Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, once ousted in a coup, moved to increase civilian control over the military in naming a U.K.-educated general seen as apolitical to head the nuclear-armed country’s army.
General Raheel Sharif, no relation to the prime minister, will replace Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who served during a six-year period in which Pakistan saw the first transfer of power between elected civilian governments in its 66-year history. Nawaz Sharif was ousted in a 1999 coup and resurrected his career with an election win in May.
“Sharif is trying to tip the balance in favor of the civilians,” Muhammad Waseem, a political science professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, said by phone. “Political leaders looked at Kayani as the point man in foreign and defense policy. Sharif’s government is trying to get the initiative back to some extent.”
The Quetta-born general takes charge as Sharif’s five-month-old government seeks talks with pro-Taliban militants to end a decade-long insurgency as the U.S. reduces troop levels in neighboring Afghanistan. The violence has contributed to an economic slump that prompted the government to secure a $6.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Raheel Sharif, 57, once commanded two infantry units in the disputed region of Kashmir along the Indian border and oversaw training of Pakistan’s army, according to a biography posted on Twitter by army spokesman Asim Bajwa. He holds degrees from the Royal College of Defence Studies in London and the Canadian Army Command and Staff College, it said.
“He is an apolitical person and I have never heard him speak in public,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based independent security analyst who formerly taught at Columbia University in New York. “Outside the military circle his friendship is just personal and nothing else. He is totally a military man.”
In selecting Raheel Sharif, the prime minister bypassed Lieutenant General Haroon Aslam, who was previously outranked only by Kayani. Aslam resigned today after he didn’t get the job, GEO television reported, citing unidentified people.
In other appointments, General Rashid Mahmood was named chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and Khawaja Asif was given the additional role of defense minister, according to a government statement.
Pakistan’s military has ruled the country of 193 million people for more than half of its history. Kayani had a three-year term extended in 2010 to ensure continuity in the fight against militants.
Raheel Sharif is “more of a soldier” than an ambitious general seeking to take power, retired General Talat Masood, an Islamabad-based defense analyst, said by phone from the capital. “The relationship between the military and the civilian government will continue to get better.”
The prime minister picks the new army chief with approval from the president, according to Pakistan’s constitution. The president, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the ceremonial head of the state, is required to act on the prime minister’s advice.
During his tenure, Kayani removed soldiers from leadership positions in civilian institutions. When he faced criticism after the U.S. strike that killed Osama bin Laden in the army garrison town of Abbottabad in May 2011, he appeared before parliament to explain why the army had failed to detect either the al-Qaeda leader’s presence or the raid.
During his term, the military also suffered its worst attacks by the country’s Taliban guerrilla movement, including an October 2009 assault that penetrated the perimeter of the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi. Militants in Pakistan killed more than 1,200 civilians, soldiers and police this year in more than 800 incidents from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, including 85 suicide and bomb attacks, according to the Interior Ministry.