General Sharif returns to Washington!

Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, arrived in Washington DC, for a five-day visit to the United States. This is his second trip as Army Chief, the last one being in November of 2014. Michael Kugelman, Senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, at the wrap of Mr. Raheel’s visit last year started his piece in the The Diplomat with this quip:

“Quick: Identify the civilian democracy that sends its army chief — not its president or prime minister — to the United States for a full week of high-level meetings with civilian and military officials. The answer is Pakistan”

It seems that on the eve of Gen. Raheel’s second visit, the same question can be asked once again given that Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, visited the US only a few weeks ago in October. While Pakistan has been a democracy  since 2008 and the civilian government of Pakistan is engaged with the United States Government, apparent from the Joint Statement by Mr. Obama and Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Gen. Raheel Sharif’s visit is contentious in terms of the ongoing power dynamic between the military and government in Pakistan and why the United States needs to engage with both those agencies separately. Kugelman, in his latest piece in anticipation of Gen. Raheel Sharif’s second visit, attempts to explain this very complicated relationship between the United States, and the strong military establishment and the elected civilian government in Pakistan. The core of his analysis is that the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has remained quite unchanged because of two reasons, fear and naivete. He quotes  Ambassador Husain Haqqani’s (Director South & Central Asia at Hudson Institute and former Ambassador of Pakistan to the US (2008-2011)) book “Magnificent Delusions” to reiterate that leaders in Washington have been satisfied and naive when providing aid to Pakistan in order to gain some leverage over Pakistan. This has continued in light of Pakistan’s continued policy to distinguish between good terrorists and bad terrorists. The ‘fear’ aspect in Washington has convinced it to be on the “good side of a volatile nuclear-armed nation than on its bad side.

 

While naivete and fear continue to feature in United States policy towards Pakistan, Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment has continued to protect terrorist organizations like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT). Mr. Nawaz Sharif, for the first time, during his visit in October promised to take necessary action against LeT that Ambassador Husain Haqqani notes has traditionally been under the “protection” of the ISI (Pakistani Intelligence Services). Washington has rightly appreciated the clamping down of some terrorist organizations in areas like North Waziristan by the Pakistani military through Operation Zarb-e-Azb. And yet it is actively engaging, through Mr. Raheel Sharif, with “Pakistan’s security establishment (that) continues to nurture ties with militant groups that endanger U.S. interests and lives.” Mr. Raheel Sharif is to meet with US military and civilian leaders to discuss matters of Pakistan’s relationship with the United States, bringing the Taliban back to the negotiating table, the military’s role in progressing counterterrorism efforts and other security issues, topics very similar to what Mr. Nawaz Sharif discussed with Mr. Obama. Does the democratically elected Prime Minister’s earlier visit matter at all in light of this five-day, high profile visit by the especially popular, Gen. Raheel Sharif? “From a democratic perspective,” a Dawn editorial called this visit “discouraging,” as it starts to question the legitimacy and consolidation of power by the democratically elected civilian government.