One can only imagine the trip down memory lane for Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, upon his first visit to General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, after being elected PM for a third time, earlier this year. The visit was not a part of any spend-a-day-with-the-generals program or other similar scenarios, which the PM would most likely make a priority to avoid. In fact, the exercise was an attempt to neutralize the tense environment which has developed following the remarks of JI Chief, Syed Munawar Hassan, which called into question the martyrdom of army personnel fighting against the TTP.

It was interesting to witness a man whose elected government was ousted by the military in 1999, defend same institution against unjust criticism, while sporting a poker face throughout. Having to reiterate what should never have been ambiguous in the first place was both unfortunate and pleasant at the same time. Unfortunate, because the country is still unclear over who its sworn enemies are, or it is made to appear so to achieve short-sighted political goals. And to add insult to injury, self-appointed defenders of faith deliberately cast doubt over the afterlife status of those who have been fighting crazed militants, and have lost their lives and limbs in the service of their country.

It was pleasant for the simple reason that at least, someone was finally compelled to do their job. The JI Chief’s statement was an attack on the morale of our soldiers, and an offence against the families of the martyrs. In such a situation, it was the responsibility of the PM to step forward and set the record straight. To let the people and their armed forces know that they are not alone in this struggle. To firmly establish why we do what we do, that the country values their sacrifice, and that the democratic government is conscious of the role it must play when a key institution is under assault from hard and ‘soft’ extremists alike.  

However, it must be pointed out that the PM was prompted to perform his duty only after ISPR issued its statement, which condemned JI Chief’s remarks and demanded an unconditional apology. If only such commendable measures by the PM were taken as a result of an understanding of one’s position and the immense responsibilities that come along with it. The need to visit GHQ may never have been felt, had the PM not kept his lips sealed for days after Mr Munawar Hassan’s remarks. Or, had his brother, Mr Shahbaz Sharif, dared to speak more openly, which has hardly ever been a problem for him. But, in the absence of an effectively functioning government, one is forced to lower expectations. So, better late than never.