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Pakistan's New Army Chief: What it Means for the United States

Author: Daniel S. Markey, Adjunct Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia
December 6, 2013
Los Angeles Times


Pakistan's retiring army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, last week passed the baton of his nation's most powerful institution to Gen. Raheel Sharif. A fresh face at the helm of the Pakistani military undoubtedly raises American hopes for a less frustrating relationship, as the last six years of dealing with Kayani were anything but smooth. Realistically, however, Washington should keep its expectations firmly in check and at least one eye out for trouble.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (no relation to the new army chief) managed the selection process with abundant caution. The three-time prime minister knows from personal experience how dangerous the civil-military game can be. In 1999, his last pick for the top military post, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, forced him from office and into nearly a decade of exile.

And that was hardly the worst fate suffered by a Pakistani prime minister at the hands of his hand-selected army chief. In 1976, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto elevated Gen. Zia ul-Haq, in part because of Zia's apparent disinterest in all things political. But Zia defied expectations and overthrew Bhutto in 1977, then had him hanged two years later.

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