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Gen Raheel and the monster

Exception justifies the rule. So has COAS General Raheel Sharif by sticking to his date of retirement in a country where only a third of army chiefs doffed their uniforms at the end of their prescribed tenure. Has he set a legacy to bring an end to Bonapartism and a paradigm shift towards eliminating all kinds of terrorists?

The selection and retirement of army chiefs have been critical to uneven civil-military relations in Pakistan’s political and constitutional evolution. There have been three types of change of guards in a country where the military ruled for most of its existence.

First, self-perpetuating tenures with chief martial law administrators extending their tenures at will, such as F M Ayub Khan, Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Musharraf. Second, both successful and unsuccessful extension-seekers, such as Gen Kayani, Gen Aslam Baig, Gen Asif Nawaz, Gen Gul Hassan, Gen Tikka Khan and Gen Musa. Third, exceptional followers of rule who preferred retirement as required by the service rules, such as Gen Kakar, Gen Karamat and now, most distinguished of all, to-be-retired on due date Gen Raheel Sharif.

Thanks to the hegemony of the garrison and the consequent fragility of democracy, elected prime ministers had no effective authority to pick the COAS on merit, except for Z A Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif who picked army chiefs of their choice but had to regret that later – Gen Zia in Bhutto’s case and Gen Musharraf in that of Nawaz Sharif. Whenever civilian governments granted extensions to the sitting COAS or picked someone out-of-turn, it did not work as they had desired.

Bhutto thought a sycophant would suit his authoritarian design but was tragically hanged by the same deceitful person. Former president Asif Ali Zardari gave an extension to Gen Kayani only to be implicated in the Memogate scandal. Similarly, Nawaz Sharif picked out-of-turn Gen Musharraf and also made him chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee; Musharraf not only did Kargil behind Nawaz’s back but also staged a coup-in-absentia.

There has been quite a discernible pattern of military takeovers in this country. First, ambitious generals engineered and then benefited from the public disenchantment with low-performing or too powerful governments, such as in the 1950s and, later, the ouster of Bhutto at the hands of the Pakistan National Alliance’ movement orchestrated by Gen Zia. Second, the ploys of corruption and/or specter of threat to national security were always used to dislodge civilian governments.

On the other hand, there has been a typical script that presented military dictators as saviors and reformers. Invariably, all military dictators miserably failed to deliver on their grand promises – instead, landing the country into a much bigger mess in the end. The civil governments that followed had to struggle to retrieve space that the powerful army had encroached upon – mostly unsuccessfully, with the exception of Bhutto who had taken over in exceptional circumstances post the 1971 war defeat and the breakup of the country.

Why has the appointment or retirement of the COAS remained the biggest enigma for most civilian governments? The causes are structural and institutional, rather than personal. According to Hamza Alavi, a relatively ‘over-developed’ military institution ‘over-determined’ the evolution of the state and emerged as an arbiter among the competing interests of ruling elites where no social class was in a position to establish its hegemony.

The Pakistan Muslim League, founding political party of the newly created nation, was not as organised as the Congress party in India, and had no social roots in the Muslim majority provinces that intended to form a loose federation while remaining “autonomous and sovereign units”, according to the Lahore Resolution of 1940.

Ethno-regional tensions for share of power in a state dominated by the Punjabi-Mohajir elite and tensions with both India and Afghanistan created the necessary internal and external conditions for a far more organised armed institution to establish its hegemony. Consequently, nation-building was premised on the design of a national-security state aligned with the US-led military blocks.

The cold war between the two hostile military blocks provided much-needed space to the military establishment to establish its stranglehold over the reins of power and set a course of militarised development at the cost of the growth of civil society. In the post-cold war period, the Saur revolution in Afghanistan and Islamic revolution in Iran provided a dangerous opportunity to successive military rulers to perpetuate their personal rule and further expand the hegemony of the garrison over many spheres of state and society.

Thanks to the ‘war of liberation’ against the Soviet Union, Gen Zia transformed both state and society in tune with the paradigm of jihadism in the name of religion. Borrowing from the past experiences of launching tribal lashkars to liberate Kashmir in 1948, quasi-military militias during Operation Gibraltar in 1964 and al-Shams and al-Badar during the civil war in the then East Pakistan, Gen Zia – in cohorts with the US – created strategic assets or private militias first to fight the Soviets and then re-launched them across the Line of Control to pursue his foreign and security policy objectives.

The monster of ‘Frankenstein’ (in our case, the Taliban) turned on its creator, Victor Frankenstein (Gen Zia). Towards the end of Mary Shelley’s book, as Frankenstein hunts down the monster to kill him and prevent any more casualties, it is revealed that the real monster was the creator himself. Dexter Filkins, in his piece for The New Yorker, says that Shelley’s Frankenstein is “the proper lens through which to view” the attacks on Charsadda and Army Public School earlier.

Post-9/11 Gen Musharraf was forced to half-heartedly fight the monster; the policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound continued under Gen Kayani. It was only under Gen Raheel that the Pak armed forces took on the monster when he decided to go after them in North Waziristan on June 15, 2014. Following the APS attack, the whole country rose against the monster of Frankenstein – created by us.

Gen Raheel faces an uphill task to finish his laudable mission in 2016, and must leave behind a team of resolute officers who must continue to eliminate the last monster without nursing ambitions of Bonapartism. Gen Raheel needs to revisit the entire paradigm that endangered the very existence of our people and brought us in conflict with our neighbors and the world at large.

This is how Gen Raheel will live on in history – as having saved his motherland from falling prey to the monsters his predecessors had created.

The writer is a political analyst.

Email: imtiaz.safma@gmail.com

Twitter: @ImtiazAlamSAFMA

Imtiaz Alam, "Gen Raheel and the monster," The News. 2016-01-28.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Military takeover , National security , Political parties , Dictatorship , Democracy , Corruption , Gen Raheel , Gen Yahya , Gen Musharraf , Afghanistan , Punjab , India , COAS , APS