The Third World War is heating up. Turkey turned another table on NATO by embracing not only Russia but also Iran for cooperation on Syria. China announced the enhancement of military ties with the Syrian Army. For the first time, Russia launched airstrikes from an Iranian base, with permission from Iraq to cross it and hit terrorists on Syrian territory. To scuttle similar regional cooperation that is rapidly evolving around Afghanistan, the imperialist project to destabilise and destroy Pakistan got into the fifth gear.

This is not all there is to the Third World War, of course. There’s a lot more happening around the world that would collectively define the contours of the emerging multipolar world order. The point of bringing up Pakistan’s immediate and nearby neighbourhood is to highlight the fact that we are bang in the middle of this war, in space and in time. So the stand-off between military and political leadership is the last thing we need right now. The question is: What is it really about?

The champions of democracy would like to reduce any discussion on differences between the military leadership and our oh-so-democratic government to politically-correct posturing and lessons in history. They’d rather not come to the point: What are the issues that divide the two? They’d rather not examine those issues threadbare, choosing instead to clothe them in standard democracy-versus-dictatorship clichés, reminding us of the crimes of previous military regimes. What about here and now?

What about the impasse between COAS General Raheel and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif? Don’t we know more than a thing or two about how it all started and where it stands today? Remember when the Nawaz government wanted to continue its policy of appeasing and legitimising the TTP by holding a long-winded dialogue with them as they continued to kill Pakistani security personnel in targeted ambushes and unarmed citizens in terrorist attacks?

Remember how our prime minister kept restraining the army chief from taking the fight to the terrorists? Wasn’t that the first disagreement? Don’t we know a thing or two about how operation Zarb-e-Azb actually started? One shudders to imagine where we would have been if it had not started when it did. Those who seem to have forgotten what it was like before that turning point and are undermining the achievements of Zarb-e-Azab should just read newspaper archives from the days before the operation started.

There’s more than Zarb-e-Azb to thank General Raheel for. His refusal to provide troops for the barbaric Saudi misadventure in Yemen saved our military from being sucked into that imperialist plot. At a time when the military needed to exclusively focus on defeating the threat of terrorism at home, our prime minister was pushing it in the direction of his Saudi benefactors. Wasn’t that another issue where the Prime Minister and General Raheel didn’t see eye to eye?

Other thorny matters that cropped up between them from time to time are no secret either. Remember when the government kept insisting that it did not have any money for core national tasks like the operationalisation of NACTA and the rehabilitation of the displaced people in FATA, all the while squandering billions of rupees on extravagant over-priced projects? The differences have remained either unresolved or were resolved only superficially. They have been adding up.

The military leadership has brought up the National Action Plan only recently but it has been nudging the government on individual points of the plan all along; from madrassah reforms to regulation of NGOs, from acting against sectarian hate speech and literature to evolving a national narrative to counter extremism. And, of course, there have been these differences on combating corruption and launching counter-terrorism operations in Punjab and Interior Sindh.

To the champions of democracy though, this is all irrelevant. To them, it’s a fight between our oh-so-fragile democracy and a bullish military that is used to throwing its weight around. They’d like to obfuscate matters before us by wrapping them up in colourful yarns of democratic theory and selective history. They’d like to pretend that the Nawaz government’s stand-off with the military leadership has nothing to do with the worldwide war we are in the middle of.

Our comprehensive strategic partnership with China and the resolve to complete the CPEC, pushed like most other positive developments in the country by General Raheel, makes us a prime target for the US and its unipolar cabal. The champions of democracy would like to ignore the fact that while General Raheel is focused on strengthening cooperation with the multipolar China-Russia nexus, Nawaz Sharif’s heart is still stuck on the US, India and Saudi Arabia.

The Nawaz administration wakes up to make the right noises on matters of national interest only when it is pushed by the military leadership and that too half-heartedly at best. Whether it is challenging Modi’s subversive rhetoric or his barbaric repression of youth waving Pakistani flags in the occupied valley, whether it is exposing the proxy war against Pakistan being choreographed by India from Afghanistan under the US watch or building ties with Russia, Iran and Central Asian states, the Nawaz government seems more eager to please imperial masters rather than promoting national interest.

The worst part is that the matter of General Raheel’s retirement or extension has been turned into a speculative campaign in the media which is being fanned by a heavily discredited political leadership. Bang in the middle of the Third World War, they’d like to undermine him and the institution which is fighting the war for Pakistan bravely and successfully under his leadership; a fact that is acknowledged by friends and foes, and is reflected in the results on the ground.

General Raheel is recognised as the most popular public official in the country, respected for his courage, integrity and sincerity to Pakistan. Instead of requesting him to change his mind and accept an extension to his tenure given his outstanding performance and the state of war we are in, the champions of democracy would like to undermine his role as a national hero and tarnish his image with cooked-up controversy.