On Tuesday, former Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif spoke at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos as a paid speaker – the first of such engagements for him – on a session titled, ‘Terrorism in the digital age’. This made for a highly interesting speech, not only because the former chief talked about the challenges faced by Pakistan during his time in charge at length and in detail, but also because for the first time, we heard Raheel Sharif speaking in his personal capacity, and not as the head of the military machine.

The result is an illuminating picture of the past few years, one that should guide the present regime on how to go about combating terrorism. General Raheel Sharif placed a great emphasis on international cooperation and intelligence sharing, saying that while the governments and armed forces of the world are benefiting from modern means of communications such as the internet, so too are terrorist organisations. He claimed it is not only recruiting that is done online, but all manner of planning, financing and coordination is done on international forums; in his words, “it is not someone sitting in a cave”.

Crucially, he does not advocate stricter control on Internet access to combat the “evolving” terrorism threat – something that many governments have done, Pakistan to an extent too. Instead, he called for greater cooperation between countries, citing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 – which was adopted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack and calls for unrestricted intelligence sharing – and urging bilateral agreements to be signed. His personal opinion, which many undoubtedly share, is that the destiny of Pakistan and Afghanistan is linked together due to the naturally porous border that separates the country and the tribal links that span it. A better relationship with our western neighbour is inevitable.

However, there were jarring points in his address, namely how human rights concerns are difficult to handle at times. This must be framed in the context of APS Peshawar attacks, as he claimed that he had to pull off a balancing act between the human rights of the alleged terrorists and the rights of the victims and their relatives. This is not an open invitation to trample human rights, but a carefully considered one in specific circumstances.

This circumstantial view of things also extended to military courts. While Raheel Sharif claimed that he personally believed that the courts were effective in in deterring even hardcore terrorists, he claimed they were a product of their time and “unusual needs”. With the debate on reinstatement of military courts in full swing, it will be interesting to see what impact these comments make and which side chooses to employ them.