There can be little doubt Gen Raheel Sharif hasn’t put a foot wrong in the popular perception since being elevated to the position of the chief of army staff and continues to accelerate ahead in approval ratings. What could derail him?
Rather than belonging to the camp of so-called thinking generals who came to represent inertia or ‘paralysis by analysis’ (a term I heard from within the army itself), the general is seen as a ‘doer’ and thus brought welcome relief when brakes were applied to the seemingly unending slide towards anarchy, fanatical, mass-murdering religious extremism and urban terrorism/lawlessness.
Nobody expected the fight to be easy or quickly finished. Neither did one want a tragedy such as the Army Public School, Peshawar massacre to be the spur the authorities needed to finally launch a concerted campaign to counter and subdue a monster that had been left alone for far too long to grow and consolidate.
History is replete with instances where sycophants can do the sort of debilitating damage to a leader that his or her worst enemy can’t.
Although the military’s impressive PR machine headed by the proactive Maj-Gen Asim Bajwa did not publicise it, I am told by reliable sources that those found responsible for the failure to protect our young APS students were punished, and the court-martialled included a brigadier.
This is impressive for an institution which has had held all kinds of civilians including political leaders liable to accountability, but isn’t known to assign official opprobrium for its own shortcomings, even catastrophic disasters. One could mention a long list.
But the current COAS seems to be changing all that. What he is attempting may be tantamount to trying to turn around one of the supertankers at sea where from the time you turn the wheel to when the very large crude carrier (VLCC) actually starts to change direction seems like a lifetime.
It is, therefore, incumbent on each element of the state to strengthen his hands, wish him well and hope and pray his institution’s professionals ensure ironclad protection for their leader as he is in the middle of directing a war for the country which is existential in nature.
History is replete with instances where sycophants can do the sort of debilitating damage to a leader that his or her worst enemy can’t. The well-trained and reputedly professional close protection team of the army chief will no doubt find itself at a loss to protect him from the insidious and well-calibrated campaign that’s been initiated by some ‘fans’.
The COAS is halfway into his three-year tenure and self-serving quarters are already starting to raise issues that should shift his focus from the national interest to the personal one albeit the sycophants are cleverly rolling these two into one.
The challenges remain. One instance was the arrest in Karachi towards the end of this week of a former PAF official who was said to have been the financier and motivator of the Safoora Goth Ismailis’ mass murderers that included university graduates. He was said to have given dars at a DHA mosque and was a successful businessman.
Around the last federal apex committee meeting, at a session where some members of the clergy were also present, the COAS reportedly asked some sharp questions about the funding of seminaries. This later prompted a senior Deobandi figure Mufti Naeem to lash out at the ‘state’ for putting guns in ‘our’ hands.
The state may have put the guns in many non-state actors’ hands but now, it appears, when it wants at least some of them to hand them back there is resistance. This is troublesome when some of tougher varieties of these non-state actors have not even been asked yet. Who knows how organisations such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba will react if such a move was ever extended to them?
Then of course there is a daily trickle of news from the Fata region of ambushes on military check posts, vehicles. Our soldiers on this battlefront write a daily chapter of valour and sacrifice with their blood. The capacity of terrorists to operate freely in their former bastion may have been severely degraded but they retain some capability.
Friday morning’s attack on a Pakistan Air Force camp in Peshawar’s Badaber suburb and the resultant death toll indicated how the country cannot afford a moment’s let-up in the fight against brainwashed zealots who have been lured into this madness by titillating talk/imagery of virgins in heaven.
This is but a sketchy backdrop and not a complete picture. Even against this, anything that distracts the army chief or his key commanders is nothing less than criminal. Some in the media started this talk of the army chief deserving an extension. Now a former army chief has joined in the chorus.
Gen Musharraf, who gave himself not one three-year extension but nearly double that in duration has now called for a decision for the incumbent chief and painted a dire scenario if that did not happen. How the slide into anarchy continued at his ‘extended’ watch is now well recorded.
It isn’t a secret how unhappy Musharraf was with Gen Kayani because, in his view, the latter didn’t help him on his return from exile and when the treason case was initiated against him. It was only when the incumbent came to office that the former military ruler got respite. So, one can’t be sure if he is suggesting what he is as he could also be equating his own interest with the national interest.
For the first time, even if critics such as I still find it selective and not across the board as we’d like, some attempt is being made to corral runaway extremism. Suggestions such as the ones being made now, a full 18 months before COAS is scheduled to retire, can only undermine morale in the senior ranks and could also be a distraction for him.
What then is the purpose of those who are pushing this agenda?
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2015