Friday January 27, 2023

The general’s legacy

November 25, 2016

Veni, Vidi, Vici – ‘I Came, I Saw, I Conquered’. It wouldn’t be misplaced to attribute this particular quote to the most celebrated military chief of Pakistan to date.

General Raheel Sharif stood tall throughout his tenure as army chief, not only taking on some Herculean tasks but also making his presence felt amongst his colleagues and soldiers. It can be argued that his demeanour was that of a straight soldier who dispensed his professional obligations within the parameters of the constitution.

Gen Raheel Sharif looked at a number of issues with a clear head. He wanted to take on the menace of terrorism and hence took decisive action in the shape of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Not even once did he refer to any blowback this operation could have. Perhaps the target and objective was so clear that nothing could deter him from achieving it. He stands vindicated to a large extent on this count; the success of the operation speaks for itself.

Unfortunately, in our part of the world military chiefs have mostly been known for the wrong reasons. Barring a few, most of them have had their careers highlighted by their tendency to meddle in their country’s politics, and eventually take over the reins of power. Some still proudly justify their role in overthrowing civilian governments.

Needless to say, General Raheel Sharif did not want to be judged by history in the same category. The ride was never easy for the general as the prompting for him to act reached high points on many occasions. In 2014, some rogue elements conspired with likeminded political actors to overthrow the government. The capital of the country was virtually under siege and the writ of the government was beginning to erode.

Being the most powerful man in the country, General Raheel was not seen to be acting against the prime minister. He tried his best to keep the military away from politics. There were definite disagreements on operational and policy issues on many occasions but General Raheel Sharif somehow kept everything under control. The prime minister, despite all the turbulence, has had a good working relationship with his army chief.

At the twilight of his career, the general disappointed many who not only wanted him to seek an extension in service but also turn hostile towards the elected government. The over-the-top flattery by some in the media established a good case for him to get an extension. However, their efforts were in vain because this soldier wasn’t interested in doing anything of the sort. He carries a rich Nishan-e-Haider legacy in his family and anyone who expected him to be adventurous obviously did not understand his mission.

However, there are a few areas where even General Raheel Sharif did not bring real change – perhaps deliberately. The institutional view regarding the civilian government was never changed. The GHQ continues to jealously guard its right to shape the country’s national security policy. The sole proprietorship of giving defining the national interest rests with the military.

Despite repeated attempts, the civilians and the military establishment could not bridge the gap over policy matters and operational issues. The issue of protecting former military chiefs remained relevant. The safe exit for Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf and the pending trial highlight this irony. Moreover, the fate of jihadi and sectarian elements in the country remain unresolved. They continue to exist – if not operate – in the country.

The void may have decreased between Islamabad and Rawalpindi but it iss till there. General Raheel Sharif must be given credit for everything he did. He is leaving behind large boots for his successor to fill.

The writer works for Geo News.

Email: muneebfarooqraja