On November 29, 2013, in my piece titled “General legacy” published in this paper I wrote this about General Raheel Sharif: “Worshipping the rising sun always pays. But here is the deal: the new COAS has just stepped up to the plate. We don’t know who he is yet. He will earn a tribute when he hits the home run.” And in all fairness since then he has proven his mettle by repeatedly hitting one out of the ball park. Even his lamest hits were automatic doubles. So on the day he formally announced his desire not to seek an extension and retire at the end of his term in office, I felt I should also contribute to the debate it generated.
Bravo, Raheel Sharif for respecting the Constitution!
Our troubled history and bad experience with dictatorial regimes have negatively impacted our national discourse and made us all really cynical. When you have spent half your life struggling to get your rights back from the state, you are unlikely to admire symbols of authority. But the story of our struggle will be incomplete without recognising a few recent plot twists. By the end of the last dictator’s reign, the tyrant in our story had changed. Now the fanatical terrorists kill men and women in khaki and mufti with equal impunity. Slightly over a year ago, there was so much despondency and uncertainty in the air that I could not drive to a grocery shop without thinking twice about being blown to smithereens in a random act of terror. That fortunately has changed owing to Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the National Action Plan (NAP), two developments in which General Raheel played a key role. So in this ongoing struggle, our state is our ally. If it falls, our fall is an absolute certainty.
Gen Raheel reigns supreme on Twitter after announcing retirement date
Since the implementation of the NAP in Karachi has not gone down well with the leadership of two major parties of Sindh, our moderate and liberal intellectuals have inhaled their dissatisfaction despite being the biggest beneficiaries of such operations. And these operations are not finished yet. So it is logical for me to think that the man who initiated these operations should stay in office at least until the successful completion of the operation. And it doesn’t hurt that he is really popular and this popularity makes terrorist incursions into our armed forces almost impossible. The man had countless opportunities to stage a coup but despite cynical conspiracy theories, he never even thought about it. So this is exactly what I expressed on my social media pages. And the reaction? Well in reaction, a media friend in self-exile and prolific writer called me a “cheerleader” of those who believe in the indispensability of military leaders. While I was struggling to get my message across in return, I got an invitation to participate in a discussion on the same topic on a reputed show of a reputed television establishment. Thinking that it was a good opportunity to clarify my position, I accepted. I realised only when I reached there that I had walked into a trap. The respectable anchor wanted me to sit there as a silent freak of the show as she went around other guests discussing me as if I wasn’t there. I did what I could in my defence. But as I sat there being hissed and booed at on live television, I was wondering if that was the idea of an open society I had constantly struggled for? Of course not. So what went wrong?
Top-level posting, transfers in Pakistan Army
Fifteen long years of an excruciating war have left us all war-fatigued, paranoid and cynical. Every morning we wake up and find out much to our chagrin that the war is far from over. But at the core of this despondency lies the ultimate opportunity to build a free and open society. General Raheel heads an institution that was once accused of supporting the radical enemies of open society. Today under his leadership the same institution is fighting the very same enemies. Another man very popular these days is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The man heads a party once considered very sympathetic to right-wing radicals. Today his government, in its peculiar style, is building a narrative of war against the spoilers of open society. If today we can overcome our demons and start trusting our state, leaders and institutions, we can build a beautiful society.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2016.