When the news of Raheel Sharif’s land allotment broke, it took the majority, if not the entire nation by shock. Was the allotment of 986 canals of “lucrative” land worth merely a routine procedure or part of a bigger scheme?

Before charging ahead with any more assumptions, it is important to set some facts straight. First of all, the piece of land in question was allotted to Mr Sharif in 2014. The allotment of land to senior military officers is a routine procedure, which usually commences when one assumes office and ends with the transfer of land upon one’s retirement. It is pertinent to mention here that there were eleven other generals who were given land, according to the procedure, on the same day. This helps us understand that, prima facie, this is not part of some hidden deal, unless the deal was struck with twelve generals on that day and numerous others in history.

Moreover, the land that is given to them is actually not very “lucrative”. In fact, it cannot be transferred nor can it be used for any purpose other than agriculture. Even for agriculture, the land isn’t all that great. There is no system of irrigation such as canal water to benefit from and a considerable portion of the land is waterlogged. The rule also states that the land must reside within a 5km radius of the Pak-India border. There have been incidences in the past where such land was acquired by the military, during skirmishes or cross border firing. As it turns out, the land allotted to Mr Sharif bears no exception and sits between similar crosshairs.

Now let’s discuss why the act is being unjustly pilloried. Firstly, people are oblivious of the fact that the land has been allotted according to the rules and procedure adopted by the Adjutant General (AG) branch. There has been no anomaly in the procedure and the land has been granted in a similar fashion to previous chiefs.

It is very important to understand the system, as limited knowledge of it is what prompts all sorts of baseless, illegitimate excoriation. Not every military person is entitled to this land but only those who are on top of the merit list. Moreover, the land is not only reserved for the army chief or the generals, but is given to all deserving officers, as well as sepoys. The land is given in recognition of the exceptional services rendered by the officers but regarding it as “extremely lucrative” is an enormously misconceived judgment.

Moral justification: Our soldiers have given more than just their life for ensuring that their compatriots have every opportunity to a prosperous tomorrow. We have fought four major wars with India and lost over 3500 soldiers in the “war against terror” with another 1000 soldiers suffering from permanent disability. Moreover, working in harsh weather conditions such as in “Siachin” is a norm for them. But the pseudo-liberals amongst us still posit that more than doing us any favour; it is much like a job with monthly salary. On this note, I wonder: What is the price that one is willing to pay to make sure his fellow civilians are safe?

This system of awarding military land can be traced back to the British rule. The practice of providing extra benefits to military personnel is not specific to Pakistan. For instance, in the USA, soldiers are given family separation allowance each month if they are to stay away from their families for more than 30 days. There are some states in USA that do not tax military salary. Families of soldiers are paid as much as $100,000 (tax free) in case they die in the line of duty.

The military exists for pacifying external threats, but we use them to remedy natural disasters, ensure law and order within the country or even for purely civilian tasks such as polio vaccinations, and census data collection. No other country spreads their military resources thin across all these issues at once.

We spent the last few years thanking Raheel Sharif for all the good that was being done in the country, sometimes to the frustration of the civilian government who believed that they deserved a lot of the accolades. We kept discrediting the political elite, while praising the military chief. And now, we have leaped at the first opportunity to criticise him for being allotted a piece of land, which was nothing, but in accordance with the rules. We hastened to praise him and now we hasten to degrade him, both without any effort to find out the facts of the matter. This attitude is benighted, harum-scarum and against the tenets of a civilised society. There is yet to be a carping critic who comes up with solid facts and figures for his allegations. And until that happens we can proudly say “Thank you Raheel Sharif”.