Perils of over adulation

Published: September 14, 2015

Before General Sharif, the army leadership had been reluctant to cooperate with the government. PHOTO: AFP

Despite being someone who considers himself a strong critic of Pakistan’s military, I do admire General Raheel Sharif and for good reason; he’s finally done what should have been done a long time ago.

For years, the issue of militants had been in the spotlight, and despite their openly brazen acts, various governments in succession were unable to counter the menace effectively. The lack of will was astounding, but given the weak public support, due to obfuscating narrative which actually presented the Taliban as a ‘reaction’, was perhaps understandable.

Moreover, it should also be remembered that any action against the militants actually required cooperation from the state and its institutions. Civilian governments in Pakistan are not calling the shots and for engaging the coercive apparatus, such as armed forces, they need cooperation rather than obedience, because the latter is simply absent.

Before General Sharif, the army leadership had been reluctant to cooperate with the government. For that matter, the government, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) at that time, was also reluctant, because it did not have mass support of the population behind it, due to the dominant narrative at that time. As per the narrative, the Taliban were ‘our’ people and their inhuman acts were merely a reaction to the US war in Afghanistan. This narrative was perpetuated by reactionaries like Imran Khan round the clock.

General Sharif’s accomplishment is not only that he took military action against the militants but in the process also engineered a massive change in the narrative. The mainstream opinion is no longer construing the Taliban as victims, who had taken up arms just as a ‘reaction’. Even Imran Khan, a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) apologist, has started to sound different.

Likewise, the action in Karachi can be argued to be a step in the right direction, as the city over the years had become militarised, and unfortunately even ideologically liberal parties had militant wings. The action in Karachi has forced political parties to reorient their basic strategies, as militant wings are no longer a must for political power and for that matter, even basic survival. Present army leadership, in other words, has changed the rules of the game.

However, while such things should be appreciated, we are at the same time treading on a potentially dangerous path. As the army’s involvement is increasing, the crucial civil-military balance is further getting skewed towards the latter. For those who are celebrating this, let me humbly remind them that the mess in Pakistan – particularly with respect to Islamic militancy – owes a lot to lack of civilian oversight.

In essence, the present military leadership is basically clearing the mess created by a faulty security policy, whose genesis had been due to lack of proper civilian oversight. The problem is that as the civilian side becomes weaker, there will virtually be no check against any future repetitions of the past mistakes.

In part, army expansion of role is also being spurred, by the rising national expectations of General Sharif. On media of all forms, a personality cult around him is being manufactured and despite liking General Sharif, I am getting alarmed by it.

On social media, I can see many emotional posts asking him or rather begging him to impose martial law, something which with some subtle difference is being parroted by some of the anchor persons.

This is a testimony to the Messiah obsessed, benevolent dictator loving and hyperbolic collective psyche of our nation. The fact that the civilian government is weaker in front of him is being cheered. A strange binary way of thinking is developing where civilian governments – except of course Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), the favourite of our urban middleclass – are completely ‘corrupt’ and the army is completely honest, and therefore should take over.

It seems nothing much has changed in Pakistan and we have learnt nothing from history. This is exactly how we elevate individuals from ordinary mortals to demi Gods, and in doing so, making them completely unaccountable to anyone. We actually convince them that they need to expand beyond what they are presently doing and transform our society. It is an over-simplistic and rather dangerous way of thinking that a glorified individual, due to his perceived ‘sincerity’ can transform our ‘talented’ nation and elevate to its ‘rightful’ place in the world.

Such adulation has its adverse consequences though right now in the heat of frenzy, we may not be realising it. When powerful individuals are glorified to these levels, they start picturing themselves as men of destiny who have been chosen by fate to do great things and when this starts happening, dictatorial tendency starts taking place.

So far General Sharif has coped well, something which is extremely admirable, but for how long?

The problems will soon start emerging if public adulation and reckless hero worshiping continues.

If he ventures upon taking those steps, it will not merely make him more powerful, but by extension, also the armed forces. The already lopsided civil-military relationship in Pakistan will worsen further. In the longer run, this will have catastrophic results, as this may lead to complete unaccountability of military, something which we would really regret, when some other chief, unlike General Sharif, is at the helm of the affairs.


Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.