Will Gen Raheel hang boots with heads down?

TNN Bureau. Updated: 9/30/2016 7:37:59 PM Edit and Opinion

Shaken General may well be thinking of image bailout options

Will Gen Raheel hang boots with heads down?
Shaken General may well be thinking of image bailout options
As the temperatures along the Line of Control and International Border between India and Pakistan escalate and trigger speculations about a full drawn conflagration between two countries, one man to be seriously watched is Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif.
As, following dastardly terror attack in Uri, India ran out of its decades-long strategic patience, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a master stroke by initially isolating Pakistan diplomatically and then allowing the Army to walk into the Pakistan occupied Kashmir to hit terrorists in their home. With a disciplined Army and united nation, Prime Minister Modi sits pretty on his decisions with full determination. In Pakistan, as expected, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is lost between confusions and illusions.
However, there is at least one such person who must be wandering restlessly with the echoes of India DGMO Gen Ranbir Singh’s initial statement in which he had said “Indian Army reserves the right of retaliating the time and place of its chosing”. For Raheel Sharif, the statement of Gen Singh and its translation into reality must have been his career’s severest challenge.
If one looks back at past few years, from directly dealing with his US counterpart to walking to bedroom of the top Afghan leaders, Gen Raheel Sharief wielded enormous power not only in Pakistan’s defence affairs but also in the foreign policy. He emerged far more powerful to his predecessor Kayani, but then Gen Sharief also carried a burden of inheritance and expectations!
To understand the current state of mind of Gen Raheel, let’s recall Major Shabbir Sharief. Gen Raheel, who is 13 years junior to his brother Shabbir Sharif, spent most of his early life in the shadow of his illustrious brother. Major Shabbir Sharif died in 1971 war winning Pakistan’s Highest Gallantry award “Nishan-e-Haider” (Pakistani Equivalent of Param Vir Chakra), he is the only Pakistani to receive both the Nishan-e-Haider and Sitara-e-Jurat for his bravery.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who was a coursemate of Shabbir Sharif, is also a big admirer of Raheel Sharif. “He has been to the most dangerous places in the (Zarb-e-Azb) battle zone. Many others would not dare go near those places fearing for their lives,” Musharraf says. “It is Raheel Sharif’s strong character and compassion for his juniors that sets him apart from the rest of the pack. He is not just a commander but a leader — the one soldiers happily obey and follow in war,” the former president said in an interview in Karachi.
In 2015, Raheel Sharif’s popularity grew out of the barracks and spread across Pakistan, making him more popular than any politician including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan. A mosque in Islamabad was named after him last year and his portraits could be spotted on the back of trucks and autorickshaws everywhere. Banners and billboards featuring his image still adorn the streets of almost every big city in Pakistan, particularly Karachi, and many contesting the recent local government elections put his photo on their publicity material to attract voters. Even on social media, a #ThankYouRaheelSharif hashtag has trended for months.
But the recent Surgical Strike by Indian Special Forces in Terrorist Camps across LOC in PoK may not go very well with the image of Pakistani Army Chief and has stained his uniform just a month before his retirement.
In military histories, we have seen such personal and professional challenges shaking the commanders to the core. Could this tumult of India’s Surgical Strike leave Gen Raheel unaffected? Not at all.
Even as Nawaz Sharif appears to be confusing his own people and world community by asserting that no strike took place at all, but Gen Sharief must of contemplating options, which could be military but also political –given such history of Pakistan. He would certainly not like to hang boots with head down. So what are options before him: to redo a Musharraf?

Strategic experts, in India and abroad, who are well known for reading the military minds, suggest that Raheel Sharif could plan a Kargil like misadventure and then follow it up with a coup to topple the Nawaz Sharif government.
Whatever may his plan to protect his illustrious image both will be suicidal for the Nation of Pakistan and may have dangerous consequences in the South Asian Region.

Rahul Vijay is Jammu based strategic affairs analyst and can be reached at mail2rahulvijay@gmail.com

Updated On 9/30/2016 7:48:30 PM

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