The baggage of Raheel Sharif

By Lt Col Khalid Masood Khan (Retd):

As per the recent statement released by ISPR, General Raheel Sharif plans to retire from his assignment as COAS when his term ends. In order to curb the hype created on the media about his extension, the COAS has very honourably declared that he would retire when his three year term ends and would not accept any further extension. Certainly this is unprecedented in our history. That’s what is expected from a decorous man who hails from a very dignified family. His baggage is too heavy to stay on after the due date of retirement. General Sharif comes from a family that has two Nishan-e-Haiders and one Sitara-e-Jurat to their credit (among close blood relatives) and the family is highly respected all over the country due to their sacrifices and loyalty to the nation. Undoubtedly he has the honour of being one of the most respected and well reputed Chiefs of the Pakistan Army and has, in a matter of less than two years, done for the country what couldn’t be done in the previous 8–10 years. The nation today stands united behind him to curb the menace of terrorism as well as financial terrorism from Pakistan. Unfortunately though, he has to retire and go home in November 2016. Barring few small pockets of resistance in Shawal Valley, operation Zarb-e-Azab has been successfully completed in the North Western areas. The other phase of the operation which had started simultaneously against the terrorists and financial terrorism in urban areas is in full swing. The question is, will he be able to bring his mission to a “logical conclusion” as he had been professing, with only about eight months to go?

Operation Zarb-e-Azab commenced in June 2014. The operation was planned and executed in a brilliant manner which entailed the evacuation of refugees from the tribal areas and evicting the terrorists from the rugged terrain of North and South Waziristan by launching his divisions and capturing and holding the farthest ends of the tribal areas, which even the British had failed to do during the colonial period. Simultaneously, a clean-up operation was also conducted in Karachi by the Sindh Rangers. Tangible results from this operation are evident after about a year and a half, in the shape of substantial reduction in target killings and bomb blasts and the reigning in of the “Bhata Mafia” (extortion mafia). The operations in KPK and Balochistan are also meeting with great successes. Operations against financial terrorism have recently started. Most importantly, elite criminals, who under the cover of different political parties are involved in financial terrorism, have also been arrested. This is strongly resented by the political parties. Of special note is the reopening of old cases involving sitting MNAs and Ministers of the ruling PML-N. This has led to aspersions being cast by the ruling elite upon NAB, which is lead by an ex Military Officer and is said to be mentored by the Military.

The sad news of his impending retirement has dismayed the entire nation, especially the educated class, which had high hopes that the ongoing operation would lead the bleeding Nation out of the crises of terrorism and corruption led by a “messiah” who had finally arrived in the form of Raheel Sharif. Conversely, however, there are a few people who are very happy and did not hesitate to appreciate the ISPR announcement for the fulfillment of ‘constitutional requirements’ by the General. Mr. Zardari is at the lead in giving a statement hailing this decision followed by the MQM leadership. Additionally, a section of the media that has created a fake yardstick of patriotism for General Sharif in retiring on due date is also vehemently beating on the same drum.

History tells us that whenever military chiefs take over the country from corrupt politicians the nation initially hailed their actions but eventually, after a prolonged stay, reviled them. Ayub Khan’s popularity reached its peak after the Indo-Pak war of 1965, which was eventually followed by his downfall in late sixties, General Zia’s initial popularity when he took over from ZAB but became increasingly unpopular during the latter part of his rule. A similar fate befell General Musharraf’s, whose popularity waned in his final years of rule.

Geneneral Kayani’s case, however, was different from his predecessors, as he did not take over but instead, got a three year extension as COAS. This factor must also have been carefully considered by Raheel Sharif, further adding weight to his baggage.

Honest leadership yields candid and dedicated companions. Historically, great leaders who have changed the tide of history due to their dynamic personality traits tended to create devoted teams around themselves that were inspired by their leaders and achieved their goals no matter how difficult they might have been. Such teams, working together intimately were able to make a difference for their people.

Quaid-e-Azam, due to his undoubted honesty, dedication to his cause, and role modeling, groomed companions like Abdur Rab Nishtar, Liaquat Ali Khan etc., who supplemented his efforts in the achievement of his goal to get a separate Muslim state in South Asia. Hitler, who developed generals like Guderian, Rommel, and Himmler etc., is another such example in European history. The team developed by General Sharif and inspired by him are working with absolute devotion to their cause, and to the General, be it intelligence operations, operational tasks or the war against terror. Given the dismal environment in our Country, this team, is the best option for winning the war against terrorism and financial corruption. History doesn’t give nations the chance to have such leadership and such dedicated teams too frequently.

Alas this team has to go after about eight months! General Sharif must be considering the fact that the previous chiefs turned politicians earned a bad name due to their involvement in politics. As far General Kayani is concerned, his defamation can be attributed to the bad acts of his brothers and not due to his extension. General Sharif has to weigh his good personal impression versus the national interest, he has an obligation towards the nation. These are extraordinary times. After all, when the General knew very well that the conclusion of the financial corruption cases would take a long time, and he would retire before then, why did he start the process? Having created hopes for the nation, how can he now leave before completing the task? His retirement would vindicate Mr. Zardari’s last public address in which he had indirectly challenged, “You would go after three years and we would prevail”. The General has promised the nation that the operation would be taken to its logical conclusion, so why did he make this statement when he has to go after eight months. Obviously the ongoing operation against financial terrorism will take years to be concluded to its logical end.

When the General retires, a new team will take over. The priorities would change. It’s a no brainer that when he goes his decision will be condemned by patriots for not keeping the National Interest above his personal impression and not availing the only chance for saving this nation from terrorism and corruption, much in the same way as people condemn General Pervez Musharraf for not making Kalabagh Dam despite having absolute power when he first took over. It’s time for the General to reconsider his decision and give some hope to this ailing nation!