After Raheel Sharif, Will Gen Bajwa Be Pakistan’s New Hero?

General Sharif did not prove very different from his predecessors who kept connections with many state proxies.

6 min read
After Raheel Sharif, Will Gen Bajwa Be Pakistan’s New Hero?
Hindi Female

The Quint DAILY

For impactful stories you just can’t miss

By subscribing you agree to our Privacy Policy

The change of an army chief in Pakistan receives as much attention as the change of a monarch in Japan. There was certainly much tension, sweat dripping down the back, and nerves distraught all around – the entire drama caused by the fear of the possibility of General Raheel Sharif suddenly deciding to stay on. Many Pakistan observers were skeptical of the General leaving the throne even up until the day the announcement of a new General was made. According to some, his body language did not reflect a sense of departure.

In the end, he did leave as he had promised. The General had announced in January 2016 his intent not to seek any extension. Yet, it all boiled down to the age-old and simple formula of ‘seeing is believing’.


Why the Skepticism?

It couldn’t have been any different since the 11 months from January to the end of November were rife with speculation of Raheel Sharif covertly negotiating an extension, or even plans that the government would elevate him to the position of a Field Marshal. It was, in fact, suggested by journalists such as Hamid Mir that it was Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who stood his ground and did not give in to pressure.

The actual story will remain a secret until someone tells it in Pakistan.

And even if Prime Minister Sharif’s version is correct, the question is who would believe it? Many in Pakistan still don’t believe that Nawaz Sharif did not know what General Musharraf was up to while he was executing Kargil behind Sharif’s back.


How successful was General Raheel Sharif as Pak COAS?

  • The skepticism behind his peaceful exit was because of rumours of an extension making the rounds for nearly a year.
  • General Sharif became a rallying point for hope against national frustration.
  • The army never allowed an open discussion about the actual gains made by Zarb-e-Azb.
  • Raheel Sharif’s media management around Zarb-e-Azb and the creation of his own aura was successful.
  • The General’s India policy was not new and he seemed eager to indicate a willingness to fight.
  • The pressure on Bajwa will be tremendous as he takes over the tough domestic environment that Sharif leaves behind.

Raheel Sharif, the Symbol of Hope

It is not that Sharif may be lying, but it is just that the military has established greater credibility in Pakistan. Partly because politicians are always careful about not annoying the military and so don’t ever reveal the truth. It is always the military’s version which dominates.

This was truer in Raheel Sharif’s case. He managed to raise himself to the level of a national icon. Whether he achieved what he claimed to do, he should certainly be applauded for having a team of good publicists who built his aura and marketed it at a national scale.

According to popular and prevalent discourse in Pakistan, Raheel Sharif’s reputation as a professional soldier is unmatched, especially when compared with Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz is associated with the Panama Leaks – a scandal regarding the first family’s allegedly illegal offshore companies – or Asif Zardari, who is known as Mr 10 percent.

Despite such stories of corrupt practices that were never really proven in Pakistan’s court of law nor was anyone ever convicted, Raheel Sharif became a symbol of hope against national frustration. The fact that his brother laid down his life for the country and that he sacked some of his own serving officers for corruption, made General Sharif immediately comparable with politicians who do not even allow accountability systems to function.

A Pakistani soldier stands beside a house, which was destroyed during a military operation against Taliban militants, in North Waziristan on 9 July 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

How Much of a Success was Zarb-e-Azb?

Driven by such focus, people never really questioned nor were allowed to point a finger at the outgoing General’s performance at his real task of securing against threats. The people, in fact, were forced to buy into the larger propaganda organised primarily through cunning media management around the military operation Zarb-e-Azab, which is Arabic for ‘sharp and cutting strike’. It was started in June 2014 as a comprehensive plan to eliminate all forms of terrorists.

In June 2016, the army’s publicity wing claimed to have cleared 3,600 sq km of terrorists and destroyed 992 hideouts in North Waziristan, one of the tribal agencies where the previous chief did not dare launch his army. Furthermore, responsibility was taken for killing a total of 3,500 terrorists, including in the country’s largest cosmopolitan Karachi.

For very obvious reasons, the army did not allow an open debate that would question these numbers. Local people from the region question the veracity of these claims asking things like where so many funerals were held. Consequently, people challenged the propaganda through social media or in private discussion and pointed out that the army’s sharp and cutting strike mainly targeted groups or individuals considered as enemies and not all kinds of terrorists.

Although relief was provided to people in Karachi through the operation against MQM, which was accused of being funded by RAW, a similar alacrity of action was not demonstrated against Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) or other similar groups. In fact, during Eid celebrations this year, JeM members were seen collecting funds from people.

Likewise, there was hardly any noticeable action taken in Punjab, the country’s most significant province and a hub of many of the terrorist groups. Despite such shortfalls, the claim constantly made by the army was that the operation did not make exceptions and would put an end to all terrorism without showing favour to any group. This claim was proved wrong many times.


Raheel Sharif’s India Policy Was Not New

General Raheel Sharif did not prove very different from many of his predecessors who kept connections with many of the state proxies and considered these groups their prime guarantee against a perceived threat from across the border.

The start of Raheel Sharif’s tenure coincided with Narendra Modi’s, a period in which New Delhi’s policy towards Pakistan turned increasingly hawkish. In order to keep up with his family’s military legacy – his uncle and elder brother died in the 1965 and 1971 war respectively, and received the highest military award, Nishan-e-Haider – General Sharif seemed eager to increase the temperature from his side and indicate a willingness to fight.

A Pakistani father holds a picture of his son who was killed in an attack, in front of photographs of other victims, ahead of the first anniversary of the Peshawar school attack on 16 December 2014. (Photo: AP)

The General’s Heavy-Handedness

General Sharif gave a personal touch to the war on terror by presenting it as a response to the attack in December 2014 on a school in Peshawar, in which over 140 children were killed. However, even the parents of the dead children complain of being kept in the dark and a fair probe not being carried out into the tragedy, they are still looking for justice.

Meanwhile, the General and his army used the opportunity to get power from the Parliament to establish military courts in January 2015. The Asia director of the International Commission of Jurists was, however, not impressed by the performance of these courts of sentencing 77 out of 105 people to death. According to the ICJ director Sam Zarifi:

These tribunals are opaque and operate in violation of national and international fair trial standards, and so are not effective in providing justice, truth or even proper remedies for the victims of terrorism.

Moreover, not every case tried by this court pertains to terrorism as many involved in crime were also sentenced. At least 17 families of those sentenced to death have complained to the Supreme Court of the denial of justice. In many cases, judgements were not provided nor access given to appropriate council.


It is this tough domestic environment that General Raheel Sharif leaves behind to his successor, the new army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Since General Sharif has left behind a very taut atmosphere and the choice of his successor was allegedly not supported by the hawks in the army, the pressure on Bajwa will be tremendous. Although reputed as a professional soldier, the risk of copying General Sharif remains high. The newcomer has already promised the media his cooperation, which one hopes will not be in the form of feeding them bones to chew on by offering them something that weakens the political leadership.

(The writer is a Pakistani national who requested anonymity. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from opinion

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More