During my years in Pakistan, I met a number of its four-star generals, including Generals Musa, Zia-ul-Haq, K M Arif, Mirza Aslam Beg, Jehangir Karamat and Pervez Musharraf. General Musa, who commanded the Pakistan army during the 1965 conflict, was a charming oldschool soldier. Zia and his successors were, however, schooled in Islamist rhetoric and firm believers in using “low intensity conflict” to “bleed India with a thousand cuts”.
The antipathy of all these generals was evident in the execution of their professional obligations of keeping a measure of tensions with India alive, primarily to justify their dominance over the country’s national life. But, at a personal level, they were pleasant to interact with and capable of pursuing their professional contacts with India and Indians, while performing their professional chores.
General Raheel Sharif, however, had other distinct personal characteristics. He was also a megalomaniac, whose personal hatred for India was intense, among other reasons, because his uncle and his brother, whom he worshipped, were killed in conflicts with India in 1965 and 1971.
His megalomania arose from his belief that he alone had the divine wisdom to control Pakistan’s foreign and security policies. He soon came a cropper, when he found that meeting President Ashraf Ghani, even before Pakistan’s prime minister, did not lead to rapprochement with Afghanistan, on the Pakistan army’s terms. His hubris only increased when President Ghani called on him in Rawalpindi, before meeting PM Nawaz Sharif.
Gen Sharif’s hostility to India got the better of reason. He objected to Nawaz Sharif visiting India, for the swearing in of PM Modi. His rhetoric against India on official occasions in Pakistan was vicious. Enhanced encouragement of the Lashkar-e-Taiba for its jihad in India was accompanied by bringing back the Jaish-e-Mohammed to a more active role in J&K and beyond, in India.
Within Pakistan, Gen Sharif commenced wide ranging military operations in Pashtun tribal areas, bordering Afghanistan, without government or parliamentary approval. His PR was good enough to win him public support for this military adventurism that fuelled his already bloated ego. Thus, stage was set for long-term insurgency across the Durand Line.
Gen Sharif predictably torpedoed any chance of improved relations with India after Modi’s visit to Lahore, by arranging for the Jaish-e-Mohammed attack on the Pathankot air base, while stepping up cross-border terrorism leading to the Uri attack. His actions prompted India to discard earlier “restraint” and send forces across the LoC in a “surgical strike”.
Despite his wondrous “achievements”, Gen Sharif has exposed himself and become a subject of public criticism within a month post retirement. A public announcement soon came that the Saudi government had appointed him as Commander of a Saudi Arabian-sponsored 39-member Islamic Military Alliance. Pakistan’s Parliament rejected membership of this alliance, primarily because major Shia dominated countries—notably Iran, Iraq and Syria—looked at it as a sectarian grouping.
His preference for this grouping has been in the works since March 2016. He appears to have won Saudi backing after an acrimonious meeting with Iran President Hassan Rouhani during his official visit to Pakistan.
Gen Sharif has lost his earlier lustre in Pakistan. The national opposition to his taking up the Saudi offer has made it almost impossible for him to fulfil his post-retirement ambitions. He is now yet another careerist general, willing to go to lengths to satisfy his insatiable ego and indeed megalomania. In the process, he has revived sectarian divisions within Pakistan. The long-term impact of his excesses in Pakistan will emerge, sooner rather than later.