ISLAMABAD: The army on Monday put to rest a months-long guessing game about whether General Raheel Sharif would hang up his uniform, saying that he had begun a round of farewell visits.
“COAS [Chief of Army Staff] kicks off his farewell visits beginning from Lahore today. Meets, addresses [and] thanks a huge gather(ing) of soldiers from the army and Rangers,” Lt-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa said in a Twitter post, dampening speculation that the army chief might receive an extension when his three-year term ends this month.
“Accomplishment of peace and stability no ordinary task,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) chief added. “Our sacrifices and joint national resolve helped us in offsetting all odds.”
On November 27, 2013, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed him as the country’s army chief, some of Gen Raheel’s peers were not expecting him to reach the pinnacle of the military career.
For starters, Gen Raheel’s predecessor Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was believed to have recommended Gen Rashad Mahmood – presently the outgoing Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) – for the coveted slot. Beyond that, few within the military establishment thought Gen Raheel would be capable to take on the challenging role at the time because of lesser experience in combat command assigments.
Three years on, as he looks to step down, Gen Raheel has defied all odds and proved his critics wrong.
Before he took over the coveted post, Gen Raheel had been carrying the legacy of his elder brother Maj Shabbir Sharif and uncle Maj Aziz Bhatti, both of who were recipients of the country’s highest military honour.
But Gen Raheel has now created a legacy of his own which his successors will find extremely difficult, if not impossible, to match let alone surpass , say officials who have served under him or observed him closely during his stint army chief.
“He is one of the best, if not the best, army chief Pakistan has ever had,” remarked a senior military official who knew Gen Raheel personally.
When Gen Raheel took over charge of the army, he had in front of him a series of challenges that included a volatile security situation and bad publicity the force got during the fag end of his predecessor’s extended tenure. Only a few months into his new role, the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) launched a movement seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz’s government.
At one stage during the sit-ins, speculations were rife that the army chief might step in to prevent further chaos. He was also under pressure from some of his military commanders to act against the government.
But just a few days before tens of thousands of activists from PTI and PAT descended onto the capital, Gen Raheel held a one-on-one meeting with the embattled premier, categorically assuring him that the army had no intention of resorting to any unconstitutional step and advising him to resolve the controversy politically.
“Had there been any other army chief, he could have easily been swayed by public sentiments and taken a step that we all have experienced in the past,” said another official.
During his three-year at the helm of army affairs, Gen Raheel proved himself a man of his word who lived up to his promises, be it supporting democratic rule or retiring from the army within his stipulated timeframe.
Now, Gen Raheel is set to be the first army chief since 1996 who will retire on time with dignity. Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar was the only army chief in last two decades who did not seek an extension and bowed out honourably.
Between Gen Kakar and Gen Raheel, Pakistan has seen three army chiefs. General Jahangir Karamat had to step down just a year before his retirement after differences with the then government of Nawaz Sharif over controversy on the National Security Council. Then came Gen Pervez Musharraf, who was appointed army chief in 1998 but held onto the top slot till 2007 after ousting Nawaz’s government in 1999. Musharraf’s successor, Gen Kayani remained chief for six years, though he was supposed to pass on the baton in 2010.
Gen Raheel now has broken that cycle and hence set a new bar for the incoming chief to protect the dignity of the army as an institution.
“He is a very simple man. He always said don’t do anything that will compromise your dignity,” revealed a senior military official, who worked with him during his tenure as army chief. “He was a brave man who took decisions based on national interest,” the official added.
Gen Raheel’s main achievements include turning the tide against terrorism and extremism. He ordered the full-scale operation in North Waziristan, long considered a hot bed of local and foreign militant groups. His predecessor was reluctant to go after those groups in the rugged terrain fearing a bloody backlash.
Gen Raheel was also credited with restoring peace in Karachi, which had long been held hostage by not only militant outfits but also certain political elements. His clear and level headed policy also helped pave the way for restoring normalcy in the restive Balochistan province.
“From an almost pariah state three years ago, today the whole world wants to learn from our success story against terrorism,” said the military official.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2016.