King Raheel

Published September 20, 2015
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

IT’S silly season again. For some reason the week began with, the best there was, the best there is, the best there ever will be — King Raheel. May God save him and may he save the rest of us.

Then, because the gods like to play around with us, the Badaber hiccup happened. But, because he’s also Teflon Raheel, it didn’t matter.

A massive attack was thwarted. Thirty lives were lost, but tragedy was averted. The chief was on the ground and in charge. The terrorists will never win while Raheel is around.

It’s easy to forget that we’ve seen all of this before.

Back when Musharraf was king, back when Kayani was saviour. It’s pretty standard fare, a pretty standard arc. Luckily for Raheel, memories here are shorter than a chief’s tenure.

Go back to 2002. Musharraf had saved Pakistan. The court had given him three years; he had taken over with economic collapse beckoning and when Pakistan was an international pariah after the nuclear tests.

For good measure, the outside world had tired of dictators in Pakistan.

Three years in, Pakistan was in love with its commando. 9/11 may have helped rehabilitate him internationally, but his seven-point agenda had helped steady the ship domestically.

Corruption was down, professionalism was in, the country looked like it was set to go places — and the architect of the turnaround was the straight-talking patriot, Musharraf.

It’s easy to forget that we’ve seen all of this before.

It’s probably what convinced him to go for the fatal referendum. His court-mandated three years were up, but he was popular as hell. Pakistan needed him. How could he say no?

If he hadn’t rigged the referendum, he would probably have won it handily anyway. But rig he did and five more years he granted himself.

We all know how that turned out.

Turn to 2008. The military was being pummelled by public opinion and militancy. Soldiers were advised not to wear uniforms in public. Lal Masjid had produced an epic blowback. The lawyers’ movement had sapped military morale.

The country was going downhill and fast. Enter Kayani. Yes, Kayani.

There he was, the thinking general. The country had tired of the commando and his brashness; it wanted someone who could figure out what had gone wrong and come up with a plan to restore pride and right the balance.

Kayani was that man. He shuttered the ISI political cell and pulled spooks and soldiers out of politics. He made sure there was no meddling in the elections.

His real love was the army. He announced the Year of the Soldier. Service matters were attended to. Morale was boosted and pay increased.

And he would take the fight to the militants. He orchestrated Swat, first letting the politicians cut the Nizam-i-Adl deal and then expertly exploiting Fazlullah and Sufi Muhammad’s ambitions.

Months later, he took us into South Waziristan, promising to rid it of militants as part of a phased campaign to eventually recover all of Fata.

Times were still tough, but Kayani was the steady hand. He gave us the Kayani moment. Remember that?

Nawaz had threatened to march on Islamabad. Asif had panicked. Rehman Malik wanted to shoot at the protesters if they crossed Pindi. Ifitkhar Chaudhry was enjoying the attention and the storm around him.

But Kayani kept his cool. No, he wasn’t going to take over — he was too good for that. Instead, he had a word with Asif and gave his word to Nawaz and Chaudhry.

Crisis averted. The general had shown the pols how politics was meant to be done.

Come 2010, he was so good and so powerful he could do whatever the hell he liked. So he did — and gave himself a second term.

We all know how that turned out.

Now, it’s King Raheel’s turn. The same arc is there. We don’t need to go over what all he has done. The spin brigade doesn’t tire of telling us.

So, let’s try something else — figuring out how Nawaz helped him become King Raheel. Not wittingly, for Nawaz would surely like to be king himself.

But two fatal errors set the path for Raheel’s walk to glory.

The second one first — that catastrophic failure that was the Jan 2014 speech in parliament. Everything was set for the announcement of a military operation in North Waziristan.

The TTP was rampant again and had to be cut down to size. The military was itching to put the Kayani inertia behind it.

Nawaz could never be a warrior, but he could be a wartime PM. He had already shown decisiveness on Karachi.

Now, it was time to take on the TTP. But he blinked. He loved Punjab too much. Talks were to be given another chance, in the hope of winning a peace for Punjab.

The moment was gone. Five months later, after the Karachi airport attack and with the Chinese growing insistent, Raheel grabbed his chance. North Waziristan would be Raheel’s war.

As would the glory.

The other Nawaz mistake — Musharraf over India. A trade deal with India was on the table. It could have been a game-changer. But the boys didn’t like it.

And the boys were already miffed. Nawaz had vowed to put Musharraf on trial. It was as personal as it was unnecessary. The man who had made him miss his father’s funeral and put him in handcuffs would have to pay.

So Nawaz chose — and he chose wrong. He ended up getting neither — neither a trade deal with India nor Musharraf’s scalp. Counterfactuals are difficult things, but imagine if Nawaz had put his foot down on the right thing.

But that’s history. The man who would have been king helped pave the path for the man who is king. It’s Raheel’s kingdom now.

So all hail the king — and try and forget that you’ve seen all of this before.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2015

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