COAS General Raheel Sharif is a gentleman officer, upright and transparent. Despite provocations and instigations he has not conspired for personal gain or political glory. That is saying something.
It is also saying something remarkable that the general has resolutely gone after the Pakistani Taliban and urban terrorist-criminals of Karachi. Indeed, his obsession with the return and rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced Persons of FATA is evidence of his abiding humanity no less than of his focused anti-terrorist strategy.
Therefore when General Raheel Sharif speaks in public, which is rare, we need to listen to what he is saying and understand what he wants to do, even if it appears at the fag end of his tenure.
On September 6, Defense of Pakistan Day, General Sharif made the usual points – that the defense of Pakistan is impregnable, that no external force would be allowed to obstruct or undermine CPEC, that Pakistan-China friendship is consistently based on mutual respect and equality, and so on. He also lauded the trust and harmony within the armed forces and paid glowing tributes to the soldiers martyred in the fight against Taliban terrorism.
More significantly, General Sharif has boldly declared that “reforms are needed in the system”, and referred to the “evil nexus between heinous crimes, corruption and terrorism”. This isn’t the first time a top military man has established an organic link between corruption, terrorism and crime. But whenever this link is reiterated, a tremor runs through the country’s political elite, especially in those political parties that are known to sponsor, or have contacts with, criminal elements, terrorist mafias and bhatta groups. In fact, remarks such as these have fueled speculation that General Sharif may have political ambitions, especially since Imran Khan has never tired of thundering about the corruption of the PMLN, PPP and MQM and made no bones about his fervent wish for a “third umpire” (military) intervention to stem the rot. No less than Imran, Dr Tahir ul Qadri has gone so far as to exhort General Sharif to give him “justice” in the Model Town case so that the good general can face his Maker one day without guilt.
Two questions arise. In the backdrop of this political provocation, what reforms is General Sharif talking about? Who is going to bring them about? The military has already focused on the corruption-terrorist nexus in Karachi. But in so doing it has run politically afoul of the two main parties that represent the people of Sindh – the PPP and the MQM. An extension of this policy into other parts of Pakistan, especially in the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, runs the risk of alienating the PMLN and PTI. And if General Sharif is not about to step in and reform the system, surely he can’t expect the other Sharif to do so.
It is also curious that General Raheel Sharif’s idea of reform is singularly one-dimensional. Does he really think that breaking the link between corruption and terrorism will end terrorism and make Pakistan a land of peace and plenty? The jihadi groups and Taliban, the IS and Al Qaeda, have no organic link with corrupt elements in the PPP or PMLN or PTI or indeed MQM. Yet it is these groups and the radical violent ideologies that they espouse and practice that are an existential threat to the state of Pakistan and not the PPP or PMLN. It is these groups that do not allow the civil-military leadership of Pakistan to stitch up its borders east and west and build the peace process with neighbours Afghanistan and India so that the inter-state proxy wars that have destabilized the region can come to an end. The military establishment constantly bemoans the lack of enthusiasm and initiative on the part of the civil leadership as regards certain aspects of the National Action Plan. But can it, will it allow, nay help, the civil leadership to take on and uproot these non-state actors? Will the military leadership take on the task of registering, monitoring and cleansing the radical madrassahs and jihadi groups?
Similarly, General Raheel Sharif may be all for a strict policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of India and Afghanistan. But how does he intend to contend with the burden of history in which the military establishment of Pakistan has had a central role to play in the past?
The reform that Pakistan desperately needs is in Pakistan’s outlook to “national security” which is monopolized by the military establishment. The tail shouldn’t wag the dog. Countries have armies and not the other way round. National security as perceived by the military establishment headed by General Sharif is one dimension of national power. And the military establishment is just one stakeholder of national power. When General Raheel Sharif is ready to reform his own establishment’s all-powerful outlook on all such issues, he will be worth listening to intently by all of Pakistan.