Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced today that Lt. Gen. Raheel Sharif will succeed Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as Pakistan’s powerful chief of army staff. Kayani, who will retire on Nov. 29 after a six-year tenure, commanded the Pakistani army through a tumultuous time in the country’s history, which included Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s clash with the Supreme Court, imposition of emergency rule and forced ouster; a complex and violent insurgency; antagonism with the U.S.; and economic uncertainty. Kayani was instrumental in transforming the army, enabling it to better cope with current and emerging security threats. He also distanced the army from politics after a decade of military rule. So what does the end of the Kayani era mean for the Pakistani armed forces?
Kayani took over at a time when the military was unpopular after Musharraf’s decade-long dictatorship and lacked public support for fighting the U.S.-backed war on terror. The military’s ranks also suffered from demoralization as the Pakistani Taliban expanded their control; on numerous occasions soldiers simply surrendered to insurgents. As the top military commander, Kayani displayed a commitment to re-professionalizing the armed forces, building morale and focusing on fighting the Pakistani Taliban.
One of Kayani’s first moves was to withdraw military officers from positions in the civil bureaucracy, a major step in distancing the army from the civilian spheres of politics and governance. He then declared 2008 the “Year of the Soldier” and 2009 the “Year of Military Training.” The programs sought to improve solider's lives, build morale and equip a conventional army with tools to fight an irregular war. The military leadership also introduced training programs in counterinsurgency and low-intensity conflict. This was followed by a significant development this year, when the army pronounced homegrown militancy—and not India—as Pakistan's biggest security risk. While Kayani also increased the army’s India-focused conventional capabilities, this public announcement illustrated that the military’s threat perception had evolved.