ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Undermining the Pakistan Military's Hegemony

There is a political transition taking place in Pakistan. Although the dominance of the army has not diminished, in the last two decades there has been a noticeable deepening of democratisation processes. In the future, if there is another attempt to impose military rule, there could be greater opposition; processes to undermine the military's hegemony are already evident.

This article was earlier posted in the Web Exclusives section of the EPW website.

The conventional wisdom in Pakistan is that Raheel Sharif, chief of the army staff, is the most popular man in the country, far more than any elected politician or celebrity. In fact, Raheel Sharif is Pakistan’s new celebrity, seen by most Pakistanis as a saviour against various forms of terrorism and external aggression. Some months ago, placards appeared across 13 major cities in Pakistan asking him to rescind his public statement that he would not seek an extension of his term when he comes up for retirement at the end of November 2016. More recently, the same group that displayed those earlier placards and now calls itself Move on Pakistan replaced them with ones urging the general to take over Pakistan’s government. The “Khuda ke liye, jaane ki baat jane do banners (For god’s sake, forget about leaving/retiring) were replaced by “Jane ki batain hui purani, khuda ke liye, ab aajao (The retirement decision is past, for god’s sake, now come and take over). It is not surprising that there was much chatter and some discussion about these banners and about the Move on Pakistan group in the media. But what was surprising was that the chairman of the group was arrested on grounds of criminal conspiracy, sedition, and “statements conducing to public mischief” and remanded in police custody awaiting a hearing and trial.

The media, both public and private television channels, have gone out of their way to praise Raheel for all that he has done to rid Pakistan of terrorism of the Islamic militant kind, in the guise of the various “Talibans” and their morphed groups. One seldom, if ever, hears any criticism about the man, or about the military, for he is supposed to be a clean, “professional soldier” without any so-called political ambitions. In fact, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was away in London for his heart surgery for seven weeks in May–June 2016, Raheel’s public presence became even more reassuring to the Pakistani public, with the media reporting his each and every public meeting and presence. From meeting his own troops in battle on the border with Afghanistan, to visiting families of those affected by terrorism, his visibility was pronounced. He was even present at the funeral of the social worker Sattar Edhi who died in July, while Nawaz Sharif was unable to attend. The twitter hashtag #ThankyouRaheelSharif reappears on social media whenever he does or says anything worth mentioning. Whether it is on account of him sending the Rangers—a paramilitary agency—to confront issues of militancy in Karachi, or leading the National Action Plan to counter terrorism, or even him meeting Amir Khan the British boxer, or the cricketer Azhar Ali doing push-ups after scoring a century at Edgbaston, Raheel Sharif receives virtual thanks. The general is also the main protector and defender of Pakistan’s biggest investment project, the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), supposedly a “fate changer” for Pakistan, bringing in untold and unheard of riches to Pakistan, in which the Pakistani army also reaps many rewards. One does not criticise Raheel Sharif in Pakistan. But then, even the gods are fallible.

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