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Three men, three questions

Updated January 31, 2016


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

YOU gotta hand it to Raheel. He really does do things his way. A general quitting two-thirds of the way in, a full 10 months before retirement? Now that’s Naya Pakistan.

And yet, it makes a certain kind of sense.

He may not like it and it may not be deliberate, but the edifice of Raheel’s term has been built on being the anti-Kayani.

And everything Kayani did was defined by the extension.

The extension washed away Kayani’s first three years, the first two of which are comparable to Raheel’s, and it made everything he did or didn’t do after irrelevant.

It’s easy to forget now, but before Zarb-i-Azb there was Rah-i-Rast. And Swat was quickly followed by Rah-i-Nijaat, up in South Waziristan.

It’s easy to forget now, but before the dharna there was the Kayani moment. When the PML-N was converging on Islamabad and Iftikhar Chaudhry was still a household name.

Like Raheel at the height of the dharna, Kayani chose not to take over during the long march.

It’s easy to forget now, but Kayani followed semi-depoliticisation with a return to core interests — the army itself, national security and key foreign policies.

But the extension —that’s what defined him. And it also constrained him.

Raheel has to know that. Right now, he’s got nowhere to go but down. He could win some more victories against terror, but what’s more against the same?

Unless he did something big on India, there’s not much new he could bring to the game.

And there is the internal dimension.

It’s easy to believe that Kayani was sunk by public opinion over the extension. But it really was his own who did him in. The rank and file didn’t like the extension and the generals resented it.

Had Raheel stayed on, it would have been a step worse than Kayani. Back then, a short three years ago, the boys were just beginning to digest their counter-insurgency prowess and starting to think about counterterrorism.

He may not like it and it may not be deliberate, but the edifice of Raheel’s term has been built on being the anti-Kayani.

Now, it’s 11 years since they’ve being doing this. A half generation of battle-hardened GOCs and major generals and corps commanders. To snub them now, no matter who you are, would be to tempt the gods.

But what’s done is done. Parse it as much as you want and you’re still left with a feeling that he’s done it because Raheel is Raheel. You’ve gotta hand it to him.

Onwards then. Three questions we’re left with. For Raheel, for Nawaz and for the successor.

Ten months is a long time. With his fate determined, Raheel is now a Pakistani unicorn — the all-powerful leader who can spend his final stretch in office on his terms.

No more second-guessing, no rumour mills, no more wondering what it really means — just plain business. Where he decides to spend the political capital he’s earned will matter.

If it’s new frontline stuff, he’ll likely get nowhere. On Karachi, all that has to be done is to wait him out. On the political front, anyway.

In Punjab — a picture has said everything. Nawaz and his boys will decide what gets done in their province.

In Fata, there’s nowhere left to go. On India, he doesn’t have the time. On Afghanistan, he’s already played his cards.

Which leaves his pet project — NAP. The months ahead are nicely set up for a few meaningful interventions.

The clues are already there — terror financing, Fata reforms, return of IDPs and military-court prosecutions. Expect some more activity there. And, if he really wants to pull a surprise — Balochistan.

Second question. What will Nawaz do? Last time, he dithered. Kayani announced early October that he was going home, but Nawaz didn’t pick his successor until late November.

This time, Nawaz has two advantages. One, he’s got two picks to make — because of his dithering last time both the COAS and CJCSC retire the same day this time. That means the option to kick one guy upstairs.

Two, he can repeat the Raheel experiment — waiting until the end and picking the chap who did nothing at all; no lobbying, no preening, no leaking, nothing.

If Nawaz gets the selection right, the next bit should be easy enough — the rules of cohabitation have largely been figured out.

But there will be a difference — a year and change into his new job, at the height of his power, the new chief will watch a general election unfold.

An election in which Nawaz would be going for a fourth term, and the PML-N for a historic 10 years at the centre and 15 in Punjab.

Nawaz may be tempted to fiddle.

Third question. The successor. He can’t go back on the fight against militancy. The boys are all-in. Nor would it make sense to.

But there is one area where Raheel may have stretched out ahead of the rest — Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a mess, a dangerous mess — and Raheel has, from the contrarian view, tried too much, too fast. For very little in return.

The sanctuaries in eastern Afghanistan are more menacing than ever. The Afghan government hasn’t been able to get its act together. The Americans are as desultory as ever.

What’s the alternative? Pull back, double down on the old approach. Or at least, if Afghanistan does go to hell, don’t do anything to leave us out of favour with the Taliban.

Three men, three questions — but an old caveat. Events. They have a funny habit of intervening.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2016