Post 9/11, there was a strong view in Pakistan’s younger defence establishment to affect a paradigm shift and rid Pakistan of all militant outfits. The need for fast track economic development was the key to Pakistan’s progress. Much that Pakistan tried to do was lost within the international paradigm and a mind-set within Pakistan’s senior military general staff. Pakistan’s efforts met a major setback with the orchestration of an attack on the Indian Parliament. What followed was a ‘hide and seek’ of the good, the bad and ugly juxtaposing already existing complications on the War on Terror.

What followed was a proxy war within Pakistan. Many terrorist outfits were created with handlers outside. While international and military diplomacy ran into familiar stalemate punctuated with reciprocal violence, the scenes inside Pakistan became bloodier. For ten long years, it was a free for all exercise to attain multiple objectives of taming, irritating and putting Pakistan in bad focus. Incidents inside Afghanistan found linkages in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Army’s reluctance to take on Haqqani Group actively and through engagement assumed the notion of assets. Yet the group with its basis in North Waziristan and proliferation of anti-Pakistan groups around it did little to secure Pakistan’s interests. The military stationed in terrorist affected areas remained sitting ducks with terrorist outfits enjoying tje luxury of choosing the time and place of engagements.

The reactive checkmating policy of General (Retired) Kayani the last of generals that reflected the old mind-set allowed the pot to boil. All initiatives were ceded at the cost of internal security and economic recession. Reintroduction of democracy through a cantankerous reconciliation and dubious elections made matters worse. With no control over foreign and defence policies, the NRO democracies became parasitic and resorted to massive corruption and economic attrition at the hands of the hitman. The entire structure of a social contract between the state and the people collapsed.

More than a decade later, the generation of young general staff had come of age. The makings of the paradigm shift have fallen on the shoulders of General Raheel Sharif the COAS of Pakistan Army who in 2002 was a young brigadier.

While the government mulled and continues to stutter on a viable counter terrorism policy, the armed forces initiated punitive precision strikes against militant targets with immediate results. Soon military formations began joint operations against all terrorist outfits in North Waziristan. But this was not done without winning the hearts and minds of the local tribal leaders. Over one million people with military efficiency were displaced to settled areas. The pace and effectiveness of these operations forced international observers to concede that effects in Afghanistan were positive.

Washington Post commented, “Although it could take months or years to fully assess its effectiveness, US officials say the operation has boosted their confidence in Pakistan’s commitment to combating terrorist groups operating within its borders.” Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, a senior commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told reporters that the Haqqani network is now “fractured.” He went on to comment, “That’s based pretty much on the Pakistan ops in North Waziristan this entire summer-fall… that has very much disrupted their efforts here and has caused them to be less effective in terms of their ability to pull off an attack here in Kabul.”

But such admissions are not without reason. First, Pakistan’s new Army Chief is indeed working on a paradigm shift. During a reception at Pakistan’s embassy in Washington, he declared that Pakistan will be rid of the last traces of terrorism and that Da’esh will never be allowed to set foot in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In one swipe he has explicitly stated Pakistan’s interests and responsibility in the internal security of both countries. Hereon, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be on a friendly course. The policy in due course will reap huge socio-economic benefits.

Pakistan Army is only for Pakistan’s interests. Earlier, he had forcefully rejected the idea of stationing Pakistani troops in KSA or providing manpower for its military objectives. He has asserted his commitment to the conflict by visiting the home of every soldier sacrificed in the conflict and boosted the war fighting morale. He regularly visits sub units in the conflict zones and mixes with his men and empathised with the Afghan President.  

Secondly, Hamid Karzai, an irritant in relations, is now replaced by President Ashraf Ghani. General Raheel Sharif has already struck a positive cord with him and trust building measures that were once a distant illusion are morphing into reality. The depth and extent of this mutual understanding is reflected in General Raheel’s visit to Afghanistan and President Ashraf Ghani’s reciprocal priority visit to Rawalpindi. President Ghani has also signed the long awaited agreement with the US on stationing over 9,000 US troops after the retrograde. Ghani’s commitment to re-evaluate arms purchase with India puts Pakistan in a comfort zone.

It appears that General Raheel’s visit to Capitol Hill was a pleasant surprise to many in the State Department. Indeed they were less sceptical but not reassured. From a quiet and measured Kayani, a plain speaking, well intentioned and clear minded individual who means well for his country and international sensitivities is not what they had expected. There is no doubt that after a hiatus of 10 years, these relations are off to a new high trajectory. As the relations grow, they will impact positively on Pakistan’s security and dire energy needs. Perhaps after Ayub Khan’s visit to the US, this one is the most hyped and prolific in US Pakistan relations. During the visit, General Raheel also clarified the context of Indian violations across the boundary in Kashmir as an impediment to his efforts on counter terrorism, something Pakistan failed to convince the world in 2002 when India mobilised its forces on Pakistan’s western borders. He also held out an olive branch to India to jointly combat terrorism.

But there remain back stabbers. During his visit, Pervez Rasheed the Information Minister accused Imran Khan of outsourcing his movement to terrorist organisations while the National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz made a damaging comment on Pakistan’s interest in the Haqqani network. Both statements impacted the army’s counter terrorism effort negatively. The government resolve to deal with urban terrorism that shall become ‘the final battle’ is still questionable.

 Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.