Nawaz Sharif has really come of age politically. Or he has become more cunning. Whatever one likes to call it but he has perfected his father's art of how to handle the generals. Even as larger-than-life warriors as Raheel Sharif.
For many political observers it was difficult to understand and explain the changes that were taking place at the country's political landscape during the later half of the previous year. For example: a) Why had Nawaz Sharif's party behavior changed towards PPP and its leadership? Or b) Why he decided to adopt an altogether different and aggressive approach to tackle Imran Khan's lockdown threat at a seemingly wrong time when his government had already picked a bone with the military establishment by leaking a story to DAWN that was so damning for it?
But then why did he decide to open a front with the army, in the first place, when situation appeared so unfavorable for Nawaz Sharif camp?
And its chief's intentions 'appeared' so suspicious and his posturing so menacing? Now, we know why.
Things behind the scene were different from how they were made to 'appear' to the masses. From the inside the chief knew where he was headed; from the outside he was continued to be made a demigod by the ISPR with goals much higher than ordinary mortals. From the inside the government knew what were the ultimate objectives of the chief; from the outside situation was portrayed to be extremely confusing and threatening with the chief's ultimate objectives unknown.
It served the purposes of both the parties; the chief's larger-than-life image remained intact till his last day in office while Nawaz Sharif appeared like a hero fighting a war so gallantly against a threatening military establishment in the most unfavorable of circumstances.
The conduct of Nawaz Sharif government and his personal role in the DAWN story leak remained the topic of discussion for a long time and it was accused of many things, including tarnishing the image of the armed forces and even committing high treason. But the lackluster response from the armed forces remained a question. Why was it not reacting in a befitting manner to an open affront and an uncalled for provocation by the 'bloody civilians'?
The answer is out there now; Raheel Sharif had different priorities.
His eyes were on the lucrative assignment that was waiting for him upon his retirement. That's why ISPR announced almost one year before the due date that he will retire on time. The announcement itself was unprecedented.
Though there is no formal official announcement from the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia or from Raheel Sharif himself, he has jumped to grab the opportunity despite bad consequences that his decision is likely to bring in for; a) his person, b) the institution he served, and c) the country itself of which the ISPR made us believe he was the sole savior till November 29 last.
Though it's the way how things work here, this tells much about many an unpleasant things and poses some serious questions. One, an army chief is a human being prone to mistakes and temptations like any other human being. Two, such like developments will expose the military institution to criticism which it will find hard to repudiate. Three, that there is a thin line between personal and national interest when one reaches the highest echelons of power. And four, that military here uses the same propaganda tactics - sometime even dirtier - as its political counterparts on the civilian side.
There are also questions which Raheel Sharif's accepting employment of a foreign power has given birth to. Shouldn't there be a bar on ex-army chiefs joining services outside the country? Can't such personal decisions come into conflict with the interest of the state?
Saudi Arabia may be a friendly country but what if retired generals started joining services in other countries - considered not so friendly - after their retirement? Can't it result at some future point of leakage of state secrets and harm to the state?
As there's no official confirmation yet of Gen (R) Raheel Sharif joining the so-called 39 Muslim countries alliance, it will be better for the retired general to review his decision as it is likely to bring in a lot of controversy and criticism in its wake, greatly damaging his reputation and image. The army should also try to prevail upon him as it will bring in unwanted consequences for it as an institution. The government must also do its utmost as there is likely to be harm to state's interest if retired generals, especially if its ex army chiefs, are allowed to joint services outside the country. Simply, it is a bad decision which every concerned should stop before it becomes a precedent.
But among all the concerned, i.e. the General, the army and the government, it is the army which bear much of the responsibility. It is obviously not in its interests to allow it happening. The previous chief used the publicity wing of the armed forces for turning himself into such an idol that his sudden downfall will not be acceptable to the masses; and it will have negative bearings more on the armed forces than him as an individual.
If it former chiefs continued accepting forming political alliances against certain parties; continued terming mob killings as 'public reaction'; publicly acknowledging that the 'present chief' influenced the government and judiciary to let him go scot-free despite a high treason case pending in the court of law; and if its larger-than-life chiefs started working for foreign powers, then no amount of propaganda will wash the stigma off its face. It's time the evil is nipped in the bud before it metastasizes.
As for the General, he is boarding a plane that has got no engine.
It's better he comes back.