Sunday, 10 January 2016

Raheel Sharif's impact and possibilities

zarb-e-azb-is-indiscriminate-operation-against-terrorists-army-chief-1416476048-2085The impact General Rahil Shareef has made on politico-military landscape of Pakistan cannot go unnoticed.  There are rave reviews on his performance and he has his critics. He has been declared the best military general of 2015 by abc news, ahead of US’ chief of joint staff, Russian and Chinese military chiefs. People may question authenticity of this survey/ news item. But then we all crave for information which sometimes has little or no value. We can make a case by saying that in past no other general of Pakistan army has been dubbed as the best in the world even by unauthentic news sources. So all this smoke augurs presence of fire down there somewhere. In which case, more serious question is why army could not produce a general like Raheel Sharif in 70 years or will it take another 70 years to produce a well-rounded general like him?

Before we talk about his achievements, it would be relevant to draw an analogy for ease of understanding as to how things work in Pakistan and what is Army's role in it? Think Pakistan as a factory. Like any other factory, there are procurement, HR, finance, production and marketing departments. All the managers become important stakeholders. If one manger is efficient e.g. packing department manager; he may impact quality of packing but he still cannot improve the quality of product. Such is the dilemma of Army in Pakistan. Overall situation can only improve if all institutions work towards improving the end product. Agreed that analogy does not fit the description of Army critics but whichever way we look at it, final conclusion will not be far from it.

Interestingly enough, General Raheel Sharif has not done anything out of the ordinary. He has just been himself (an officer and a gentleman). He has been a Pakistani all the way. He has just done his job honestly. He took up issues of national interest and stuck to his guns. It is so easy to be a cult hero in Pakistan. People are so frustrated with years and years of lies and corruption that if a person like RS makes it to the highest pedestal of Army and only focuses on doing the basics right; he is at the verge of attaining a legendary status. Among other things,  Pakistan’s free media, for the first time is speaking Pakistani narrative. Nation seems united on war against terror. Corrupt and militant political factions are sweating from their teeth. After initial stutters, civil-military relations have taken a steady path. Clear lines are drawn between military and political affairs. Army is not reluctant reminding political leadership to ‘watch their steps’ on every transgression. No qualms about the fact that army is subservient institution of the government. However, credibility has remained an issue between the two because army never trusted political leadership and vice versa. On the other hand, political leadership did nothing to improve upon their credentials. Unfortunately, political leaders insist on running the state as a ‘private company’ just like their family businesses except that loss in state affairs due to their poor decision making will still have gains for them. They must have obliged big players by handing out projects on easy terms and commissions must have already been paid in time and in exact amounts.

By the way this is not an army paid article or a suck up. Having given prime time of my life to Army and being critical where required, I still find is painfully strange when people show disdain for army without valid reasons. Here is a little example for common reader. PM took gift of Saari for mother of Modi who in turn brought gifts for his grand-daughter’s wedding last month. For the last 18 months, I am located close to Eastern borders and every week we pick up dead bodies of our men and civilians due to ceasefire violations by India. See how men in uniform are combating Indian atrocities and how our PM honours the blood of our comrades who are supposed to be his people as well.

Back to Raheel Sharif. Some would call his popularity an undue media hype or mere optics. Others would concoct unending conspiracy theories. And some might be swept away in infatuation. One thing is certain that no general in past could muster as much goodwill as RS has attained. Where do we go from here? Pakistan represents an ideology and army is the sole impediment to physical disintegration of this country. The whole scenario makes position of RS very critical. There are 11 months to November 2016 and lot can be done in this time to tidying up the loose ends. Inter alia, following may be considered for the good of Pakistan:

a.    Drone attacks on Pakistan must stop. End of drone regime can ensure restoration of Pakistan’s sovereignty on its own land as well announcing establishment of the writ of the state in our western corridor.

b.    Foreign policy towards India, US, Iran, KSA and Afghanistan is crucial. Chinese friendship is guaranteed not for their love of Pakistani people but for our geo-strategic location and Chinese interests in the region and globe. Indian threat is not a fiction but reality and our reactive mode needs to be switched to proactive. Dependence on US should be curbed as US friendship is a matter of time. Better working relations with Russia can be useful for better stakes at international front. Neutral stance on KSA/ Iran wrangling is quintessential to keeping relative sectarian calm in the country. An investment of over three decades in Afghanistan can only come true if we stay relevant in power matrix and broker a deal between TTA, west and Afghan Govt.

c.    Taking the National Action Plan to the logical end. Political leadership should not play games with Army like we saw in case of currency smuggling and terror financing scandals in Sindh. Govt has gained political space against its rival parties (PPPP & MQM) as well as cut deals where it felt necessary like letting go entire leadership of PPPP without any prosecution. NAP must remain above political gimmicks and only Army can ensure that. Rehabilitation of IDPs and issue of missing persons should be taken on priority. As a follow up to Zarb-e-Azb, Govt be asked to come up with a long term program for restoration of FATA, KPK and Balochistan eventually configuring these area in to the fold of Pakistan.

d.    Completion of CPEC project can change the fate of Pakistan. There will be repercussions. Construction of Gawadar Deep Sea Port has cost us more than 60,000 lives. Construction of CPEC corridor may have its costs. It will allow full economic advantage to Pakistan. Our friends across border are already having sleepless nights. But they have also developed a habit of coming up with ingenious/ proactive strategies like 2001 escalation which silenced Kashmir Issue without firing a single bullet, Bombay attacks aftermath and creation/ sustenance of TTP. Complacency is not an option on this issue.

e.    It is a fallacy that terror organizations somehow can be used as vital national assets in times of need. It had a back blow when Mujahideen in Afghanistan went out of business after collapse of USSR and turned their focus on IOK. But soon India, in master stroke of strategy was able to win over few mercenaries thus creation of TTP came to pass. We are still paying the price for a flawed policy of the past. However, learning from past mistakes, Pakistan’s name should not figure out while listing down sponsors of terrorism including Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jamat-ud-Dawah etc.

f.     Finally, please do not even consider extension in your tenure as COAS. You had your share of service and glory. Extensions have a bad history and it would be a heartbreak if your good name is maligned for any right or wrong reason. We would love to remember you as a meteor which blazed across murky horizons of Pakistan.

Only Allah knows the whole truth.
Pakistan with its mix bag of problems remains to be the unique country by virtue of its ideology. Inertia is broken. Look how one man has impacted the world just by doing his job honestly. I wonder what wonders may come this nation’s way, if all of us start doing our bit honestly.