ISLAMABAD: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif’s emphasis on the need for matching/complimentary governance initiatives for long-term gains of operation against terrorists and extremists and enduring peace across Pakistan has come as a surprise to all and sundry.
However, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, in a chat with Geo News, played it down and acted prudently when he said he did not see any problem in the army chief’s remarks. He said that it was their duty to improve governance. As a responsible cabinet member, he did the right thing not to blow up the chief’s assertions too much.
However, it was not explained in the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement, issued on the corps commanders’ conference, which contained General Raheel Sharif’s remarks, as to what prompted him to underline this “need”. But it may be believed that the government may not have acted fast in the areas that he had presumably pinpointed in the umpteen high-level, closed-door meetings chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
According to the ISPR release, progress of National Action Plan (NAP)’s implementation, finalisation of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) reforms, and concluding all ongoing Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) at priority, were highlighted as issues in the corps commanders’ meeting, which could undermine the effects of operations.
Three days back, the prime minister constituted the Fata reforms committee under the chairmanship of Adviser Sartaj Aziz that would talk all stakeholders to prepare consensus recommendations.
The best and legal way for the chief was to re-emphasise the points, attributed to him in the ISPR statement, during his meetings with the prime minister. Considering the kind of relationship existing between the two Sharifs, it is not possible that the premier would have overlooked these points. There was no need to go public.
A quick impression that emerges from the ISPR statement is that the army has done its job excellently but the government lacks in certain areas. They indeed are one entity and not two. Undeniably, the operations conducted against the terrorists and extremists by the army have produced matchless results. But the government has made its own contribution to achieve this end.
Apart from amazing the government circles, the chief’s remarks have provided something, obviously unnecessarily, to the opposition especially those who have always been desperately struggling to ignite civil-military tensions to belabour on.
Among these elements, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has been in the lead after failing on several fronts to dislodge the government. Its senior leader Shafqat Mahmood said in the National Assembly that the army statement pointed at the government’s incompetence. It is a matter of concern for the government, which would have to perform, he said.
Another PTI leader Arif Alvi went a step ahead when he said he supported the army statement and that military and civilian courts should operate in a complimentary manner otherwise it would have negative implications on the fight against insurgency.
Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah interpreted it as a “great hint” that the government should take properly. The agenda-driven TV anchorpersons construed General Raheel Sharif’s remarks wildly, as usual. It is always expected.
However, it will be instructive to have a look at the extremely encouraging state of affairs for a long time, preceding the chief’s statement. This situation naturally didn’t permit such remarks. Unlike his previous two stints as the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif has held an unprecedentedly large number of meetings with the incumbent chief, and this practice continues unabated, with the main objective of having the same civil-military opinion on all principal national issues.
Be it the operation Zarb-e-Azb, the targeted campaign against killers, kidnappers for ransom, extortionists and mafias, or the relations with India and the United States or any other key issue, the premier has never shied away from in-depth consultations with the army chief not once but repeatedly.
This has presented Nawaz Sharif as a changed man, quite different than his past. The basic purpose of such deliberations has been to have the military leadership on board so that no friction of any kind shows its tentacles at a time when Pakistan is on the commendable trajectory of fast development marked by game-changer mega projects, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
It is difficult to keep a count of the number of high-level meetings chaired by the prime minister and attended by the army chief and all other concerned top ministers and high ranking generals that have been held over the past two years, which focused on the operations against terrorists, extremists and target killers.
Whether it has been the internal security or external security, Nawaz Sharif has been averse to a solo flight, and always ensured that the army chief is part of the consultations, which are organised to take vital decisions. It is but natural that Raheel Sharif’s input mattered a lot in such decision-making.
This process helped keep misunderstandings and mistrust away although such scenario continuously caused chagrin and exasperation among the anti-democracy elements, which never tire in trying to fuel controversies in order to mar the civil-military relations.