October 23, 2015 / 2:27 PM / 5 years ago

Ex-general's new role strengthens Pakistani army's hand in talks

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan has appointed a newly retired general as national security advisor, strengthening the powerful military’s role in security policy, talks with archrival India and relations with neighbor Afghanistan, an official said on Friday.

The post had been held by Sartaj Aziz, a civilian who is a close ally of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Aziz has also controlled the portfolio for foreign affairs, which he apparently will retain.

Lieutenant General Naseer Khan Janjua, who retired last week, was appointed national security advisor “with immediate effect”, the Cabinet Division said in a notification.

A senior minister in Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet said army chief General Raheel Sharif had pushed “for many months” for the NSA and foreign minister portfolios to be held by different officials. But the prime minister had preferred to keep his own man, Aziz, in charge of both.

“Now the army chief has convinced the prime minister that they must share the responsibility of Pakistan’s national security concerns,” a second cabinet minister said on Friday.

Both officials requested anonymity in order to speak freely.

Reuters reported last week that the army had successfully pushed to appoint a general as NSA, making it harder for Prime Minister Sharif to deliver the rapproachment with India he promised when he won elections two years ago.

It could also mean the military could torpedo the government’s efforts to improve relations with Afghanistan, where a regional jostle for influence has intensified after the withdrawal of most foreign forces this year. 

“This is about sharing space, not conceding,” a security official said about Janjua’s appointment. “This is how democracies work. This is the beauty of democracy.”

Prime Minister Sharif has long had rocky relations with the military, which deposed him in a 1999 coup during a previous term.

He swept back into office in 2013 vowing to improve relations between Pakistan and India, nuclear-armed rivals who have fought three wars since becoming separate nations in 1947.

But last year, besieged by thousands of anti-government protesters demanding his resignation, he was assured by the country’s military there will be no new coup.

In return he had to cooperate with the generals on issues he had wanted to handle himself - from relations with India to Pakistan’s role in neighboring Afghanistan.

Janjua’s appointment follows rising tensions between Pakistan and India, who canceled planned talks this year.

He is a former president of the National Defence University and also previously worked on “Azm-e-Nau,” a military preparedness exercise that had a particular focus on India.

In 2007, he commanded the operation that recaptured Swat district in Pakistan’s tribal areas from a Pakistani Taliban insurgency.

Editing by Kay Johnson and Angus MacSwan

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