Seniority was not the consideration when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promoted and appointed Lt General Raheel Sharif as the new Pakistan army chief on Wednesday ending weeks of speculation. An official statement from the Prime Minister’s office said General Sharif was named as chief of army staff and General Rashad Mehmood as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee(CJCSC) by President Mamnoon Hussain on the advice of Mr. Sharif. He had met the two officers this morning before the appointments were announced. The previous CJCSC General Khalid Shameem Wynne retired in October and Mr. Sharif had said that he would make both top appointments together. The current chief of army staff General Ashfaque Parvez Kayani had a month ago dismissed rumours over his extension and offers of a new post after his retirement.

Lt General Sharif was serving as principal staff officer to General Kayani and Inspector General Training and Evaluation of Pakistan Army, while General Rashid Mehmood was Chief of General Staff. He was number three in seniority after Lt General Mahmood and Lt General Haroon Aslam. However, both Lt General Mahmood and General Aslam have a few months to go before retirement whereas General Sharif is due for it only after three years. He will officially take over from General Kayani on November 29.

General Sharif hails from a traditional military family and is decorated with the Hilal-e-Imtiaz and is the younger brother of 1971 war hero Major Shabbir Sharif who was awarded the Nishan i Haider. He was born in Quetta on 16 June 1956 and studied at the Government College Lahore. He passed out from the Pakistan Military Academy and was commissioned in October 1976 in the sixth Battalion of the Frontier Force Regiment, the same as his older brother. As a young officer, he performed his duties in Gilgit in an Infantry Brigade and also served as Adjutant of Pakistan Military Academy. He did the Company Commander’s Course from Germany and subsequently served in the School of Infantry and Tactics as an instructor. He attended the Command and Staff College, Canada, graduating with distinction. He served as the Brigade Major of an Infantry Brigade and has commanded two infantry units, the 6 Frontier Force Regiment at Kashmir along the Line of Control and the 26 Frontier Force Regiment along the Sialkot Border. He remained on the faculty of the Command and Staff College, Quetta and attended the Armed Forces War Course at National Defence University, Islamabad in 1998.

As a Brigadier, he has commanded two Infantry Brigades, including an Independent Infantry Brigade Group. The General also was the Chief of Staff of the 30 Corps and 12 Corps. He is also a graduate of the prestigious Royal College of Defence Studies, United Kingdom. He has been the General Officer Commanding of an Infantry Division and the Commandant of prestigious Pakistan Military Academy. As a Lieutenant General he served as Corps Commander 30 Corps for two years before taking over as Inspector General Training and Evaluation in which capacity he oversaw the training of Pakistan Army.

“His stewardship resulted in consolidating Pakistan Army’s operational thought and doctrinal response to the much vaunted Cold Start doctrine of the Indian Army,” according to an Inter Services Public Relations press release. The new chief of army staff is married with two sons and a daughter. He is an avid reader and enjoys hunting and swimming. He faces huge internal challenges in dealing with the Taliban and also the Afghanistan situation as it unravels, apart from tensions with India. Former military spokesperson Major General Athar Abbas(retd) who was his batchmate and also served with him at the Quetta staff college, said the new chief of staff is likely to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and will not go for major policy changes specially since decision making in the army is institutional. With reference to the fact that General Sharif is not the senior most, he said the choice of the chief of the staff is at the discretion of the chief executive and there is nothing wrong with that.

General Sharif has all the right credentials, felt Lt General(retd) Talat Masood, chief coordinator of Pugwash and said he was one of the potential candidates. He could be more suited to handle the internal insurgency and a more confident leader, he said. He also brought with him huge experience in training , administration and he is a good commander. He too said that the choice is usually among the top four officers and it was a good decision. It could have been much worse, he pointed out.