Walking the talk


General Raheel breaks the ice



While COAS General Raheel Sharif was in Washington to build frayed relations with Washington, National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz stirred up a hornet’s nest at home. The octogenarian, whose job description is to articulate Pakistan’s security and foreign policy, shot himself in the foot by being quoted in a BBC (Urdu) interview that Pakistan should not target militant groups that do not pose a threat to the state.

The Foreign Office spokesperson, in a futile effort at damage limitation, further compounded the blunder by saying that Sartaj Aziz had made these remarks in an historic context. Even the US State Department jumped in the fray by reminding Islamabad that the Haqqani Network was as much a threat to regional security as any other terrorist group and that Islamabad had assured Washington it would act against all militant groups indiscriminately.

Ironically, the Pakistani military for some time now has been saying that it is indiscriminately going after militant groups of all hues and colour. The army chief articulated this policy a number of times during his Washington sojourn.

While addressing a select gathering including State Department and Defence officials at a dinner at the Pakistan embassy in Washington, General Sharif vowed in unequivocal terms not to spare those who played football with the heads of Pakistani soldiers. He also clarified that Zarb-e-Azb was directed at terrorist groups without distinction and was not only restricted to North and South Waziristan, but all across Pakistan.

Of course, this is music to the general’s sceptical hosts who insist that Islamabad for years has been engaged in a duplicitous policy of making a differentiation between good and bad terrorists. The good terrorists are the Pakistani military’s cat paws in neighbouring Afghanistan and held Kashmir, they contend.

Despite Pakistan’s efforts to the contrary, US lawmakers as well as the commentarati remain sceptical about its anti-terrorism efforts

Despite Pakistan’s efforts to the contrary, US lawmakers as well as the commentarati remain sceptical about its anti-terrorism efforts. During General Raheel Sharif’s predecessor General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s tenure, relations between the two militaries had hit an all time low.

Osama bin Laden being found and killed by US Navy Seals in Abbottabad in May 2011 was a watershed in already tense relations. Kayani’s foot dragging on launching an operation in N Waziristan, on the flimsy pretext that the blowback will be severe, had few takers in Washington.

Owing to Indian spin doctors’ efforts — buttressed by our own acts of omission and commission — scepticism about Islamabad’s intentions runs deep amongst the Washington think tanks and commentarati. Christian Fair, a Georgetown University professor who knows Pakistan well and has also written a book on the Pakistani army, claimed in a recent article that the Pakistani army undertook the operation (Zarb-e-Azb) after giving the militants five months of warning. According to her, “The fellows that remained in Waziristan were those that the Pakistanis were not able to turn.”

Unlike his predecessor, in General Raheel Sharif the Americans would discern a plain and simple soldier with no pretensions of being an intellectual or a philosopher. The general’s visit is taking place at a crucial time when US forces are packing their bags from Afghanistan.

Islamabad badly needs money to continue with it counterterrorism efforts. With Obama administration already a lame duck and the Democrats no longer holding either House of the Congress, it will be an uphill task to convince US legislators to maintain the level of security assistance.

In the backdrop of US administration’s calls ‘to do more’, the general, while in Washington, has articulated Pakistan’s stance that its efforts to root out terrorism without making any distinction were in its own national interest. This is also correct as none of our neighbours have the stomach for terrorism being foisted on them from our territory.

Enough damage has been done in the past by pursuing this short-sighted policy. The present army chief is the first since late General Zia-ul-Haq — who in the early 1980s had initiated the policy of nurturing terrorists in the name of jihad — to understand the negative dynamics of this flawed paradigm.

Even if, as it is claimed, Sartaj Aziz’s remarks were made in an historical context, Pakistan is living with its disastrous consequences. It is time to walk the talk and also the military and civilian leadership coming on the same page on Pakistan’s strategic priorities.

Glib talk like General Kayani telling the Americans that ‘they had the watches and the Taliban had the time’ had disastrous consequences for Pakistan. General Sharif, on the contrary, informed his hosts in Washington that Indian jingoism on the LoC (Line of Control) in Kashmir is hampering Pakistan’s efforts on its western border to flush out the terrorists.

The present army chief is the first since late General Zia-ul-Haq — who in the early 1980s had initiated the policy of nurturing terrorists in the name of jihad — to understand the negative dynamics of this flawed paradigm

While the military chief was in Washington, Russia sent its Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu with a 40-member delegation to Islamabad. This is the first high-level visitor from Moscow since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A defence co-operation agreement, termed a milestone by Islamabad, has been signed. The agreement, that provides for exchange of information on politico-military co-operation, hopefully like in the past will not merely be a flash in the pan.

With Pakistan firmly in the western camp and a close ally of China, only half-hearted efforts were made to mend fences with Moscow. Of course India’s close relations and its defence and cooperation pact with the former Soviet Union were seen as a major factor by Islamabad that resulted in dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971.

However, in the fast moving international and regional scenario, a fresh start is required. Pakistan urgently needs to diversify its foreign policy rather than merely relying on a sceptical friend like the US and an “all weather friend” China.

Unfortunately Islamabad is virtually isolated amongst its neighbours. Relations with Iran are at an all time low. There is a deep trust deficit with Afghanistan and, as the prime minster himself admitted, we are facing a belligerent India. All our neighbours including China are wary of jihadists operating from our badlands.

Of course this state of affairs is not entirely of our making. Nonetheless, the past policy of making a distinction between the good and the bad terrorists inexorably damaged Pakistan’s interests.

Building on the theme that Pakistan is fighting an existential war against terrorism and has no favourites would somewhat restore our credibility in the region. But for that to happen words have to be vigorously followed by actions — in our own national interest.


  1. It sounds like good progress is being made in the fight against terrorism…if Pakistan, Afganistan and the USA are all on the same page in persuing these militant terrorists there will be strong resistance to further growth of these radicals who are causing so much damage in your country…

  2. i think in the long run we wiil cherish the services of gen raheel as we are a nation always act in the hindsight. he is the best man for this job!!!

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