Pakistan’s lack of good governance required me to play a role as “a soldier-statesman”, these were the words of Raheel Sharif at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank in London. For any country which claims to be democratic and run by an elected government, these words of the army chief raises many questions on the country, that is it really a democracy and sets alarm bells across the globe. In November 2015 when Raheel Sharif visited Washington a senior official said “what the civilian entities don’t have is the ability to deliver on things, at this point, Mr. Raheel can deliver”. It means the head of nuclear armed Pakistan military has eclipsed the role of the democratically elected lawmakers over the important issues of security, the foreign policy, the fight against Islamic terrorists.
The way Raheel was projected as a hero when the army took control of the most important and violent city of Karachi with a massive crackdown on MQM and other violent groups is shocking. This exercise under the leadership of the 59 years old general from Kunjah near Gujarat, is aimed at projecting him as the man who can restore normalcy more effectively than the elected government. According to many like Aqil Shah who teaches politics at the Princeton University and author of the book The Army and Democracy: Military Politics in Pakistan “The surge in his popularity is due to projection by the army’s public relations wing-(ISPR)-and ISI”. The campaign in media is such that what Raheel ‘can do’ the civilian leadership is “incapable in the face of an existential threat to Pakistan”.
No one can ever the question that on the matter of foreign policy and internal security, he and his GHQ kitchen cabinet are the sole decision-makers. It is evident from the fact that when Ashraf Ghani first visited Pakistan in 2014, he went directly from the airport to the General Headquarters Rawalpindi (GHQ) to meet General Sharif before meeting the other Sharif, who is the so-called most important person in Pakistan. How powerful is the military during this period is also shown by the interview given by senator Mushahid Ullah Khan in August 2015, in which he claimed that an audio tape was obtained in which Zaheer-ul-Islam, the then director general of the Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI), could be heard giving instructions to raid the Prime Minister Office. This tape was given to Nawaz Sharif. Even the Defence Minister of Pakistan Khawaja Asif on record named two very senior military generals behind the political unrest created against Nawaz government and attempts to throw him out of power. But the army boss, is so powerful that Khawaja was sidelined and according to reports subbed like a gate keeper at a dinner with army generals.
The military under Raheel is cleverly using Zarb-e-Azb, National Action Plan (NAP), actions against bandits in Punjab-Sind belt, Karachi crackdown, 21st Amendment in the constitution to corner Nawaz government from all sides or say using these to legitimize their role of guardian and chief officer of struggle Pakistan. When Raheel Sharif started Zarb-e-Azb, a massive crackdown against Taliban in Waziristan, he did not think of seeking any permission from the democratically elected government which claimed to be in command. In Musharraf’s trial; Nawaz Sharif personally tried to trouble the former dictator, but again the present general came to his rescue which resulted in Musharraf shifted to Clifton and Defence Housing Authority (DHA) neighbourhoods. This episode is a clear case of the power Raheel Sharif has over the civilian government.
Through the NAP (National Action Plan) and 21st Amendment military shiftily took the judicial landscape through military courts and dominated the administration through setting various committees at central and state levels. With all these attempts, it is clear that Raheel Sharif is the man who is calling the shoots in the affairs of Pakistan and it is not an exaggeration that he is the man in command.