The wait is over, and the nation has a new Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee in the shape of Gen Zubair Hayat and a new Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in Gen Qamar Zia Bajwa. The bated breath was because the latter’s predecessor, Gen Raheel Sharif, did not take over. It should be noted that General Bajwa is the third COAS after the last to take over, Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Though at the moment it is assumed to be a triumph of democracy, and there are no cries for him to take over, General Bajwa will be called on sooner rather than later to take power. However, those making that call should realise that a COAS does not impose martial law because he wishes it, but because the officer corps as a whole wishes it.

There was a time when the COAS provided leadership and guidance in this matter, but now it is more that he is a follower. If General Raheel did not impose martial law, it is because the officer corps as a whole did not wish to, or rather did not wish enough. The fate of a COAS who did not impose Martial Law even though the officer corps wanted him to, would be an avalanche of reports of disquiet by the intelligence agencies. There is no precedent in the Army, but a head of the PAF was forced to leave after his officers began speaking adversely about him to each other in the air.

However, it is easier to watch one person, the COAS, than the entire officer corps. The new COAS, then, will be watched as closely as his predecessor. The importance of the COAS is not due for a decline, because it should be remembered that there were four COASs between Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf, while Bajwa is only the third since Musharraf. There will have to be more transitions of this sort before civilian jitters die down.

Already, the standard encomia are being showered on the new man in, even though they are not really compliments. For example, to praise someone as a ‘thorough professional’ is not much of a compliment. One would be very surprised if someone who had spent 34 years of commissioned service and risen to the rank of lieutenant-general, was not a ‘through professional’. However, the chorus of praise is considered the due of every new COAS, and is not a special contribution of the Director-General of Inter-Services Public Relations, who is a fellow clansman, Lt Gen Asim Bajwa.

That the new chief is not just a Jat, but one who almost aggressively identifies himself as one, is not that much of a surprise. The British have traditionally recruited from the Jat tribes, though they principally recruited Sikhs. Though the first Jat to become COAS in Pakistan, General Bajwa is the third successive COAS to come from a military background. He is the son of an officer, now deceased, who had retired as a lieutenant-colonel. His predecessor. General Raheel, was the son of a major, though he was also the younger brother of Major Shabbir Sharif, the 1971 SJ, and the nephew of Major Aziz Bhatti, the 1965 SJ. Before him, Gen Ashfaque Pevez Kiani had been the son of a JCO. General Bajwa’s father-in-law was also a military man, having retired as a major-general.

In this respect, the new Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Zubair Hayat, is perhaps one-up, for he is the son, not just son-in-law, of a major-general. Though from the same batch, he was Chief of General Staff, and marginally better placed to become COAS. Instead, it seems he got a consolation prize, which is what the Chairmanship has apparently become. It was supposed to rotate among the three services when it was originally founded, but apart from a brief period under President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, when it was held successively by a naval officer and a PAF officer, it has evolved into a sort of consolation prize for a lieutenant-general who did not make COAS. Though it does not carry the command of troops, it does carry four-star rank, and is the senior slot.

The new COAS may be a Jat by birth, but he is a Baluch by virtue of being commissioned into the Baluch Regiment. The new Chairman, on the other hand, is a gunner. The last gunner to attain four-star rank was Pervez Musharraf, but while his regimental stint included long periods in the SSG, General Zubair spent his regimental time in his parent unit.

There have been three previous officers from the Baluch Regiment to become COAS. It might be significant for readers of tea-leaves that the first, Yahya Khan, became COAS, but since the next was Gen Aslam Beg, who carefully refrained. While maintaining a high profile, he stayed out of politics.

Probably of more significance is his having served extensively in 10 Corps, which is directly responsible for the LoC. He has not just been its Commander, but has been its G1 as a lieutenant-colonel. His orientation is thus important in the present context of virtually daily violations of the Line of Control by Indian forces. He has no direct experience of the War on Terror, though in his current assignment, Inspector-General Training and Evaluation, also the one his predecessor had before he became COAS, he would have become intimately acquainted with the demands it was placing on the troops.

There is much that a COAS might do without taking over, because foreign and national security policies are made by the military, which means with him, or at least his approval. The heavy involvement of the military is probably why there is a perception that the present government has bent over backwards to accommodate the military. The military in all countries plays a major role in foreign policy, because that impinges so heavily on defence policy. For example, Pakistan must keep on the right side of France because it supplies so many weapons platforms. The alternative is to develop indigenous defence production, or find other suppliers. Looking at the policies of the outgoing COAS that the new man in is supposed to maintain, like Operation Zarb-i-Azb, the National Action Plan and the Karachi operation, one finds a number of political decisions.

However, letting General Muharraf avoid trial for high treason shows how the military is supposed to make the civilian government do what it says. It is unlikely that Bajwa will rock the boat, and the assumption that it is his boat to rock is carrying things too far. Mian Nawaz (and other politicians) should realise that what matters is the officer corps as a whole, not just the individual chosen to command it.

There is, however, one time when the COAS is expected by his subordinates to provide a lead, and that is in wartime. General Bajwa, being commissioned in 1982, has no experience of war, but having been the Force Commander Northern Areas, which includes the Siachen theatre, and Corps Commander 10 Corps, has experienced a lot of shooting. He would realise that every commander always lives with the fear of defeat. Famously, Gen Eisenhower drafted a ‘defeat’ statement on the day of D-Day for if the landings failed. Also, in a time of conflict, the role of the Chairman JCSC is enhanced. General Raheel might have turned out to have left office just in time to preserve his military reputation, not just prove his commitment to democracy.