Today Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani completes his 6-year term. Having got an extension from the last government, he leaves office as General Raheel Sharif takes over as the new army chief.

In fact, with the Prime Minister having given his approval for the new Chief Justice of Pakistan, with the current one retiring on December 12, today marks a special moment of celebration for the Pakistanis. Having weathered endless political storms, including several military coups, finally in 2013, at the age of 66, Pakistan completes its first-ever democratic transition involving changeover in all key posts according to the Constitution.

The new army chief, General Sharif has superseded two generals, Gen Haroon Aslam and Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood. General Aslam retires as Lt General Mahmood has been named Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee(CJCSC). General Aslam, favorite for the CJCSC slot, was dropped last minute to accommodate Lt Gen Mahmood. The common wisdom was that Mahmood, a man General Kayani had personally tipped to be his successor, would in fact take over as the next chief.

Elected Prime Ministers like military dictators are keen to have army chiefs they are comfortable with. Musharraf prepared Kayani for the job, Nawaz selected Musharraf for the job, Nawaz picked Kakkar in 1993. Interestingly, Benazir Bhutto appointed General Jehangir Karamat, the senior-most, as the army chief. He served well professionally until then Prime Minister fired him for floating the idea of setting up of a National Security Council at a Naval War College lecture and then opting to have it published in the newspapers.

Nawaz fired him and picked Musharraf, who first heaped disgrace on Pakistan by launching the Kargil operation and then sent Nawaz Sharif to jail; after Nawaz Sharif had fired the airborne chief. It reads like a story of intrigue and adolescent blunders. But that’s what it has been like. Unfortunately at very high cost to Pakistani state and society and to much else. With Pakistan blundered between military dictators and erring elected leaders, the business of state has been a bit of an alien fact for us.

But we are witnessing the beginnings of change. With a constitutional change-over in all powerful positions, we can look forward to stable times. But of course how wisely Constitutional authority is exercised by all will determine the stability within Pakistani society and sanity with the government and state.

Coup-making is now business of the past. Predictions maybe a fool’s play in the business of power-play but nothing appears without a contextual dynamic. In Pakistan, with growing faultiness and deepening insecurity, the men in uniform will be forced by circumstances to stay the Constitutional path. And stay within the barracks. Still given the intricate engagement of the barracks men in security policies extending to Afghanistan, India and the US, they have to be willing players, in any policy that the elected government chooses to follow. Nawaz remains very conscious of this fact.

In choosing the new army chief, the Prime Minister did not go for the senior-most general. He opted for the man who he supposedly has a level of comfort with. According to the Constitution, the Prime Minister must choose the chief from among the serving lieutenant generals. To appoint the senior-most is understood to be the best practice. This best practice has been the exception, not the rule in choosing the army chief.

The Prime Minister has picked General Raheel Sharif. Number 3 in seniority, his credentials, shared in no time by the ISPR, are all over the websites. In fact his photographs too! Even if a decorated general with experience in command and staff posts, he last held the post of Inspector General Training and Evaluation in which capacity he oversaw the training of Pakistan Army. Not exactly a post which has brought generals to the chief’s position. But in 1999, PM Sharif had picked a general from the Engineering Corps to become army chief, although for a few hours.

As Pakistan moves ahead on this democratic path, the army chief’s the power as the potential man on the horseback. The questions around the selection of the new army chief are not about him being a potential coup-maker but more about how he will orient the institution he leads on three key areas. One, the fight against terrorism and linked to that, the army’s distancing from the militant groups. Both are work-in-progress, with the previous chief having tried to deal with these issues in a gradualist mode. The issue of drone strikes too is one that now needs a major internal review. On this score how competent is the new army chief.

Two, how to inter-face with India, an area where troubles do not seem to end, with the LOC on the boil and yet the elected Prime Minister remaining committed to enhancing ties with India. Only yesterday the Prime Minister called for visa-free travel.

Three, how does Pakistan proceed in Afghanistan both on the political reconciliation and the transition beyond 2014. Again Prime Minister Sharif is clear that trust-building with Kabul, irrespective of who sits there, is in Pakistan’s interest. In the last weeks, the PM himself has led the Pakistan effort to improve trust level with Kabul. He has effectively moved away from Pakistan’s earlier policy of Afghanistan Taliban as Pakistan’s assets. In the last few weeks the PM had long sessions with the military leadership to bring them on board. The PM leaves later this week for Kabul. Clearly he will take Pakistan’s new military chief along.

Nawaz has a plan for course correction of Pakistan’s security policies. He is reportedly confident that his new chief, who he picked from number 3, on seniority, will embrace the policy that the country’s elected Chief Executive proposes.

Having set up the institutional framework for comprehensive consultations and policy making, the Cabinet Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, the Prime Minister believes he will oversee the policy-making and policy execution process and avoid any independent moves by the military leadership.

The new army chief General Sharif, the PM’s namesake, is not related to him but is known to the Sharif family and has served under PML parliamentarian General Qadir Baloch. Considered to be a professional, General Raheel Sharif has minimal experience in counter-insurgency, necessarily a key area of focus for the army. How the new chief uses the experienced counter-insurgency men like General Tariq Khan in his team, will determine how effectively Pakistan army will push back terrorism.