The different chief

From his predecessor, at least

The year has started off with major news; the unwelcome Bacha Khan University attack, followed by the Chief of Army Staff’s dismissal of an extension.

The latter, which was revealed to the nation through a tweet by the DG ISPR, shouldn’t have been shocking news, but it was. Firstly, the nature of its delivery through the ISPR and not by the defence minister speaks volumes about the relations between civil and military institutions; secondly, this would be another win for Pakistan’s democracy and constitution i.e., if it happens.

In November 2013, Gen Raheel Sahrif was appointed as COAS, which was much welcomed and needed as his predecessor over stayed his tenure.

Former COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was appointed in November 2007.

In President Zardari’s era, Gen Kayani was an image changer for Pakistan’s army; he had apparently good relations with the democrats, avoided a coup even after the memo-gate scandal and somewhat de-politicised the army. But he never took any strategic measures to avoid terrorism in the country. Having served as DG ISI, people expected more from him, but it seemed as if he used his knowledge for controlling his allies or nemesis rather than for the country.

Kayani, after much hesitation, retired in 2013.

“Kayani ruined his image by the extension”, said Ayaz Amir, a renowned political analyst.

Enter Raheel Sahrif, hailing from a family of martyrs, the new COAS took matters into his own hands.

“Kayani wasn’t in favour of a paradigm shift”, according to Wajahat Masood, a noted analyst columnist.

None of the steps under Kayani’s supervision can be deemed historical, though the events certainly were. Osama bin Laden was caught and apparently murdered in our country, drones attacked every day and Karachi’s situation worsened.

“Kayani was the architect of the policies that took place in the last years of Musharraf, namely duplicity of Afghani Taliban,” confirmed Wajahat Masood.

The Swat Operation was successful and Gen Kayani, during his second tenure, publicly expressed that Pakistan’s biggest threats were internal, not external. He did not launch a decisive war on these threats, though, and was in favour of talks fearing a terrorist backlash.

But calling their bluff Gen Raheel initiated Zarb-e-Azb. What started off as an uncertain fight has paved way for a better future.

Gen Raheel’s operation in Karachi improved the situation, which made the people praise the army and not the democracy. “The way he took on MQM, bhata kohrs and Liyari, the problems only arose when he started interfering in corruption,” explained Ayaz Amir.

But is it all roses for the current COAS?

Compared to his predecessor Raheel Sharif is strong minded, not confused about whether Taliban are good or bad, and leads from the front.

During the dharna, the COAS refused to intervene and asked for a political settlement. The civil-military imbalance still persists.

With the most recent example of the DG ISPR, Asim Bajwa, tweeting the statement that “Gen Sharif will neither seek nor accept an extension as army chief” and not the Defence Minister Khawaja Asif puts into perspective that the democratic bondage is not being followed.

The ISPR has taken up the duty to deliver to the nation directly the military’s doing, wishes and thoughts, through their official twitter account or music videos. This has definitely been an additive in the popularity of Raheel Sahrif and the army with the people, but it has also lead to the dismissal of the defence ministry.

After the massacre at the Army Public school, the Parliament passed the 21st Amendment and the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, to establish the special military courts. Despite the fact that they were done democratically instead of improving the current judicial system, the army was made a stakeholder in another institution of the country.

Civil institutions not adequate

The army’s meddling with the civilian government cannot be ascertained as for their willingness to do so. The governmental departments failing to do their duties give way to the army’s interference.

Be them the conditions in Karachi or the foreign policy.

“It is Pakistan’s reality that in a lot of things the army’s influence cannot be dismissed, the army’s views on foreign policy and security concerns are important,” added Ayaz Amir.

Wajahat Masood seconded the thought. “Though policy making is the responsibility of the elected government, our historic context gives support to the army. The army isn’t a single block, they are parallel to a lot of things and hence it’s difficult to balance things.”

Lately, the COAS and the prime minister have shown deep understanding, and whether it is a democratic face or a pressurised one, time might tell.

What is certain is that with the image that the current COAS possesses taking an extension or a promotion might ruin the three years worth of image building. It could also disrupt the process that democracy has been waiting for, which is restoring an institutional convention.

“They are hoping against hope that they can continue their ways (the government),” said Wajahat.

Originally Publish in Pakistan Today