ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ended months of speculation Saturday evening as he announced choosing Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as the new army chief.

Gen Bajwa, an infantryman, has a strict belief in civilian supremacy and has an enlightened, liberal outlook, according to those who know the general personally. The army general does not have a singular, visceral hatred for India. He believes that apart from eastern neighbour, non-state actors are the biggest threat to the country. These convictions of the army chief-designate must have leant heavily on the mind of PM Sharif as he made the crucial appointment.

The prime minister kept his cards close to his chest, delaying the announcement almost till the very end as he gave the outgoing army chief Gen Raheel Sharif a cordial and dignified sendoff. PM Sharif used the last few weeks to discredit all the self-proclaimed military representatives in media effectively and asserted that the buck stops with him. It can be construed as an exhibition of strong nerves and strong optics by the premier.

The outgoing chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, enjoyed immense, unprecedented popularity and it cast a long shadow over the civilian government, leading to high perceptions of a parallel power structure. The huge imbalance in civil-military relations has been a constant source of friction between the two power structures. With Gen Bajwa’s elevation, the prime minister hopes to balance the heavily tilted civ-military equation. How far the new chief remains faithful to his convictions of civilian supremacy remains to be seen, given the overarching influence of the military and its control of the security and foreign policies. In recent days, there was a vicious campaign against Gen Bajwa, casting aspersions over his religious faith. The prime minister has done well to silence those voices.

Gen Bajwa, like his predecessor, comes from a military family. Both his father and father-in-law were army officers; father-in-law retired as a major general.

As per usual practice, after assuming charge, Gen Bajwa will shuffle key appointments, as he will bring his team to the fore.

Gen Bajwa will continue the operations against the non-state actors within the country with the same vigour exhibited by his predecessor. The new chief’s extensive knowledge of the Kashmir frontier and the Line of Control, which has heated up in recent months, will also be invaluable as hostilities with India rise to a sharp new dimension. Gen Bajwa has earlier served as the corps commander of X Corps, which is stationed in Rawalpindi and also deals with Kashmir. Gen Bajwa is a graduate of the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, the Naval Postgraduate School in California, US. He has also commanded a Pakistani contingent in Congo.

Lt Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat, the newly appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, was always thought to be the choice for the post. Unlike the popular perception, the CJCSC is not just a ceremonial position. CJCSC controls the Strategic Plans Division, which is the secretariat of the National Command Authority and manages all aspects of the country’s nuclear, missile and space programme. Gen Hayat has already served as the DG for Strategic Plans Division for a relatively short stint and was then posted out to the all-important position of Chief of the General Staff, which is second only to the army chief.

The other two contenders for the army chief were Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem and Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday. Lt Gen Nadeem has as impressive military resume as it can get. But his hard-charging reputation and the impression that he was Gen Raheel’s preferred choice was his undoing. Lt Gen Ramday has had close family links with the Sharifs and – despite that comfort level— there was an enormous political cost to pay if he was elevated. A political government already embroiled in a lingering political crisis could not afford to provide further ammunition to its political opponents apart from creating an even more unfavourable impression within the military.