The road travelled and the road ahead


“And I have promises to keep…”

Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif retired on 29th November 2016 at the end of his mandated three year tenure. This is as it should be. Chiefs of Army Staff do not ask for extensions nor can they give themselves extensions. General Raheel Sharif had indicated well before his retirement that he did not want an extension thereby making sure that the government did not offer him one. In spite of this speculations continued with all sorts of scenarios being predicted. The new Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa has been appointed from a list of four senior most lieutenant generals and the entire process cannot be faulted. Hopefully this transition will be the norm in future and that it will cease to be the focus of media attention that bordered on frenzy in this case. There will be promotions, retirements and postings and they will be according to well established rules and procedures that ensure that the right man gets the right job thereby creating the best command and staff team for the years ahead. This is how the military system works and delivers.

The beauty of the military system is that no two generals are alike in spite of having been through the same process of training and service experience. So when one general says that he is not like so and so he is stating a fact. This is because the military system is dynamic and encourages individuality at every stage of the career and because a grooming process takes place on the basis of demonstrated ability and talent. The implication is that we can look forward to General Qamar Bajwa’s own style of command even as he pursues policies already underway. He will be backed by the inherent institutional and structural strength of the institution that he now heads as were all his predecessors. One can expect that the government will continue to get well thought out and considered input from the military.

The circumstances that defined General Raheel Sharif’s tenure made him venture into spaces that were left open and his motivation sprang from national and not personal interest. Left vacant those spaces would have been exploited to create massive national crises. He picked up the slack in the judicial process as part of the war on terror, he launched into FATA after the threat expanded manifold with no coordinated response against it, he helped forge the National Action Plan and the Apex Committees to help in its implementation, he gave the Rangers free rein in Karachi after seeing the city decline into a nexus of crime, terror and political expediency and he personally supported the government in the foreign policy and security domains by timely visits and interactions. There has been a more than 80 per cent drop in violence related civilian casualties since he took over. This statistic more than anything else indicates the success achieved. Pakistan is no longer a failed, failing or fragile state — it is poised to benefit enormously from the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) project rightly called a game changer for Pakistan.

Inevitably there was talk of the civilian government ceding space to the military under pressure or of the military calling the shots — a hackneyed phrase if ever there was on — or the civil and military establishments not being on the same page. None of these ideas had any basis and that is why they never stuck. What did standout was an absence of reciprocity to create a team and institutional structures for the best possible functional arrangements to work with the military. This had to do with forums for institutionalised decision making, the right personalities for interaction and a reining in of elements strait jacketed in past hatreds, feuds and petty ambitions. It is to the credit of General Raheel Sharif that he ensured the complete detachment of the military from interference in political matters and those who banked on him for covert or overt intervention were rudely disappointed. General Raheel Sharif also demonstrated restraint and maturity in the face of the blatant provocations from across our borders though he did speak of latent retaliatory capacity that could be unleashed.

What lies ahead is a long delayed consolidation phase and this has to be done jointly by the civil and military establishments. A well thought out policy is needed for Kashmir, the LOC conflict and relations with India. FATA needs to be mainstreamed and secured so that there is no ingress from an insidious threat and this includes the return of Afghan refugees and rehabilitation of those displaced. Karachi has to be brought under strong governance and administrative control and this includes enhancing of civilian institutions. An internal transition that addresses international concerns about Pakistan needs to get underway so that a reset in foreign relations is backed by an image make-over — this will also create the right environment for economic gains and for the CPEC project. The National Action Plan has to be implemented. General Bajwa will be leading the military team that will work on all these issues with the government team even as he ensures credible deterrence that includes secure borders and calibrated responses to threats — internal and external. Expectations are high.