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January 26, 2016

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Has Gen Raheel strengthened himself?

 Perspective

DUBAI: General Raheel Sharif and the Pakistan Army have achieved many goals and hit many targets with the surprise announcement on Monday that there will be no extension in the tenure of the present COAS.

The immediate impact of the announcement will be that the premature debate on the issue will die down while Gen Raheel still has almost 10 months to complete his tenure.

He will now have a totally free hand to deal with the major challenges without anyone raising a finger that he was acting either in his own interest or for political reasons against one or the other targets.

Analysts and political pundits are debating why such an announcement was needed such a long period before the actual date of retirement. There are many reasons.The issue was raised by some analysts on the media quoting government sources that General Raheel had been offered an extension.

Whether any such offer was made has not been confirmed, nor will it be confirmed by the political government but the media campaign achieved one goal of bringing the issue on the centre stage, much before it would have come up in the normal course.

The purpose of the campaign was to ostensibly embarrass the army chief or to force him into taking a position. That goal has been achieved but it has its own implications.

Now that this issue is out of the way, although in Pakistan nothing can be said with certainty or predicted months ahead, the stature of Gen Raheel has grown in size with applause coming from all sides, especially politicians who were scared, including ex-president Asif Ali Zardari. Others who lauded him were Imran Khan, Asfandyar Wali, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, PPP leaders and many more.

Why I say this issue cannot be considered settled finally is because examples of recent history prove this. On May 17, 2010 the then PPP defence minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar stated on record that the then army chief General Kayani “will not be given an extension and he has not sought one.”

Yet within two months, sometime in July 2010, president Asif Ali Zardari gave him an extension for a full three-year term, although some circles were just discussing a one-year extension. That was when General Kayani compromised the interests of his institution and why he did so is now being revealed when cases against his brothers are being opened and warrants for their arrest are being issued. These files were then allegedly brandished by a Mr Zardari then to bring Gen Kayani on his page.

Nothing of the sort can now happen in General Raheel’s case. With an added layer of popularity and applause, he can pursue the goals set in the National Action Plan and Zarb-e-Azb relentlessly.

Many experts and analysts are clapping their hands and congratulating themselves as if a major hurdle has been removed and PM Nawaz Sharif has consolidated his position. The celebration may be premature.

Why this may be so is that all the major high profile cases and actions against terrorists, their financiers and collaborators and banned jihadi organisations will be decided in the coming six months or so and everyone must realise that now a much more powerful, neutral and above board General Raheel will be presiding over these cases.

So Gen Raheel has moved quickly to bring himself into a position of relative strength to move against anyone and everyone involved in terrorism or corruption helping terrorism by announcing this decision. He may thus be taking all the tough decisions now with much ease than before.

And when he goes, he would have left behind a much stronger institution which will stand by his decisions with equal or even more strength and fervour. After all, the incoming chief, whoever he may be, is right now part of all the decisions Gen Raheel is making or will make in the coming months.

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