Posted on Friday, December 2, 2016
in The Friday Times (Editorial)
Despite temptation, provocation and instigation by politicians, subordinates, flatterers and hypocrites, General Raheel Sharif did not overstay his welcome like his two predecessors who clung on for 16 years. #ThankYouRaheelSharif.
Despite prevarication, cowardice and confusion among politicians and media, General Raheel Sharif did not spare the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and MQM terrorists, unlike his two predecessors who played good assets and bad liabilities among the same terrorists for 16 years. #ThankYouRaheelSharif.
General Sharif started off in real earnest with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani when he determined to drag the Afghan Taliban to the table. But he was thwarted by vested interests inside the Intel agencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan no less than by power struggles inside the Afghan Taliban. When he left, Pak-Afghan relations had hit rock bottom and the Afghan Taliban were morphing into IS and attacking Pakistan.
General Sharif’s India policy also couldn’t break out of the military’s sum zero paradigm. Worse, he seemed to be out of step with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s vision of regional peace and stability as a core building block of Pakistan’s economic development and welfare. Whenever Mr Sharif attempted to talk “normalization” with India, the dogs of war in the media and jihadis were let loose. By the time General Sharif left, India’s “offensive-defense” doctrine against Pakistan was in full flow in Balochistan and across the LoC and Pakistan’s NSA backchannel appointed by the PM had been rendered jobless.
General Sharif was billed as a soldier’s soldier, someone who abhorred politicking. But in reality the military’s relations with the PMLN regime under General Sharif were as bad as they had been under General Kayani during the Zardari administration. Indeed, in his first year in office, he bought into the political conspiracies and shenanigans of Kayani’s remnants in the Intel agencies via the dharnas of Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri and in his last year he couldn’t resist the indiscreet charm of his PR Tweet Maestro who built him up as the Saviour on Horseback mowing down the corrupt governments of Zardari in Sindh and Sharif in Islamabad. Indeed, his attempt to link corruption with terrorism endeared him to the masses as much as it alienated him from their elected representatives, a sure shot recipe for political destabilization.
General Sharif’s media management was also problematic. When the military’s Intel agencies were not running amuck as in 2014-15, trying to close down “errant” channels and launch “loyal” new ones, his PR agency was tweeting abuse at independent media persons in 2016 by calling them “traitors” and “Indian agents” when it wasn’t paying off two bit anchors and reporters to pray to Almighty Allah to nudge General Sharif to clamp down on them. All the while, General Sharif was rampant on the front pages of newspapers and breaking news on TV channels.
In truth, General Raheel Sharif was well intentioned and incorruptible. He never harboured any thought of seizing power. #ThankYouRaheelSharif. But, as is the wont of simple and honourable men in positions of absolute power, he was led into quagmires by scheming and ambitious subordinates with soaring ambitions and dubious stratagems. In the end, it is a happy omen for the country that General Sharif was given a warm and befitting farewell when he handed over the baton to General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
General Bajwa’s first task is to take stock of General Sharif’s good legacies no less than his failed leftovers or misplaced concreteness. Terrorism must be rooted out. Kabul must be brought back into the loop and India must not be excluded from it. The corruption of politicians must be delinked from the toll and menace of terrorism, whether religious or criminal, local or foreign inspired. The military has no business publicly lecturing elected leaders about good governance – that is a task best left to watchdogs in the media and judiciary. The NAP must be jointly owned and implemented with the civilians to foster tolerance and pluralism. And so on.
General Sharif did well to personally stay clear of the media. He disavowed likes and dislikes. But he erred in upgrading the ISPR into an organization Goebbels would have been proud to own that did exactly the opposite on his behalf. The military needs a low profile if it isn’t interested in seizing power. Pakistan is too complicated and diverse a country to be slotted into a singular militaristic identity that feeds off various “us versus them” themes – Pakistan vs India, Good Taliban vs Bad Taliban, Good Muslim vs Bad Muslim, Friends vs Enemies, Soldiers vs Civilians, Majority vs Minorities, Martial Law vs Democracy, Feudals vs Capitalists, Punjab vs Sindh, Western CPEC Route vs Central Route, etc.
Nawaz Sharif must know by now that no army chief is the PM’s man even if the PM has handpicked him above his peers. Equally, General Qamar Bajwa must also know how to be his own man rather than that of his flatterers or subordinates. For helping us learn these lessons, we are obliged to say #ThankYouRaheelSharif!