The legacy of General Raheel

Legacy that General Raheel can leave behind is to end the concept of possibility of extension in COAS’ service...

Muhammad Ali Ehsan July 23, 2016
Legacy that General Raheel can leave behind is to end the concept of possibility of extension in COAS’ service tenure. PHOTO: AFP

If there ever was a badge for popularity and endless public following that one could pin on the uniform of a general officer in Pakistan, that hands down would be pinned today on the uniform of General Raheel Sharif. Closely following him in popularity would be Field Marshal Ayub Khan but while he was the country’s president and a constitutional public officeholder and in direct contact with the masses, General Raheel’s claim to popularity has rather been more circuitous and indirect. General Asif Nawaz was also a popular army chief but he unfortunately expired before completing even half his tenure.

Credited with improving the overall security in the country and most particularly in Karachi, the General is all set to leave office in three months’ time. What is it that has made him so popular? With only three months left in his retirement, has he been able to accomplish all the ambitious targets that he set out to achieve ? Could he have done better? Operation Zarb-e-Azb and its success is a feather in his cap but the Karachi operation has not met its stated end — the raid on Nine-Zero and many subsequent raids in the city raised the level of public expectations and hope, but with many criminals arrested and charged by the Rangers and the police, very few if any have been found guilty and punished so far. Similarly, charges of corruption brought against politicians and their aides have also borne little or no fruit. Since the National Action Plan (NAP) was initiated, it was more the parallel process of trial by media rather than concrete results on ground in Karachi that raised the spectre of public hope — people fear that the dormant peace in Karachi might come to an end, with the operation in the city not being able to completely obliterate the security threat. The criminals and those who finance and support them are waiting with their sleeves rolled up ready to obliterate the false hopes of peace and sense of security.

I doubt there ever was any other army chief (except those who dismissed elected governments and ruled this country), who was more constitutionally empowered (21st Amendment) and enjoyed more public support than General Raheel. But was he able to use all the gifted empowerment as well as public support to good use to influence, persuade or even compel the civilian leadership to concede on important issues of national interests? Did NAP succeed?

One of his true moments of doing something substantial came in August, 2014 when the civilian government faced a political crisis and it became increasingly dependent on the military for help. Another such moment came after the APS attack. Both these moments were not cashed as much as they should have been. A uniform political response from almost the entire political leadership of the country could have been elicited but that didn’t happen. A bigger and larger strategy could have been devised to eliminate religious extremism from the country of which military actions and military courts would have been a vital component and could have played a crucial and meaningful role. That time is lost — left intact and untouched, the political system has now gifted Pakistan the Panama Pain, which shows no signs of abating. Much worse, we are all set to once again witness a repetition of the politics of agitation with the PTI likely to join hands with the PPP in a bid to overthrow the PML-N government. Had some action that was politically viable been taken in 2014, we wouldn’t have had a ‘Panama-gated’ government or an unnatural political alliance of two major parties — one that stands against corruption and the other that symbolised corruption during its last tenure in power.

Like Nawaz Sharif, Recep Tayyip Erdogan also towers over his country’s political landscape. He is a genuinely popular nationalist leader who has allowed his actions to speak louder than his words. When the June 2015 elections in Turkey resulted in a hung parliament and his negotiations to form a coalition government broke down he boldly gambled on a new election in November 2015 and won a majority (317 seats in a 550-seat parliament). He also has to his credit the distinction of having marched the Turkish security establishment back to the barracks which like the Pakistani security establishment has been known for ejecting elected governments. Nawaz Sharif could do neither. He never had it in him to progressively sideline the security establishment to its constitutional and professional role as his political popularity has never been that great. Instead, the methods he used (appointing military chiefs out of seniority, making political appointments when the sitting incumbent was out of the country, trying a retired military chief on charges of treason and so on) were all actions seen by the military as acts designed to fetch personal political benefits rather than as attempts to balance the civil-military power equation in the country. It only resulted in provoking the establishment and despite President Zardari giving three years’ extension in service to General Kayani, and Nawaz Sharif superseding seniors to appoint an Inspector General Training and Evaluation — again unprecedented — we still have a military chief who is more popular than the Pakistani prime minister.

The political temperature in the country is likely to rise and considering that the political and security environment may turn from bad to worse, the military will be expected to play an inclusive role. When and if that happens, it is hoped that the prime minister can be persuaded to take the lead from the Turkish model and call for early elections. Beyond that, a professional army is not expected to do more. The legacy that General Raheel can leave behind is to end the concept of the possibility of extension in the service of a military chief’s tenure — a prospect he has already denied. As far as the prime minister is concerned, it is hoped that he does not fall in line with the suggestion of US Senator John McCain to extend General Raheel’s tenure. It’s not just him who can make tough calls in tough times and stand up to the security challenges of the country, the military has many such generals. Perhaps we should learn from the Americans who do not proffer extensions in service to US generals. In fact, there have been many early retirements in the US Army from Generals McChrystal, Mattis, Keane to Flynn.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2016.

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Javaid Randhawa | 5 years ago | Reply Orphan army in war with internal and external elements.
Gulfam | 5 years ago | Reply There is no religious extremism existing in the country. It is a false propaganda led by secular mindset who want to eliminate the religion from the country. There is only terrorism existing as a challenge and it has no religion.
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