The announcement that General Raheel Sharif is going to stick to the script and retire as Chief of the Army Staff in November 2016 is welcome. It has laid to rest the rumour that he would either seek or be offered an extension to his tenure — offered he may have been and we will likely never know unless he chooses to tell all, but refuse he has even if he was offered. This breaks the unfortunate precedent set by both his predecessors and makes him the first army chief since 1996 to put aside his uniform at the end of his tenure. He will leave as perhaps one of the most popular army chiefs the country has ever had, seen as a no-nonsense and get-it-done soldier. General Raheel will also be setting a healthy precedent for future army chiefs, which bodes well for the country’s democratic credentials.
This announcement is indeed an important step along the road to democracy. The previous election saw a peaceful transfer of power from one civilian government to another, and a change at the top of the political pile with the PML-N replacing the PPP as the party of national governance. The PML-N has yet to make best use of parliament as the cutting edge of democratic rule, and its circumnavigation of parliamentary process is less than admirable, but the country is set fair for another election in 2018. Even so, it is no secret that Pakistan’s civilian institutions remain fragile as ever. General Raheel’s decision to step down at the end of his tenure, therefore, will hopefully have a salubrious impact on the state of civilian institutions as well as help correct the civil-military imbalance.
The announcement by the Inter-Services Public Relations is also something of a pre-emptive strike, which clears the decks for General Raheel to get on with the business of fighting terrorism and extremism. Inevitably, there will now be speculation as to who his successor may be. General Raheel was handpicked by the prime minister. It is going to need a man of similar calibre to take up the baton from him. We hope the prime minister is as lucky with his pick as he was the last time.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2016.