He is everywhere in Pakistan. Visiting injured soldiers in hospitals, meeting with corps commanders and being photographed doing it, inaugurating civilian projects, praying with jihadis, and wearing turbans over fatigues. You would be forgiven if you think that elections are on in Pakistan and the Army Chief is campaigning for votes.
General Raheel Sharif is due to retire next year but calls are being made now to grant him an extension. Former Army Chief General Musharraf, who gave himself a five-year extension and then installed himself as president, has said that good work would go waste if Gen Sharif retires.
General Raheel Sharif is the chief martial law administrator in Pakistan today without needing to amend the constitution, keep it in abeyance or launch a military coup. He is all in all, not just in GHQ Rawalpindi but also in the entire country. Pic/AFP
General Raheel Sharif is the chief martial law administrator in Pakistan today without needing to amend the constitution, keep it in abeyance or launch a military coup. He is all in all, not just in GHQ Rawalpindi but also in the entire country. General Zia ul Haq, who deposed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and imposed martial law and strict Islamic way of life in Pakistan, used combat helicopters to kill hundreds of protesters in Nawabshah in 1978. General Sharif has cracked down on Baloch, Sindhis, Mohajirs and various ethnic groups under the garb of terror cleansing operations. The Rangers and Army have been given sweeping powers, even the use of drones. The world watches silently, just as it did during the reign of General Zia.
In 1983, under Islamic law, Zina, a woman was publically lashed. In 2015, a famous human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud, who spoke vociferously against injustice and discrimination, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on her way home after hosting a seminar.
In October 1979, after martial law was imposed in Pakistan, people were administered 25 lashes each for taking part in political activities. Now, there is no apparent martial law, but if political activists do not subscribe to the unwritten laws of the Army, then a message is in the mail. Leave the country, shut up and shape up.
Top journalists in Pakistan, former diplomats and retired officials say that the degree of self-censorship among journalists harks back to the era of General Zia ul Haq. Politicians have been reduced to lily-livered lackeys of the chief. They fear for their lives and dare not cross the line. Systematically, the COAS (chief of Army Staff) has been destroying the MQM and PPP, two main opposition parties in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif and his PMLN have had their powers completely curtailed despite having won a landslide majority. Foreign policy and defence is out of the Prime Minister’s ambit now. The gossamer line between the civilian leadership and the army has been shredded yet again.
Relations with India are being charted out by the COAS. Sartaj Aziz, the Prime Minister’s foreign policy advisor, who doubles up as the National Security advisor, is reportedly carrying with him to New York a dossier to hand over to the UN Secretary General which supposedly contains ‘proof’ of India’s ‘terror activities’ in Pakistan. Since, he could not hand it over to Ajit Doval, India’s national security advisor after the cancellation of talks, Aziz now has been directed to hand it over to the UNSG.
There is also pressure by the non-state influencers in Pakistan (read jihadi leaders like Hafiz Saeed) to get Pakistan’s ambassadors to brief the respective governments in their countries about so called Indian encouragement to terror groups waging war against the Pakistani government.
There is even talk of creating a Kashmir desk in major Pakistani consulates around the world to drum up support for ‘freedom for the people of Kashmir.’ If the proposal goes through, the consulates would be tasked to hold conferences on Kashmir and invite the participation of the Hurriyat and other Kashmiri separatists who the Pakistanis call Kashmiri freedom fighters.
India would have to chart out a counter-propaganda war against this both diplomatically and via the media. There is also the option to totally ignore Pakistan. Go ahead and form an economic confederate of some sorts with other South Asian countries and let Pakistan pretty much keep to its decades-old agenda.
All this then brings us back to Raheel Sharif. He has emerged as the undisputed Chief of Pakistan. Raheel Sharif has walked into General Zia’s shoes and is legitimising his sway over Pakistan using the tried and tested anti-India formula. Zia 2.0 is bad news for India and very bad news for the people of Pakistan.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash