General Raheel’s US visit

Courtesy:-  Malik Muhammad Ashraf

The unprecedented two week visit to the US by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif during which he held parleys with military authorities, security establishment and Secretary of State John Kerry, has been in the limelight in the Pakistani media with regards to the purpose of the visit and its outcome. The visit has also been commented upon by political and defense analysts giving their own interpretations from different perspectives. One of the analysts however, tried to link the visit to some recent developments on the domestic front and referring to the statement of John Kerry that Pakistan Army was the ‘real binding’ force in Pakistan, even insinuated the possibility of the US supporting an enhanced role for the Army in running state affairs on the lines suggested by Altaf Hussain. He hinted that this highly unusual visit could be worrying for the PML(N) leadership.
My view is that the scenario contrived by the analyst has no relevance with ground realities. First of all, the COAS could not have made this trip without the permission of the Prime Minister. That is simply out of the question. Therefore, the contention that the visit could cause concern in the PML(N) camp seems rather outlandish. The visit has actually taken place in the backdrop of new developments connected to the US decision to extend its combat mission in Afghanistan for a year. This new initiative has changed the entire scenario and necessitated recalibration of the contours of cooperation between the US military and Pakistan Army in dealing with security threats, fighting terrorism and bringing peace to Afghanistan. Who else would have been a more suitable person than General Raheel Shareef to be sent over to the US to dilate on these issues? He held meetings with CentCom head General Austin Loyd, US Joint Chiefs Chairman at the Pentagon, US National Security Advisor, US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan apart from his meeting with Senator John Kerry. The remark by John Kerry about the Pakistan Army being a “binding force” is a perception shared by the majority of the people in Pakistan and the civilian leadership.
The visit also needs to be viewed in the backdrop of the recent visit of the Afghan President to Pakistan during which both the countries agreed to work together to fight the menace of terrorism, joint management of the porous border, enhancement of economic ties between the two countries and the request by the Afghan President for the training of Afghan troops by the Pakistan Army. The tripartite summit of the UK, Afghanistan and Pakistan in London is also a link in the same chain. While the military leadership is tasked to sort out matters relating to security and relations between the two military establishments, the civilian leadership is engaged in sorting out matters at the political level.
With regards to the outcome of the visit, it can safely be inferred that it has been very successful in the context of its objectives. It has given a new dimension to military ties between the two countries. He convincingly advocated Pakistan’s unswerving commitment to fight terrorist groups without any distinction and cleared doubts in this regard which have been frequently aired by US authorities. Pakistan Army’s contribution to eliminating terrorism and the sacrifices made by its soldiers were duly acknowledged. General Raheel made it a point to urge the desirability of the US and Afghan government taking action against TTP terrorists sheltering in Kunar and Nuristan province of Afghanistan, who were launching frequent attacks on Pakistan security forces along the Pak-Afghan border. This issue has invariably remained a subject of discussion during the interaction between US and Pakistan military and the civilian leaders on both sides for quite some time now. Even before launching Zarb-e-Azab, General Raheel visited Afghanistan to seek cooperation against TTP terrorists based in Afghanistan. Reportedly, US authorities have agreed to step up air strikes, including drone attacks on Pakistani militants sheltering across the border in Afghanistan. That perhaps could be termed the biggest success of General Raheel’s visit to the US.
US Secretary of State Senator John Kerry welcomed the progress on improvement of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and assured unflinching US support in carrying that process further, emphasizing the need for ever increasing cooperation between Pakistan and the US at the military as well as political level. It is pertinent to mention that the new narrative on relations with Afghanistan, fighting the menace of terrorism through a collaborative effort, giving new heights to economic relations between the two countries and promoting regional connectivity for shared economic prosperity evolved by the present government, enjoys the unqualified support of the military establishment and both are working in unison to promote these objectives. It would perhaps not be an exaggeration to say that it was for the first time that the military and civilian leadership were on the same page with regards to security objectives, which represents a marked departure from the decades old paradigm of strategic depth. This new approach has not only been well received and responded to by Afghanistan but has also been appreciated at the international and regional level.
As is evident, the visit of COAS to the US was entirely in the context of the new situation arising out of the US decision to extend its combat mission in Afghanistan and related security issues and the areas where cooperation between the US and Pakistan militaries was required to be redefined in view of changed variables. It had nothing to do with the political scenario in the country.

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