We salute General Raheel for his unmatched service to the nation

In a weeks time, one of the most prominent sons and hero of the nation General Raheel Shareef will complete his tenure as an army chief and hand over the command of Pakistan Army to his successor. Before talking about the achievements of this brave General let me take you down the memory lane to a time when terrorists had an upper hand. Terrorists were striking high profile targets including Mehran Naval Base and GHQ without apparent impunity. Target killing and kidnapping for ransom were commonplace in the largest city and commercial center of Pakistan Karachi. In Balochistan, separatists were attacking civilians, state organs and important installations on an almost daily basis so much so that they did not even spare the last residence of the founder of Pakistan at Ziarat. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, terrorists attacked jail in Dera Ismail Khan and Bannu as well as martyred many brave soldiers and officers through IED attacks. The final blow was  an attack on APS school in Peshawar in which over 140 children were targeted by these heartless terrorists. Political leaders were in disarray and pursuing negotiations with militants to assuage them to give up their mistaken ways. In this backdrop, General Raheel took the charge of one of the most organized armies in the Muslim world as Chief of the Army staff (COAS).   

From the get go, Gen Raheel made it clear that dialogue is not the solution to counter militancy and terrorism. In hindsight, it seems he was prepared to strike at terrorists and destroy their safe heaven while at the same time ensuring minimum backlash from them. Zarb e Azb was initially launched in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) but then expanded to include Karachi and Balochistan. This resulted in the internal displacement of over 1.2 million but these people were taken care to a large extent by a close cooperation between civilian and military establishment. But the ground operation was not the only step taken a National Action Plan (NAP), National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), and Apex committees were formed to institutionalize it for the long term. The objective of these efforts was to target terrorists, their facilitators, abators, and supporters. These institutional arrangements have not produced expected results but the blame cannot be placed on the army rather it has been the failure of civilians to make these organs effective. Before starting operations in Karachi, army sought installation of military courts to punish these hardened criminals. At the time of the formation of these courts I had opposed the initiative and still believe that our failure to introduce judicial reforms will provide justification to extend the tenure of the courts that are going to expire in next few months.   

In Karachi, the army in collaboration with Sindh Rangers and Police apprehended hardened criminals that were engaged in target killing and kidnapping for ransom. It is because of this joint effort that today Karachi is a much more peaceful and secure city. In Balochistan, in close collaboration with CM Abdul Malik Baloch, an outreach effort was initiated to talk to separatists to lay down their arms and ally their concerns about their rights. One important factor in this outreach was the recruitment efforts of the army to Baloch youth as soldiers and officers. These efforts bore fruits and many separatists laid down their arms and became part of the mainstream. Army in collaboration with civilians started vocational training centers to impart technical knowledge to these separatists and militants to become productive citizens of the society.   

All this could not have been possible without the leadership and steady hands of General Raheel Shareef. He is always visiting troops engaged in a fight at the forward position; visiting injured soldiers; consoling parents of the fallen soldiers, and visiting hospitals to talk to injured civilians. It is this leading from the front that has inspired not only his institution but also the whole nation. He is rightly called soldiers soldier. In other words, he has allowed his institution to become more professional; regain the trust of the nation, and made all of us feel more secure.   

But it was not just his professional commitments that should be highlighted. He has also helped improve relations between civilian and military by striking a new balance. I always find it surprising that people express concern that military has overbearing influence in security and foreign policy. In almost all countries there is always a push and pull between civ-mil in these important matters. Security is an important component of foreign policy and cannot be ignored. Another component of foreign policy is trade and economic development. In my view, there is a new balance achieved in pursuing these twin objectives. One reason PM Nawaz Sharif did not appoint a full-time foreign minister is to allow General Raheel Shareef to have some say in it. In last three years, General Raheel has been traveling extensively around the world advocating for Pakistan’s policy of eradicating terrorism and extremism of all stripes and color. While PM Nawaz Sharif and his foreign policy advisers have been focusing on trade and investment promotion. It is this division of labor that has helped Pakistan achieve the breakthrough in CPEC and IMF package. In the long run, this arrangement may not be as effective and we have to see whether PM Nawaz appoints a full-time foreign minister after the induction of new army Chief. I feel it is important to have a full-time foreign minister.  

Despite pressure from many quarters including his own ex-servicemen, General Raheel refused to directly intervene in politics and become distracted from his main task of protecting the border. This new doctrine where protection of ideological borders has become the responsibility of civilians while protecting borders including countering international terrorism is the responsibility of the military. This is a good development. 

For his successor, General Raheel is leaving behind a much more stable country but the job is not finished yet. The incoming COAS has to maintain the efforts to uproot terrorism from its source which still seems to be intact. Extremist in South Punjab and sectarian terrorism in Balochistan have the potential to wipe out all the progress made in last three years. Making NAP and NACTA operational is another challenge for the new chief. Aggression from India is on the rise and the election of Donald Trump as president will have substantial changes in the region that have to be handled carefully.

We salute General Raheel for his unmatched service to the nation and expect that although he is retiring as a professional soldier but his responsibility to continue contributing to nation building should not end. Now he should look for other avenues where he can continue serving as a leader to guide younger generation.

By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

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