Suspense over who would succeed Pakistan chief of army staff, Raheel Sharif ended Saturday after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif elevated Lt General Qamar Javed Bajwa to the position. The promotion, however, was not without its share of controversy as a section of Pakistani hardliners opposed Bajwa’s selection. Led by Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith senator Sajid Mir, mullahs of both Sunni and Shia faith strongly objected to Bajwa taking over the reins from Sharif. Their argument: one of Bajwa’s relative is an Ahmadi. Followers of the Ahmadiyya sect in Pakistan have been persecuted for their religious beliefs down the years.
Often referred to as kafirs or non-believers, Ahmadis are prohibited by law to identify themselves as Muslims. The law was enacted in 1984 after the National Assembly ratified it. This forced the fourth caliph of the Ahmadiyya sect to shift his base to London as he was unable to perform his duties under the severe restrictions imposed by the Pakistani government. Human rights activists Kashif Chaudhry, who is based in the United States, described in an article for The Nation, what it means to be an Ahmadi living in Pakistan.
“Like us Muslims in America, members of the Ahmadiyya sect (who are forcibly denied the Muslim identity) in Pakistan are also a misunderstood minority faith group. Their patriotism is also questioned by the right wing – and to a far greater extent. They are depicted as “traitors” of Islam and Pakistan, often by mainstream Sunni and Shia clerics. Unfortunately, unlike the United States, their is no political party or segment of mainstream media that comes to their rescue. Their marginalization and “otherness” has been normalized over the last four decades,” he wrote.
As history would suggest, when reports first began to surface that Bajwa was in the running for the top post, he was subjected to a vilification campaign on social media in an attempt to disqualify him. Nawaz Sharif selection is being seen as an attempt to restore civilian oversight over the world’s sixth largest army, which has enjoyed a free hand until now. Also, Bajwa is considered to be an expert in Kashmir. He had previously led the Force Command Northern Areas, which is responsible for northern areas of Kashmir, including the Siachen glacier. His low-profile image also reportedly helped him land the job. A senior Pakistan army officer, who served under Lt General Bajwa in 10 Corps, told The Sunday Express that the chief-designate was “not a hardliner”, rather a “simple and straight-forward general who is sensibly bold”. Raheel Sharif transfer control to Bajwa in a change of command ceremony on Tuesday. Raheel Sharif will become the first army chief in more than 20 years to step down without getting an extension.