Army chief’s US visit

Updated 25 Nov 2014

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The image shows US Centcom chief General Lloyd Austin and COAS General Raheel Sharif. — Courtesy: DG ISPR's Twitter page
The image shows US Centcom chief General Lloyd Austin and COAS General Raheel Sharif. — Courtesy: DG ISPR's Twitter page

GEN Raheel Sharif’s visit to the US has been dubbed a success in several quarters, but in truth little is really known about the substantive issues that were discussed and quite what the metrics of this so-called success are.

A more nuanced, less cheerleader-esque assessment of the trip suggests that Gen Sharif’s interactions with a wide range of American officials marked a continuation of a broader trend: stabilising Pak-US relations with a focus on security issues — virtually dictated by the army leadership — and well-meaning but significantly less substantive promises by the US to help Pakistan stabilise and grow its economy.

Also read: Pakistan, US conclude first phase of key consultations

The trip then was not expected to produce any significant surprises — good or bad — and concluded as such. Yet, it is in the nature of such trips to often produce results much later and it is with that in mind that Gen Sharif’s high-level interactions should be assessed.

As with all such trips, even if details are scarce, themes do tend to emerge. After the COAS’s meetings with defence and political officials, the two themes that became apparent were: a focus on anti-militancy operations inside Pakistan; and ensuring that the various pieces of the post-2014 future of Afghanistan come together as harmoniously as possible.

On the internal front, Gen Sharif appeared to strike the right PR notes at least, especially his emphatic comments about Pakistan not seeking to shield the Haqqani network on its soil anymore.

Yet, for all the American focus on the Haqqani network, the military here has a much bigger and more immediate war to fight — against Pakistan-centric militants. And it is here that Gen Sharif demonstrated a bit of openness.

Also read: Army chief holds talks at Pentagon

The general warned that the fight against militancy would not be won by military operations, no matter how big, but that the countrywide threat needed a sustained and methodical approach by all arms of the state.

Therein lies the central challenge and if the army chief was able to get American commitments for military and intelligence resources to help beef up the state’s capacity here, on the civilian and military sides, then that alone would make the trip a success.

On Afghanistan, the signs indicated a growing convergence between the Pakistani establishment and the US administration on the need for stability on both sides of the border and finding ways to reduce cross-border tensions exacerbated by militants seeking sanctuary in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The revelation that the US would continue to participate in combat operations in Afghanistan via aerial attacks and surveillance is especially significant given that drone strikes in Pakistan are believed to be dependent on facilities in Afghanistan now.

So in welcoming the continued American military engagement in Afghanistan, the security establishment here has sent a signal that the future of Afghanistan and peace in Fata will be achieved with US help rather than with the Pakistanis going it alone in both areas.

Published in Dawn, November 25th , 2014