General Raheel’s excellent US visit

Published: November 23, 2014
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General Raheel Sharif receives Guard of Honour at the Pentagon. PHOTO: APP

General Raheel Sharif receives Guard of Honour at the Pentagon. PHOTO: APP

The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif, has concluded his seven-day visit to the US and it appears to have been successful at least in terms of what has been publicly shared of his activities. There has been a range of meetings with the movers and shakers of the US military and intelligence establishment, at least one well-received speech that was robust in its commitment to fighting all terrorist groups in Pakistan — including the Haqqani network — and a re-swinging of the compass in terms of US-Pakistan military relations. Although not directly connected to the COAS visit to the US, the call made by US President Barack Obama to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif prior to his visit to India in January is another indicator that relations with the Americans have finally lifted themselves off the muddy bottom of the pond.

The visit of the COAS represents a sea-change in relations between Pakistan and the US and sets a seal on the military commitment to fighting terrorism in whatever form and by whatever name or under whatever flag it flies — and this includes any attempt by the Islamic State (IS) to gain a foothold in Pakistan. There is now no ambiguity about who is and who is not going to be on the receiving end of military attentions. It remains to be seen how this will play out on the ground militarily as much of the current fighting runs very close to the Afghan border, but a welcome clarity is emerging as to who the enemy really is. It is time — indeed overdue — that Pakistan moved on from the ‘good Taliban/bad Taliban’ scenario that never worked well in terms of translation to ground realities.

The visit of the COAS has signalled that the time of talks about talks and half-baked local treaties with groups that are little more than criminal gangs badged with the Taliban trappings — is past. Whether this will feed through to civilian political perceptions is also open to question, as there is little doubt that there are Taliban supporters in the mainstream of political life, but it has at least, and at last, made explicit exactly where the military under new leadership, stands.

This will be music to the ears of the Americans, who have long based their trust deficit in respect of Pakistan on the perception that we ran with the hare and hunted with the hounds, in effect, playing both ends against the middle. The relationship had reached the bottom of the pond in recent years, pushed down by a series of incidents beyond the drone strikes (of which there was no public mention in the COAS visit) and including the Raymond Davis affair, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the Nato/American strike that killed 25 of our soldiers. All have served to depress and poison relations, but several coincident factors are pointing towards an improvement.

The change in the Afghan presidency and the positive moves in the last month made by both Pakistan and Afghanistan are, if followed through, going to contribute to a lowering of tensions on all sides. Tensions on the Afghan border have remained high for much of the Karzai presidency, with regular cross-border incursions and shelling. Added to this, the ‘safe havens’ on the Afghan side of the border for terrorist groups has long been a thorn in the side of the Pakistan military. Any ramping up by the Afghan government of pressure on terrorist groups in its borderlands can only be welcomed.

What is yet indeterminate is whether the thaw in military-political relations will be mirrored by a reduction of a deep-seated anti-Americanism that has become all pervasive in the last decade. The majority of the population is innocent of the nuances of geopolitics, preferring the black and white certainties of their prejudices to the greys of reality. It is too soon to call the COAS visit a watershed, but it does allow a cautious optimism to break the horizon.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Its (still) Economy Stupid
    Nov 23, 2014 - 11:48PM

    As soon as the excellent trip to US ended, US government announced that:
    WASHINGTON—The White House has authorized U.S. military forces to target Taliban militants in Afghanistan if they pose a direct threat to the U.S. or its military forces or provide support to al Qaeda, according to U.S. officials.

    The authorization spells out additional details of U.S. operations in Afghanistan in 2015, but a senior administration official said the move does not represent an expansion of the American mission.

    It means expect more drone attacks in Pakistan

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  • Sexton Blake
    Nov 24, 2014 - 2:07AM

    @Its (still) Economy Stupid:
    Quite right. As result of US drone and bombing activities children’s body parts are littering the streets from Africa through to various parts of the sub-continent, via Libya, Syria and Iraq, and all the US media can do is print a couple of US journalists without heads tragic though it may be. General Sharif is following the same pattern as the US so he will be very popular in the US.

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  • Ahmed Shah
    Nov 24, 2014 - 2:17AM

    Clutching at straws. The situation in Pakistan is so desperate that even if an ordinary American smiles at a Pakistani, the FO interpreted that as an upswing in ties. We were never in such dire straits. Anyways, we can only go up from here.

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  • Nov 24, 2014 - 9:33AM

    I agree with you but this time the situation is bit different. The Americans are visibly impressed by our chief of army staff. He means what he says and and believes in doing what he thinks is right for the country. Yes this can be a point from where we can go up. Thanks @Ahmed Shah:

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  • waseem
    Nov 24, 2014 - 8:20PM

    @Sexton Blake:
    agree with the drone attack part but what about the people who were dying on the streets of Pakistan, couldn’t anyone see their body parts? Atleast Raheel Sharif made them think twice before attacking and got them on backfoot.

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