There’s a time-tested adage, universally valid, with no shelf life, saying very simply, that a wise enemy is preferable to an unwise friend.
The man cherishing the ageless validity of this dictum in today’s Pakistan can’t be anyone other than General Raheel Sharif, who retired as Pakistan’s army chief at the end of November.
Raheel had left his office riding a wave of popularity bordering on adulation, if not outright reverence and idol worship. Pakistanis aren’t easily known for being overly charitable, or munificent, when it comes to their political leaders. But Raheel was an exception by a huge margin.
In his three-year stint at the head of Pakistan’s bloated military command, he’d been consistently lionised like no other soldier before him. Public opinion polls found him eclipsing every political leader by a long shot. His popularity was owed to the public perception that he was a true soldier’s soldier; an honest, upright man who brooked no interference, from any quarters, in his bailiwick and, likewise, didn’t poke his nose in the affairs of others.
In the popular esteem in a country where soldiers-of-fortune— Bonapartes, in popular parlance—have habitually poached the political turf (Pakistan has been ruled, up front, for at least 35 years by military strong-men) Raheel earned his laurels by standing apart.
There were occasions aplenty during his tenure when the country’s political leadership was found vacuous and inept to deliver to the barest minimum of the people’s expectations. On top of their palpable incompetence, the Pakistani political leaders turned out to be corrupt, money making charlatans. A case in point is the raft of evidence unearthed in the Panama leaks about the incumbent prime minister, Nawaz Sharif and his progeny, said to be mired in corruption.
There were popular outcries, not only from ordinary people but intellectuals, too, calling upon Raheel to step on to the political stage, seize power, and rid the country of thieves, knaves and poltroons masquerading as ‘leaders’ and looting the country’s coffers. Some media gurus begged Raheel to save Pakistan from the clutches of the likes of Nawaz and former president, Asif Ali Zardari. The latter had fled to Dubai, in June 2015, in fear of Raheel after calling him names in public; Zardari has just returned after his self-imposed exile of 18 months.
But Raheel stood his ground and judiciously refused to get sucked into the political quagmire. To put a cap on rumours regularly circulating about his future plans and ‘ambitions’ he did something unprecedented in Pakistan’s Byzantine history; at the dawn of 2016, he announced, loud and clear, that he wouldn’t stay a day longer in command beyond his retirement date of November.
And Raheel lived up to his word by handing over command to his successor on the appointed date and thus, going out in a blaze of public adulation. Every pundit worth his salt agreed that Raheel had not only defied the past legacy of military involvement in governance but also created a precedent worth emulating by those to come later.
However, all the glory earned by him is threatening to come unstuck, not because of any faux pas on his part but because of the shenanigans of a former boss of his, General Pervez Musharraf, the last Pakistani Bonaparte.
From his sanctuary in Dubai, where he has been camping since early 2016, Musharraf bragged in an interview that he owed his ‘freedom’ to Raheel. Musharraf had left Pakistan in 2008 after stepping down as president but returned five years later, in 2013, to contest elections as a political leader. However, his ambition had been nipped in the bud because he was wanted in a number of high-profile legal cases related to his nine years in power as Pakistan’s strongman. This included the murder of Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf ’s brazen internment of judges of the Supreme Court, including the then Chief Justice.
Musharraf’s nemesis, Nawaz Sharif, in power since 2013, had vowed to have justice done to Musharraf, and the country he’d lorded over, for all of his alleged violations of Pakistan’s constitution. Musharraf had been under house-arrest at his palatial ‘farm house’ outside Islamabad and cases against him were before the apex court. His name was on the Exit Control List (ECL) to ensure he wouldn’t flee to where the law couldn’t reach him.
But flee he did, suddenly in March this year when the apex court ordered his name removed from ECL; within hours of that Musharraf was in Dubai leaving the Pakistanis who might have expected justice catching up with a high-andmighty like him, bewildered.
Now Musharraf has spilled the beans on how his ‘freedom’ had been engineered. In a December 19 interview with ‘Dunya’ (World) TV, Musharraf said Raheel threw his weight around “influencing the courts” to wrest Musharraf ’s exit. According to him, Raheel did it on his own, without Musharraf ’s asking, because he (Musharraf) had been his (Raheel’s) “boss” and the man in command owed it to him out of military’s code of ethics.
The Pakistani intelligentsia is, understandably, in utter stupor since Musharraf ’s revelation of how the levers of raw power work in their country. It doesn’t take a genius to fathom the truth of where power rests in Pakistan, in the ultimate sense, how that power is wielded and how callously and ruthlessly it makes a mockery of any concept of justice or fairplay with obvious contempt for the rule of law.
Not that all this had been a mystery to the knowledgeable, ever. Musharraf has just made it public. Raheel has a lot to explain; but his “boss” has shredded his hard-earned reputation of a fair soldier.
The columnist is a Former Pakistani diplomat.