The run-up to the appointment of the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS), after the retirement of incumbent General Kayani, was an opportunity for a cacophony of voices to rise, lobbying specific candidates and pitching favourites. Lt General Raheel Sharif’s nomination for COAS by the PM, and subsequent confirmation by the President, put a stunned end to the speculation. The Prime Minister seems to have been content to let the debate continue, and waited till the last day — something he was also roundly criticised for, as well — to announce his final candidate.

Given that Lt Gen Raheel Sharif’s predecessors have changed the course of history in Pakistan — arguably for the worse — it is only understandable why this appointment was so closely scrutinized; even more so because the last person Nawaz elevated to this position ended up ousting him and established military rule in the country. Lt Gen Sharif’s rise in the ranks has been steady, and it is encouraging that he is most widely known to have worked closely on transforming the strategic policy of the country to shift attention from the rivalry with India, to include threats from militant organizations within the country.

The traditional warfare which armies are trained for is no longer the main priority, with the growth of militancy and terrorism. Chief-designate Sharif inherits troops fighting a battle taxing not only for their physical strength, but which also manifests itself as a conflict of identity, when faced with an enemy who wages war in the name of the faith the armed forces are sworn to defend as part of their training. His next few public appearances and the words in which he chooses to address the rank and file, will be examined word by word, to try and glean the direction in which he would like to lead the armed forces. Of course, the very fact that the Chief of Army Staff’s routine appointment merits so much attention in Pakistan is testament to history, and the four times Army Chiefs defied their oaths while in uniform, and overstepped their constitutional bounds, to disastrous effect every time.

The new Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee has also been announced. Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood will assume the charge. The post once again falls to an Army man, a tradition that has been significant for the control of the Strategic Plans Division that falls under it. Naval Chief Asif Sandhela was pipped for the post, but it appears once again the Army will head the all-important SPD, which controls the country’s nuclear assets.