General Raheel Sharif. There are also reports indicating that many religious extremist groups supported by the army were not in favour of General Bajwa’s appointment.

Forces working to undercut General Bajwa and unlikely to work in tandem with him; have already been quick to unsettle the new incumbent. Therefore, immediately after he was named COAS, a media campaign was launched across the country on his Ahmadiyya connections through marriage.

As is well known, the Ahmadiyyas have been declared non-Muslims by a law passed in 1974 and are regularly persecuted by Pakistan’s majority Sunni population.

Though attempts were made later to deny these claims, the damage has already been done. In Pakistan’s increasingly radicalised society, it would be unthinkable for the country’s COAS to have any links to ‘Kafirs’.

And to make matters worse, immediately after media reports on General Bajwa’s Ahmadiyya links, on December 5, Prime Minister Sharif approved of a plan to rename the Physics Department of the Quaid-e-Azam University as the Dr.Abdus Salam Centre for Physics, in the memory of Pakistan’s only Nobel Laureate and an Ahmadiyya.

The government’s late but sudden recognition of Dr. Abdus Salam, who moved from Pakistan to the United Kingdom in protest, after the 1974 law declaring Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslims, only left many speculating as to whether more such ‘anti-Islamic’ steps were in store, especially with a COAS who was positively inclined to the Ahmadiyyas.

The backlash against the Ahmadiyya community was immediate as the same day that the Prime Minister recognised the contribution of Dr. Salam, a team from the counter-terrorism department of the Punjab police raided the publication office of the Tehrik-e-Jihad, the Ahmadiyya community magazine in the town Rabwah and closed it down.

The team confiscated all laptops, mobile phones, disabled CCTV cameras and arrested three members of the community. Again on December 13, an Ahmadiyya Mosque in Chakwal, Punjab, was attacked and burnt by a mob of more than 1000 Sunnis. In the incident, one Ahmadiyya was killed and many others were injured.

While these incidents can be dismissed as unrelated to General Bajwa’s elevation as COAS, when viewed along with the ongoing media campaign to portray him as weaker than his predecessor General Raheel Sharif, a pattern does emerge.

Publicizing the COAS’s family links to the Ahmadiyya sect at once raises doubts about his credentials as a ‘true Muslim’ among the influential extremist Islamic groups in the country, many of whom are used by the army to pursue their own agenda.

Thus, a situation has been created wherein the COAS has begun his innings on the back foot and would probably spend the coming months just trying to prove his credentials as a professional soldier and a Muslim. (ANI)