He will have to adapt his military policy to next year’s US military evacuation from neighboring Afghanistan leaving a dangerous void.
Pakistan has been inextricably bound up in the 12-year US-led war in Afghanistan against al Qaeda and its ally Taliban, both of which used Pakistan’s lawless tribal territories as rear bases for their war on coalition forces.
Sharif is anxious to be rid of Taliban, whose expanding terrorist operations are threatening his government’s stability, and wants to push them over into Afghanistan. In particular, he would like to clear them out of the northern and western border districts, where Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri has set up his central command.
To achieve this goal, the Pakistani government must reach terms with Taliban leaders for their cooperation.
It finds Beijing pulling away from its alliance with Tehran and aligning more firmly with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to counteract the rising US-Iranian influence in Kabul.
Gen. Sharif will have to decide whether to allow it to go on and how much leeway he is willing to grant Saudi undercover agencies.
The outgoing chief of staff, the charismatic Gen. Pervez Kayani, managed during his six-year term for the first time to keep Pakistan’s armed forces clear of Pakistan’s endemic political wars, the bane of this nation of 180 million.
Many eyes are watching to see whether or not the new chief of staff will continue his predecessor’s policy of tacitly approving the clandestine relations between military intelligence and Islamist terrorist movements.