The Pakistan Army Chief is set to retire in about a week’s time. While half the population is visibly saddened by his departure, the other half is saddened at the sight of those who are sad! However, whether you’re a fan or a foe, one thing you can’t be is indifferent to his retirement.
Here’s a quick recap of the legacy that Gen. Raheel Sharif is leaving behind and what has made him the most relevant Army Chief in over a decade.
1. He Had Big Shoes to Fill
Coming from a family of well-known military background, his eldest brother, Major Shabbir Sharif was a decorated hero of the 1965 war. He embraced martyrdom in the 1971 Indo-Pak war and was awarded Pakistan’s highest military award, Nishan-e-Haider. Moreover, his maternal uncle Raja Aziz Bhatti (shaheed) was also the recipient of Nishan-e-Haider for his impeccable defense of Lahore during the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict. Hence, the bar of expectations was set high for General Raheel Sharif since the onset of his tenure.
The respect that he has earned from a big segment of the society goes to show that he lived up to his family legacy.
2. Not a Procrastinator, This One!
While his predecessor, Gen. Kiyani had Operation Rah-e-Rast under his belt, Gen. Raheel Sharif will be remembered for taking decisive measures that the previous Chief had endlessly procrastinated over.
The launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb was an important moment in Pakistan’s recent history as it brought an end to the senseless confusion around declaring the “Taliban” as enemies of the State. As a result of the operation Pakistan has witnessed a tangible drop in the frequency of terrorist attacks. However, the next Pakistan Army Chief will have to ensure that the momentum created by Zarb-e-Azb is maintained until terrorism completely ends in the country.
3. Reclaiming Karachi
In an unprecedented move Gen. Raheel Sharif took upon himself to cleanse Karachi from violence that had been going on for decades. The operation in Karachi was aimed at improving the law and order situation and restoring the confidence of the people in law enforcement agencies. Since the inception of the operation, Karachi has witnessed a drastic drop in the number of target killings and street crimes. Moreover, much to the relief of the business community the operation also targeted political and sectarian outfits who were taking billions of rupees as bhatta (ransom).
One can’t claim Karachi to be a sanctuary of peace but the improvement in the metropolitan’s law and order is certainly a feather in the cap of the Pakistan Army Chief.
4. His Role as a Statesman
While some may view his actions as meddling in the affairs of the civilian government, Gen. Raheel Sharif also took upon the burden of being a statesman for Pakistan.
He took charge of the Pak-Afghan relations and engaged the authorities on counter-terrorism initiatives.
He spoke passionately about Kashmiri people’s right to self determination, which many in Pakistan feel the civilian government has failed to do.
Moreover, the role of the Pakistan Army Chief in operationalizing the Pak-China economic corridor has been instrumental. His undeterred support to the civilian government and supervision of the overall security of this project is definitely a job well done.
5. His impartiality and Support of Democracy
What distinguishes Gen. Raheel Sharif from his peers would perhaps be his impartiality. Given the political turmoil in Pakistan during the 2014 sit-ins led by PTI and Tahir ul Qadri, there were calls from certain segments urging him to take charge of the situation and intervene. He, however, refrained from being part of any such attempts.
Also in January 2016, he brushed aside the rumors of his extension by stating that he did not believe in extension and would retire on the due date. This statement was lauded by all quarters as it dispelled the rumors and reinforced the strength in the chain of command. On the contrary, his predecessor Gen. (R) Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani’s tenure was marred by his consent to take extension and later due to allegations involving his brother in an embezzlement scandal.
The tenure of Gen. Raheel Sharif has immensely helped in restoring the confidence of the general public in the armed forces. He has set an important precedent for the army as an institution that supports democracy and civilian regimes rather than one that topples them. His successor, much like Gen. Raheel Sharif at the onset of his tenure, will have big boots to fill.