ISLAMABAD - A plethora of serious challenges coming from the multiple fronts, both external and internal, awaits in storage for the new military chief to deal with.

The elevation of General Raheel Sharif as country’s 15th Chief of Army Staff (COAS) comes at a time when the force grapples with the toughest times it has ever confronted.

The volatile security situation at the western border, the largely compromised writ of the state in north-western tribal belt, the lately heated Line of Control (LoC) front drawing spars between Pak-Indian militaries cum aberrant Eastern border situation, the ongoing insurgency in Balochistan, the precarious living conditions ruffled with sectarian strife even in the main cities, the role of military-led spy agencies in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations in the particular context of missing persons saga and the administrative adjustments within the Army’s hierarchy are a few factors that bring along enough substance to reason that the throne of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment has a host of thorny areas to step onto.

Noticeably, the foremost challenge to the army chief involves the military establishment’s vague and questionable role in the missing persons episode. While the Supreme Court takes strong exception to the apparently exceeding highhandedness of the intelligence agencies in dealing with the terror suspects by means of keeping them under unauthorised and unlawful detentions for months and even for years, the military has so far acted in defiance instead of showing compliance with the SC orders to produce captives before the court. A retired general believes, the missing persons issue is a ‘litmus test’ for General Raheel Sharif. Whether he gets to ‘tame’ the intelligence agencies to make them work within their legal and constitutional domain, would shape the future course of his authority over the armed force, argues Lt-General (r) Talat Masood.

Although, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday gave a breather to the intelligence agencies by conveying his promise to the apex court about a ‘good news’ with regard to the missing persons by today (Friday), the SC unrelenting disposition is likely to prevail unless the security agencies offer full compliance. “The SC has taken a principled position and is not ready to budge. It’s the security apparatus that has to mend its ways,” Masood believes. The generally negative public opinion and political opposition against the Frontier Corps (FC) style of functioning in Balochistan is also directly linked to the missing persons issue.

Although, the militant violence in the province has been on a calm lately, the multiple terror attempts on military’s relief convoys in the earthquake belt of Awaran district plainly manifest that the situation can turn volatile anytime in the insurgency plagued province

On the security front, one of the major criticism on the new COAS is that he was not involved in the military’s operational business for more than a year ever since he was replaced as Corps Commander Gujranwala and appointed as Inspector General Training & Evaluation (IG T&E) in September last year. A pertinent argument offered in this context is that for someone who has never served at a senior position in FATA, PATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, learning the tricks of the trade would be a time consuming process, which, for the time being, could trigger massive security concerns in that region.

On the other hand, the insiders at General Headquarters (GHQ) who interact closely with the army’s top man believe the general had a significant role in dealing with the cross-border Pak-Afghan security issues in his capacity as IG T&E. They recall the arrival of a five-member delegation of the Afghan National Army (ANA) led by the Afghan Defence Minister General Bismillah Khan Muhammadi in January this year whereby Raheel Sharif had played a key role in finalising the proposed training of ANA personnel by the Pakistan Army.

The delegation had stayed in Pakistan for five days and had visited different training facilities. The Pakistan’s military, then, had handed a selection list to the Afghan authorities containing details of the training programmes being offered at its training institutes.

The Afghan delegation had left with a renewed commitment to “enhancing mutual defence cooperation and measures that Afghan National Army and Pakistan Army intend initiating for an enduring training relationship.” The agreed plan, however, has been kept in cold storage following looming hostility at the Pak-Afghan border that adversely affected the ties between the two armies. Now that Sharif is the army chief, how far would he succeed in mending the military ties between ANA and Pakistan Army remains to be seen.

On the eastern border and LoC fronts, the proposed meeting between the Pak-India director generals military operations (DG MOs) has been lately figured high on the political agenda but no word has come from the military on this behalf. Although, the two DG MOs contact with one another on weekly basis every Tuesday, a special meeting for initiating reconciliatory measures is yet to take place. The military insiders say, the new army chief is too busy these days getting preliminary briefings on internal security issues to deal with the external ones.

“The chief needs to settle down before looking into broader set of issues,” an insider says.

Reshuffling the top military personnel would make another difficult exercise for the general. So far, Sharif has made only one major appointment by elevating Lieutenant General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad at the Chief of General Staff (CGS) position. The transfers and postings of the corps commanders seem trickery considering that the commanders of some extremely important corps including, IV Corps (Lahore), V Corps (Karachi), X Corps (Rawalpindi) and XII Corps (Quetta) were appointed by the former COAS General (r) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in the recent past and replacing them immediately without the passage of due time would run in bad taste within the top military hierarchy.