He has gone. What is more, he left as quietly as he came. We met for lunch in our unit lines and he told me proudly that before nightfall he will have vacated the Army House; the one meant for the current chief. Never before has this house been vacated with such promptitude.
I met Raheel as a young boy but I came to know him immediately after his commission. I was always fond of him since I knew the family, but never did I imagine how tall he would stand one day nor how long his shadow would be.
When Raheel joined 6 FF I was his first company commander and, by that relationship, had a very small, very humble role in his initial grooming in the unit. Later, when I commanded the unit, he was to serve under me as a company commander and briefly, as my second in command.One measure of the height he has gained is the fact that he has continuously acknowledged my very humble role in his career. He has frequently been heard to say to me, in the presence of many, “Sir, this is what you taught us”.
For a man standing at his dizzy heights that is an unnecessary remark and it takes a very big man to make it.
Raheel took over on November 29, 2013 from General Kayani. Kayani had started his tenure very well but, after his success in Swat and a partial success in South Waziristan in 2009, he sought an extension. As a consequence, his remaining tenure was a huge disaster. But, in all fairness, it has to be acknowledged that Kayani was the first to reassure the elected government that he would not intervene politically. The fact that, having sought and accepted an extension, he no longer enjoyed the legitimacy to intervene politically was a subsequent development. So, what is Raheel’s legacy?
He was quite clear when he took over that serious military action had become a necessity to deal with the domestic threat. However, since the elected government wished to try talking to the insurgents, he stepped back and let them.
Following the Karachi attacks on a naval and an air base, it began to dawn on our political leadership that there was no option. The attack on the APS in Peshawar was the final straw.
Increasingly, the elected government began to cede political space on all security matters to Raheel. So much so that even the Chinese personnel working here were only satisfied on security related issues when reassured by Raheel.
Even chief executives of highly developed democracies began to seek Raheel’s input and reassurances on security issues of the region.
When Imran Khan began his Dharnas, seeking intervention of the “third umpire”, there was nothing subtle about his expectation of Raheel. The highly immature response of the government to the Sit-ins created exactly the kind of unrest that Imran sought and, in which the army could have justified an intervention. But Raheel knew where he stood and continued to assist and advise the government on how to resolve matters from behind the scenes. Raheel was very clear; on his watch, the military would not intervene politically and he would leave on completion of his term; a commitment he reiterated in January this year. However, probably his most significant contribution to the national history was his identification of the nexus between corruption and terrorism. I go a step further and hold the view that corruption cannot exist without prevalence of injustice.
Nonetheless, the fact that Raheel, a soldier, reached this conclusion and decided to pursue it as doggedly as he did, despite the impediments that existed and those that were created, to dissuade him, is the greatest component of his legacy.
Regretfully, he was unable to complete his task during his tenure. It was not possible to do so in the three years he had. Hopefully, his successor will be able to do so.
At a point in time when the public was fast approaching a state of hopelessness, Raheel shone like a star and offered hope to the people. Inevitably his popularity rose but, it rose too high, too fast. As a consequence, people’s expectations of him rose and he became the embodiment of their savior. No human could fulfill these expectations and, therefore, his popularity graph fell as he approached retirement. The sole blemish on his performance was the fact that he did not do as much as he could or should have, in Punjab.
Perhaps there was a compromise there; or so his critics aver. Some even imply that the cleansing of Karachi was also not completed because of a compromise. I have no way of knowing the truth. However, his track record does not carry any examples of his compromising on any matter that fell in his purview. If he was relentless in pursuit of the corrupt, that relentlessness included his fellow officers, irrespective of rank. Retired officers were ordered out of retirement so as to court martial them.
Fearlessly, he created military courts to ensure speedy justice and execution. He is still under threat for this alone.
Perhaps, there was a question of capacity; institutional as well as individual. By the end of his term he looked tired. And a sixteen-hour day is difficult to sustain over three years.
Farewell Raheel. We will remember your landmark period unparalleled in our history.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2016.