Chief in, chief out


What difference does it make, if any at all?


The ‘next army chief’ guessing game came of age way before the ‘extension’ frenzy died

In a land where rulers rule and generals command till former is removed by the latter in a coup or the latter is sent home and replaced by someone else, enter General Raheel Sharif — an anomaly by all standards who defied our standards to gauge a general promoted out of turn.

The ‘next army chief’ guessing game came of age way before the ‘extension’ frenzy died. In midst of the ubiquitous articles loaded with speculation, analysis, inside and background information of many Lieutenant generals carried out by every newspaper and TV pundit, we’ll finally heave a collective sigh of relief soon.

Everyone, and I mean the word in its broadest sense, who has even an iota of interest in politics for the past many months was curious about two things. Extension, if denied then who’ll fill the mighty boots of General Raheel and tread the path he’d marched on so far?

‘Who is replacing General Raheel Sharif?’ asked Shahrukh, a young business graduate while we sat for a cup of tea. ‘Another general,’ I replied. And I wasn’t trying to sound witty or impress him with my faculty of producing a laconic reply instantly. I solemnly believe that whoever becomes our next army chief, be it Lt General Ashfaq Nadeem, Lt General Zubair Hayat, Lt General Javed Iqbal Ramday or Lt General Qamar Bajwa, will carry the baton of command like his predecessor.

It is said that the historian of the future, armed with the benefit of hindsight and distance, is the best decider of events we live through. We witnessed the three years of General Raheel Sharif mainly through the lens of ISPR. We saw him more, we barely heard him speak. I am darn sure that General Raheel Sharif read, understood and practiced Shakespeare’s Polonius way better than many; he practiced, in letter and spirit, what the great Bard wrote, Give every every man thy ears, few thy voice. And thus commanded our outgoing Chief.

Now, I’ll mention a few unmentionables. I’ve witnessed what we do to a judge after he hangs his robes and to a general once he passes the baton. Come on, you know how a certain former CJ who now has a political party that carries justice, democracy and criticism even in its very name and a former army chief whose brother did that ‘here-and-there’ thing with land are remembered now by all and sundry. The once beloved chiefs have now become standing objects of derision. Those who loved and hailed them once, now either remain silent and aloof or ashamed of their past association.

Politicians, be in power or hankering after it, are fair game for masses and media alike as they are believed to be corrupt and self-seeking; both as individuals and en masse

The big question now is: Are we sure that how we now remember the two former chiefs won’t be precisely the fate that awaits our soon-to-be-former chief? What if, two years or less from now, we’ll remember that APS Peshawar massacre happened during General Raheel Sharif’s watch? What if suddenly we realise that when an entire generation of lawyers in Quetta were butchered, whose watch it was?

And dare not to forget those who shouted themselves hoarse after an ever elusive umpire denied a raised finger to a frenzied politico. Can we write off the possibility that down a year or two, all the pent-up frustration of those who’ve been wronged in the summer of 2014 won’t seek solace in naming someone big and mighty who was, back then, in the position to do something, anything?

Politicians, be in power or hankering after it, are fair game for masses and media alike as they are believed to be corrupt and self-seeking; both as individuals and en masse.

Serving generals are perceived differently. And here is why.

‘Army is the only institution we have in this country,’ is the line that props up in every political conversation that lasts longer than a minute. The essence of this line is that if an individual turns out to be a rotten egg, blame him and not the institution he hails from, as our land can’t afford to compromise the integrity and repute of the only institution it is blessed with. If the individual is one splendid gem the credit goes entirely to the strict discipline, top-notch training, rigorous checks and balances, and meritocracy that is the hallmark of the institution.

That is because we, dearest sirs and ma’ams, contemplate things (and mortal human beings) as binaries. Why do we do it? Maybe it is paucity of imagination, maybe it is the warmth and comfort that comes when one pigeonholes all that goes around in an impossibly complex universe into two neatly crafted boxes of good and bad. All the goings-on of the world become a theatre performance where heroes vie against villains to defeat their nefarious designs in an epic struggle.

And since we are the good folks we have to side with the noble, upright, brave, honest, straight-talking, no-nonsense knight. And lucky us, we find one around the corner, every single time.

Two days from now, we’ll have a new chief in and a beloved chief out. For my friends who seek philosophy to make sense of worldly events, I quote maestro Voltaire: ‘That is the order of things; one nail drives out another; so goes the world.’

I pray that time, tweets and talk shows won’t corrode the repute you have, chief.