Millennium Post

Hope and despair in new Pakistan

Two diametrically opposite developments have opened the floodgates of speculation as far as Indo-Pak diplomatic relations are concerned. With the appointment of the new chief of army staff (COAS), Raheel Sharif, who will take over from General Parvez Ashfaq Kayani on 29 November, a glimmer of hope can be seen in the political horizon. Sharif, no relation of the current prime minister of Pakistan, has been picked over two of his seniors, and his anointment is being seen as Islamabad’s halting steps in the direction of a more balanced approach towards India, the Kashmir question and the Taliban conundrum. It must be recalled here that the outgoing COAS Kayani had almost singlehandedly paved the way for the civilian succession of regimes, a first in the 66-year history of the beleaguered nation-state. It is under Kayani that the army backtracked to some extent and allowed the democratic transition from the Pakistan People’s Party-led government to the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)-ruled dispensation at the centre in a much-hyped election in May this year. It is also under Kayani that the grip of the notorious ISI on the country’s military machinery slipped to some extent, although it went on to strengthen its hold on the terrorist apparatus that reached a crescendo in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008. It is in this context that Nawaz Sharif’s choice of the COAS becomes critical, since Raheel Sharif had once been a pointsman for former president and dictator Pervez Musharraf, who had not only orchestrated the military coup against Sharif government in 2001 but also had wanted the leader to hang till death. It is commendable, therefore, that the present Pakistani PM could rise above the grim reminders of the past and make a choice purely on the basis of the new COAS’ ‘strategic significance’ to not just the country itself but to his overall impact on the pressing questions staring the government at its face.

While Raheel Sharif has been reputed to be a straight-talking professional soldier who comes from an illustrious army family and has held important positions overseeing military doctrines and war strategies, he’s also the one who has been quietly reorienting the thrust of the Pak military machine away from waging war against India towards curbing the rise of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) that has become a staggering problem for successive regimes at Islamabad. However, in the wake of the escalated low-intensity displays of aggression across the LoC and the international border from fringe elements of the many-headed hydra that is the Pak military-cum- terrorist complex, all eyes will be set on Raheel Sharif’s future interventions. Moreover, in the light of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed’s, the alleged 26/11 mastermind who’s roaming free in Pakistan, making a spectacular public rally last month accusing India of waging war against his country and spewing venom against New Delhi, can India expect more from the new COAS? After all, General Sharif had been one of the key minds that had been behind the reconfiguration of the popular mood and making the near and present danger of domestic terrorism an essential issue in deciding the political and diplomatic maneuvers. Given that Nawaz Sharif had been airing pious sentiments of bettering ties with India, at least in global forums such as the UNGA summit in New York in September this year, can the new army chief help script a new chapter in the military and diplomatic history of Pakistan?
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