[dropcap]I[/dropcap]SLAMABAD – General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s 15th army chief, is currently on an official 5 day visit to the US. This comes almost a month after his visit to Turkey.
Many negative assertions have been by world media on his recent visit. Some said he wanted to “embarrass” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent US visit whereas the Indian media, as expected, mounted another cheap attack by claiming that General Raheel “invited himself”.
Although it is true that General Raheel was not formally invited, such unexpected high-level meetings are common among the global military and intelligence circles. For example, the routine visits by ISAF-NATO commanders or CENTCOM chiefs to Rawalpindi are mostly of the guests’ own volitions; the agenda on such meetings is to apprise the Pakistani military leadership about current assessments and future concerns developing among allied countries fighting the so-called War on Terror.
Similarly, after the heart-wrenching APS Peshawar attacks of December 2014, General Raheel and DG ISI Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar went to Kabul without any invitation. The issue of “invited / not invited” is of no concern in such huddles.
Such flash meetings highlight their significance and urgency. They are only held when national interests are to be secured before it’s too late. Some of the other countries General Raheel has visited as Chief Of Army Staff (COAS) include Italy, South Africa, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK. If you observe the names closely, these are countries which are direct and influential stakeholders in the post 9/11 security milieu.
The US holds primary importance for Pakistan because the latter was compelled into becoming a “front line ally” by it, as it planned to invade Afghanistan and create disorder in the regional security balance. Washington is viewed as both an ally and troublemaker by Pakistan but then again, the same can be applied to how the former views Islamabad.
History has shown that Washington has always assumed Pakistan to have two capital cities: Rawalpindi (military) and Islamabad (civil). Not that the Pentagon is in Washington and hence we can’t say the same for the US. Pakistan has suffered persistent periods of military dictatorship.
Elected representatives and the armed forces have not gone along well in the past leading to growing levels of distrust and occasional public friction.
The first time a Pakistani civilian government completed its term in office (5 years) was between late 2007 and early 2013 with Mr Asif Ali Zardari as President and Misters Yousaf Raza Gilani and later Raja Pervez Ashraf as Prime Ministers. The government had Ms Hina Rabbani Khar as a robust Foreign Minister who effectively projected Pakistan’s regional and global foreign policy aspirations.
Minsters Naveed Qamar and Ahmad Mukhtar, the two Defence Ministers during this period, both proved to be ineffective and visibly undeserving of their designations. With near zero knowledge of national defence issues.
When Mr Muhammad Nawaz Sharif assumed charge as Prime Minister of Pakistan for the third time, he was mindful of bitter past experiences with late President Ghulam Ishaq Khan (former bureaucrat) and former COAS General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf. The appointment of Khawaja Muhammad Asif as Defence Minister was nothing short of stupid. First, because the gentleman has a documented history of lashing out against the military. Second, he too has near zero knowledge of defence and military matters. Third, he’s already holding another busy portfolio as Minister of Water and Power, struggling to cope up with the challenges facing Pakistan’s critical power generation requirements.
While on the other hand our army has issues trusting the government’s capabilities and competencies, because of not their sincerity. As mentioned earlier, the absence of a Defence Minister who can effectively relay the military’s concerns in part justifies General Raheel’s frequent trips abroad. On the other hand, it is very much part of a service chief’s mandate to visit regional and global partners to discuss current issues of mutual concern which could have far reaching consequences for their country’s national security. It is also a fact that Musharraf as a serving COAS had made open / covert agreements with the US military.
The actual question most people never seemed to ask was, why didn’t DG ISI meet with his CIA counterpart John Brennan? This also helps us to understand the business with which COAS General Raheel Sharif called upon the CIA Director in Langley. The ISI is answerable and subordinate to the Prime Minister’s Office but in technical and operational issues, especially in war, it receives final instructions from GHQ.
Foregoing in view, General Raheel Sharif’s meeting with the CIA Director are apparently an effort to take a crucial intelligence stakeholder in Afghanistan on board so it can pressurize Kabul to stop its rhetoric and sit on the negotiating table. In this way, it is hoped that India’s belligerence in war-torn Afghanistan will be minimized, if not entirely halted.
The most realistic assessment of the present civilian government in Islamabad is that its policies are oriented toward economic and infrastructural development which ultimately means big business triumphs and lost lasting relations with partners even after official tenures. Credit must be given where due and they certainly seem to have pulled up the right strings in this regard.
Back to square one, Pakistan is left with the dilemma of having poor representation in the global defence and security sphere. This is where General Raheel Sharif fulfills his responsibilities.
*This Article was originally written by Zaki Khalid, Who is a national affair and regional security Analyst.