By Muhammad Ali Ehsan
The 15th retired chief of Pakistan Army, General Raheel Sharif, is being tipped to take over as the military chief of the Saudi led 34-member military alliance of Muslim countries. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif confirmed the news by stating that, ‘this thing was in the pipeline for quite some time and that the Prime Minister was also part of the deliberations.’
General (retd) Raheel Sharif built a huge support base in Pakistan while he was in service. Judged by his actions and results he remained publicly the most popular among the civil-military leadership lot before he retired. Would he be able to retain the same level of popularity after taking over as the head of coalition force? I doubt that and personally would not wish the story of General Raheel Sharif to take this ending — ‘a brave, creative popular military leader of a nation turned to a paid mercenary leading the coalition force of his undoing.’
Would his decision to head the collation force benefit the country as much as it will personally benefit him? Why has the government that disapproved of joining this 34-nation’s coalition force in parliament now willingly made available the retired Pakistani general to lead the force? Would this not affect our ‘policy of neutrality’ towards Saudi Arabia and Iran given that all 34 members of the collation are Sunni majority nations? Is there not this sectarian tinge in this military alliance given the 100 per cent Sunni dominance of the countries that constitute the alliance?
The job of any military is to create the appropriate favourable military conditions for a subsequent political solution. In Middle East this is far from possible. The stated primary objective of the collation force is “to protect the Muslim countries from all terrorist groups and terrorist organisations” but would this be possible? Iran, Iraq and Syria are not part of this coalition but are the very countries that are at the centre of all conflicts that affect the entire Arab World. The alliance is also expected to deploy military forces in Syria to fight the IS. All political estimates preceding such a deployment are already certifying such a development as a great military mistake. Would the general be willing to head a coalition that commits that mistake?
Despite the huge popularity the general enjoyed during his tenure as the military leader in Pakistan, critics accuse him of ‘lacking the resolution of seeing things through to an end.’ Many consider the general far from being the ‘snake charmer’ that his predecessors were but him too they consider as the general ‘who beat the grass to startle the snakes’ but didn’t do enough to draw all the snakes out of their snake pits and crush them once and for all — something he could have done. Now that after his retirement he still wants to dole a uniform to deprive the world of evil why didn’t he chose to do the same at home? How would a military that offered huge sacrifices fighting against the evil forces in the country under his command view his escalation to the new heights of royal engagement that opens up flood doors of personal fortunes for the general. Lest we forget — the military that he commanded continues to fight and looks at no such ‘post fight individually beneficial appointments’.
One thing that profoundly differentiated General Raheel Sharif from any other military chief before him was that as a general officer he always remained very ‘calculable and predictable’. Despite the many hopes that the majority of people in Pakistan associated with the general he (apparently) remained fixated with only one thing that all good soldiers are always expected to be fixated with — the enemy. He neither sought personal and political power like General Pervaiz Musharaff nor was allegedly presumed to be amassing personal wealth and benefits like General Kayani. Not a ‘gentleman soldier’ like General Jahangir Karamat who on being told by the civilian government that he crossed a red line was effortlessly forced into submission and resigned. Nor a popped up lucky General like Waheed Kakar who when appointed as a quiet and mild mannered COAS became the only military chief (ruthless) in the history of this country who forced both the President and the Prime Minister to simultaneously resign and arrange holding of general elections (1993) in the country.
While in service General Sharif could hardly be compared to any of his predecessors. The Lieutenant General rewarded for his services in the ISPR made sure that the military leader remained a household name and a hero that was seen to dominate a subdued civilian leadership discharging its responsibilities under the shadow of a general overseeing the National Action Plan. The general or the ISPR did nothing to put to rest the rumours that the general might undertake any extra constitutional step or seek an extension. Between these two deeply polarized possibilities the people of Pakistan were made to bank their hopes on the possibility of creation of a ‘Raheel Reformed Pakistan’ right up to the date of his retirement — November 28, 2016.
Today the government supported and the government backed job that the General is likely to take reveals a very different side of the General to all his admirers including me. Like General Kayani he has agreed to take an extension in his military service the only difference is that he will be serving Saudi Arabia and not his own country. The least he could have done was not allowed the political leadership to trumpet and take the credit for him landing this job.
A beneficiary of a civilian backed extension remains a beneficiary whether he takes that extension inside or outside Pakistan. As long as military leaders continue to extract personal benefits from the civilian leadership history will not judge them as downright professional soldiers that they must be.
PS: I do recommend all generals to read the text of General Douglus MacArthur’s farewell address to Congress (April 19, 1951) in which he said ‘Old soldiers never die they just fade away’.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2017.