The Sharif exit

Published: November 22, 2016


PHOTO: AFP The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate

No body knows what transpired behind the scenes until November 21, when the ISPR officially gave away General Raheel Sharif’s address to a gathering of Army and Rangers personnel as a “farewell call.”This ended the suspense around the General’s future. All this ensured despite his announcement back in January in which he had declared not to seek any extension. With General Sharif’s honourable exit, Pakistan achieves another milestone; within eight years, full democratic transition and a smooth security leadership transition.

Farewell General Raheel Sharif

General Sharif appeared as an untiring soldier switching between the GHQ, visits to border and trouble spots such as Karachi and Quetta. He seemed to have taken the December 16, 2015 attack on the Army Public School as a personal tragedy and an institutional challenge. The National Action Plan and his rigorous perusal of national and provincial apex committees stemmed from his resolve to take on terrorists disguised as Islamists. He built on the string of operations — Bajaur in August 2007, Swat and South Waziristan (May/October 2009 respectively), under General Kayani. The latter turned the Pakistan Army into a hardened counter-terror and counter-insurgency force, while General Sharif took this operational capability to new levels with the Operation Zarb-e-Azb. This won him appreciation all over the globe. In this perusal, though, the General at times intruded into the foreign affairs domain, causing discomfort within the civilian power corridors. This overstepping often flowed from indecision or inaction by the civilians when it came to dealing with challenges on the eastern and western borders and provided reasons for discord with the civilian leadership.

Largely, the General’s departure is socio-politically significant. Firstly, an uncontroversial change of the COAS-baton, underscores the growing maturity of the Pakistani society with all stakeholders exercising restraint and mindful of the hazards of unilateral decision-making. National and regional circumstances have enforced an undesired “cohabitation” on both the military and the civilian leadership ever since Asif Ali Zardari’s elevation to the presidential position in 2008.

How Gen Raheel proved his critics wrong

Secondly, the General’s departure also shatters another myth — real or perceived — that Washington determines the top civilian and military leadership in Pakistan. Bruce Riedel, former CIA officer and senior advisor to four US presidents, for instance, wrote in his book Deadly Embrace: …Washington worked behind the scenes to secure an extension in the tour of duty of chief of army staff Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, which was due to expire in mid 2010. The Gillani government, which had its own reasons for keeping Kayani in office, gave him an unprecedented three-year extension.” This time around the US establishment was busy in elections and thus inactive on Afghanistan. Should one assume that there was no one in Washington to engage the Pakistanis as to whether the incumbent should be persuaded to stay or who should be the next COAS? Thirdly, General Sharif’s exit may ease off pressures that had hamstrung the government, yet it resonates an unambiguous message to the political leadership; individuals don’t matter for institutions. It is their collective wisdom, professionalism and commitment that keeps the institutions evolving. The system keeps throwing up leadership through the consultative process that is known as the Corps/Formation commanders’ conference. Fourthly, General Sharif’s conduct offers some soul-searching for the civilian leadership; rather than scheming and intriguing, let us focus on the job that the voters and the institutions place on you.

New Army chief should carry forward Gen Raheel’s legacy: Khawaja Asif

Lastly, if Chinese officials familiar with the military were any indicator, Beijing considered General Sharif and the army as the guarantors for the CPEC. General Sharif could have used this trust for personal gains. But he preferred national over personal interests — unlike the stories surrounding lucrative deals being cut and awarded to the kith and kin of the civilian rulers.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2016.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Arvind
    Nov 23, 2016 - 5:50AM

    In India, no body bothers about who is going to be Chief of Army. Because there, an army is accountable to Civil Government, not Civil Government accountable to army, as the case is in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan, always like to be ruled by either a dictator or by army general. Democracy is not in their DNA. Pakistan’s all the problems are because of this mentality, of being ruled by corrupt dictators or power hungry military generals. And these rulers loot the country, to open off shore businesses and buy properties abroad. All previous three wars with India were fought when Pakistan was under Army rule. Recommend

  • Fact Checker
    Nov 23, 2016 - 11:32AM

    @Arvind – “Democracy is not in their DNA”. That is very ignorant of you to say that considering the fact that the people in Subcontinent, generically speaking, are more close to each other than they are to rest of the Asian population. Recommend

  • Lolz
    Nov 23, 2016 - 12:50PM

    Could you also please elaborate why he failed in launching an operation in Punjab, like all other provinces and parts of Pakistan?Recommend

  • Raja Mehtab
    Nov 23, 2016 - 1:13PM

    True symbol of One man army. He did what for Democracy & Army, no one could do. He changed the perspective of Dictatorship. He must be honored with Nishan E Haider.
    Allah bless you General. Long LiveRecommend

  • Dija
    Nov 23, 2016 - 2:34PM

    The attack was in 2014 not 2015…atleast someone should have pointed this out….Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Nov 23, 2016 - 4:50PM

    while General Sharif took this operational capability to new levels with the Operation Zarb-e-Azb. This won him appreciation all over the globe.

    Your article Sir, is nothing more than an illusionary loud thinking, no one in the globe takes note of what the Paki army has done with its own citizens other than the Obama administration which financed such operations, while the UNO remains concerned with the IDP’s. One wonders about the number of homeless IDP’s on Sharifs watch? Good riiddance is missing in your article.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Usman
    Nov 23, 2016 - 7:34PM

    For indians fellow……just type BEST ARMY LEAD IN THE WORLD 2016 on google and you will see Gereral Raheel Name on top
    So we dont care what indians say atleast whole world acknowledge his abilities for conventional and un conventional war
    Love n respect for you sirRecommend

  • Pakistani
    Nov 24, 2016 - 11:23AM

    This region would be in complete peace if India can just mind its own business and concentrate on its own mess. Look at the Indian media and its conduct at the time of so-called surgical strikes in particular (Indian Army fooled its own people) which is also a reflection of DNA of Indians in general. Recommend

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