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Pakistan names Sharif as new army chief

Veteran infantry commander promoted to the most powerful position in Pakistan.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan named a new army chief yesterday, promoting a veteran infantry commander to the most powerful position in the troubled nuclear-armed nation battling a homegrown Taliban insurgency.

General Raheel Sharif will take over as head of the 600,000-strong army from General Ashfaq Kayani, who is retiring after six years at the helm.

The change of command comes with the country facing a daunting array of challenges – the six-year Taliban campaign which has claimed thousands of lives, vexed relations with India and the winding-down of the 12-year Nato mission in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Gen Sharif, a veteran infantry commander whose elder brother won Pakistan’s highest military award for valour in the 1971 war with India, will formally take command today.

A message from the office of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif confirmed Gen Sharif had been made chief of the army staff and General Rashid Mehmood had been made chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee.

The prime minister’s statement also named Khwaja Asif, the minister for water and power, as the new defence minister. The post had been vacant since the May general election.

Departing commander Kayani has served as army chief since 2007 and has been given much credit for resisting the temptation to meddle overtly in politics.

When he confirmed his retirement last month he stressed that the armed forces “fully support and want to strengthen” democracy.

The general election in May marked a major landmark for Pakistani democracy as being the first time an elected government had completed its term and handed over power through the ballot box.

Prime Minister Sharif will be hoping to avoid a repeat of events the last time he named an army chief – General Pervez Musharraf overthrew him in a coup in 1999.

Retired general Talat Masood, a defence analyst, said Gen Sharif represented “continuity” with the Kayani era and would bring “good knowledge of counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism” to the role.

There has been much debate about how to deal with the campaign of violence waged against the state by the Pakistani Taliban.

The government has said it wants to pursue peace talks, but some have argued that a military offensive is needed to clear militant hideouts in the tribal northwest.

Analyst Hasan Askari said he thought the new commander would take an uncompromising approach.

“He belongs to a family of soldiers, his father was a martyr, his brother was honoured with the highest military award, so I expect he will go for the extremist groups and clear the tribal areas,” Mr Askari said.

Gen Sharif, 57, was commissioned into the Frontier Force Regiment in 1976 and has commanded numerous infantry units including two on the sensitive border with India.

* Agence France-Presse

Updated: November 27, 2013 04:00 AM

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