ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister yesterday picked Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa to replace outgoing army chief Raheel Sharif, a popular military leader credited for improving security and driving back Islamist militant groups, his spokesman said. General Bajwa will likely take charge of the world’s sixth-largest army by troop numbers in a formal handover on Tuesday, when General Sharif, who is no relation to prime minister Nawaz Sharif, formally retires. The appointment of Bajwa is expected to help reset fraught relations between the military and the civilian government in a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people.
Meanwhile, four heavily-armed suicide bombers attacked a military facility in northwestern Pakistan yesterday and killed two soldiers, but failed to storm a busy mosque inside, the army said. A splinter group of the Pakistani Taleban, Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan Jamaat-ur-Ahrar (TTP-JA), claimed responsibility for the attack on Ghalani Camp in Mohmand Agency that is part of the lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan.
A spokesman for TTP-JA, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said the Islamist group carried out the raid in an effort to set free fellow militants from custody of the security forces. The militants began their attack at 6 am local time (0100 GMT) and attempted to storm into a mosque where a large number of army recruits were present, the army said. “Wearing suicide jackets they opened fire and tried to rush inside the mosque. They were taken on and contained in the outer courtyard of the mosque,” the military said in a statement.
Two of the attackers were shot dead and two detonated their explosive vests, preventing a “huge disaster”, the army added. Pakistan’s frontier regions, deeply conservative and hard to access due to rough terrain, have long been the sanctuary of fighters from Al-Qaeda, the Taleban and other militant groups.
In 2014, the army launched a major operation in other parts of FATA including North and South Waziristan against insurgents who routinely attacked government officials and civilians.
Most of the myriad militant groups that stage attacks inside Pakistan seek to overthrow the government to establish an Islamic theocracy and impose a stricter interpretation of the religion than is practiced in much of the country. – Reuters