Pakistan Army’s 15th Chief is riding into the sunset. The 16th chief stands ready to take charge of the world’s fifth largest army. A lot has transpired in the last 3 years of the outgoing chief and a lot is still left to do for the incoming chief.

When General Raheel assumed charge of the Pakistan Army, the Army had been at war inside its own territory for almost a decade. After suffering losses and setbacks due to the different nature of this war, the army took time adapting.

While the army wrested back control of Swat and several tribal agencies, the mood in the country was totally despondent. Spectacular terror attacks were frequent with the terrorists able to launch an attack on GHQ itself. The media was a confused arena awash with extremist apologists. Many of us despaired at this unimaginable situation, where our soldiers were dying and civilians were being blown up in mosques, bazaars, courts etc, all the while the narrative on media and in politics was that this isn’t our war.

It was a dark time where governance seemed invisible, our largest city and financial capital Karachi down and out and an over active court, instead of helping the war on terror, was releasing terrorists such as Abdul Aziz and going after the security forces in the missing persons’ cases. Frankly, it seemed like some of the generals had given up on this country as well, given how according to the grapevine, wealth here and abroad was being accumulated.

It was in this context that General Raheel took over. Three years later, the mood in the country couldn’t be more opposite. The feel-good factor in the country is returning fast. Karachi, Pakistan’s engine, has been overhauled and is functioning much better, though still needs more work. Karachi’s politics remain in flux and target killings are still not totally eliminated. Certain religious outfits are still present and biding their time. Balochistan seems relatively better, with the government and the army deserving a lot of credit for the changing situation, though strategically planned terror attacks against the lawyers and police cadets of late have taken off the gloss somewhat. With CPEC coming online, such attacks are expected.

After Karachi, FATA and KPK have seen the most improvement with terror attacks falling sharply. KPK police has done a remarkable job of strengthening itself, credit of which goes to the KPK government for giving its police chief, autonomy. Slowly but surely, the civil administration in Swat, and to a lesser extent, FATA is starting to function. However, till the rehabilitation and resettlement of all IDPs and the functioning of a proper civil setup in all these areas along with an economy that’s integrated with the rest of the country, FATA’s peace will remain fragile.

A large part of the credit for getting the writ of state back in many areas and most importantly getting the feel-good factor back goes to General Raheel and his team. The energy and drive he displayed forced many to take notice. His frequent trips to the troops on the frontlines might have started to grate some of those not taking kindly to the tweets of ISPR but this high visibility and leading from the front raised the morale of the troops and most importantly, the nation. Someone looked to be in charge. After years of feeling adrift, this perhaps was the most important point. Every nation at war or in an existential struggle must have leadership and be seen to have leadership. Did the coverage, tweets and rhetoric go overboard sometimes? Yes. But in the end, it did much more for healing the fractured psyche of the beleaguered nation than just building up a “myth” of a general. After years of confusion thanks to the extremism apologists, the narrative on media began to change. This was in large part thanks to the “myth” building.

As the end of his term approached, given Pakistan’s history and the role of the Army, the rumour mill went into overdrive. Many wished for an extension primarily because the war was unfinished and the General had done quite well. They worried that a change in command might lead to change in policies and emphasis. However, in the end, the best possible thing happened. A professional hanging up his spurs and leaving the institution and the fate of the country in hands of another professional. This is how well managed institutions work and are supposed to work and the Pakistan Army has certainly proven to be one such superb institution.

General Qamar inherits a Pakistan and an Army that is better off than both were 3 years ago. This is what defines the tenure of General Raheel as a success and this is what will define General Qamar’s tenure as a success as well, leaving behind to his successor in three years’ time a Pakistan more peaceful, secure and feeling better about itself and an army better trained, equipped and motivated than before.

The challenges are numerous and enemies both within and without, plentiful. In his quest to implement the Doval doctrine, Modi threatens to destabilise the entire region. Modi must be countered and exposed with India being forced to come back to the negotiating table, as war is not a solution for either party. The drive of continuing to establish the state of the writ to every inch of the homeland must continue. The drive of making Karachi a truly world class mega city must continue if not intensify further. The war against terror must now shift to the roots of terror which is extremism. That means moving forward on most of the NAP points. Movement in curriculum, law enforcement upgradation, cleansing South Punjab and urban extremist madrassas etc. The CPEC corridor has not only to become functional it must also truly become a game changer for the whole country and not just some parts of the ruling elite. Finally, the Armed forces under General Qamar must continue to cleanse itself of corrupt elements. For Pakistan to grow and achieve its potential, the corruption of the elite and state must be reined in. For the writ of state and rule of law to mean anything, corruption must be reined in. To honour the sacrifices of the thousands of soldiers, police and civilians in this war on terror, Pakistani governments and its state must keep on improving in all aspects. The Pakistan Army as an institution must be that model of excellence that inspires others to do better.

All of this cannot be done in three years. However, the process and struggle to achieve these things certainly can be done and must be done with visibility.