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  Opinion   Oped  18 Apr 2017  Raheel’s IMAFT: A self-defeating idea?

Raheel’s IMAFT: A self-defeating idea?

The writer is an advocate practising in the Supreme Court. The views expressed here are personal.
Published : Apr 18, 2017, 12:14 am IST
Updated : Apr 18, 2017, 12:14 am IST

The question here is: where exactly has Raheel Sharif joined and what would be his role?

Raheel Sharif. (Photo: AP/File)
 Raheel Sharif. (Photo: AP/File)

When a sitting Prime Minister of Pakistan bars members of his party from commenting or making “any controversial statements” about a former Pakistan Army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, and his appointment as head of a Saudi-led 41-nation Islamic Military Alliance, it calls for a serious look.

This extraordinary statement by an incumbent PM about a retired Army chief understandably creates several realistic scenarios. First, some negative comments on Raheel Sharif must have been made by at least some members of Islamabad’s ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Sharif). Second, this certainly didn’t go well with the serving top brass of the Pakistan Army. They must have signalled the civilian PM to rein in his comrades-in-arms, and the Prime Minister had no choice but to succumb, and do as the Army brass wished. Or else! There is every possibility that the military-created trouble would spoil the applecart of the “rarely-surviving-civilian-ruling-class” specimen called the Prime Minister of Pakistan, traditionally more in the news for frequent ousters through (mala fide) military coups than enjoying any real power in contrast to the country’s rough and repressive ruling class alliance, comprising the “ecclesiastical-imperial-military” caucus; more often referred to as the trinity of “Allah, America and Army”.

Understandably, one of the notable provocations originated from Sindh governor Muhammad Zubair, who referred to Raheel Sharif as “just another general”, with large chunks of the Pakistani elite criticising the efficacy and wisdom of the retired general joining a foreign military alliance. Technically and legally, though the criticism of Raheel Sharif may be untenable, what could turn embarrassing and difficult for the state of Pakistan is the political fallout. Also, Gen. Raheel too may regret, in retrospect, his unprecedented appointment (purely) on moral and ethical grounds, that may affect the psyche and attitude of future retired Pakistani generals seeking jobs or new careers with foreign forces.

The question here is: where exactly has Raheel Sharif joined and what would be his role? Officially, his new outfit is the “Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism”, or IMAFT.

Being an inter-governmental counter-terrorist alliance of Islamic countries, it was essentially forged (on December 15, 2016) by Saudi defence minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud for military intervention against the Islamic State (ISIS) and for other counter-terror actions. The primary objective is to protect Muslim countries from all terrorist groups and terrorist organisations irrespective of their sect and name.

The key question here is — how will the “objective” to “protect Muslim countries from all terrorist groups and organisations” be achieved? If one sees the reports emanating from the Muslim countries themselves, a grim scenario emerges as at least 12 (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Yemen) of the 41 nations have serious internal and cross-border terrorism issues. How does IMAFT deal with this? Individually or collectively?

Declaring open war or through clandestine or some other means? Can it afford to go for a sustained operation or will it be a one-off or sporadic “quick reaction team” op by specialised “shock troops”?

Also, what could be the possible political fallout of IMAFT deployment or action in the internal affairs of sovereign nations notwithstanding their religious bond? Can a war on terror waged by an “International Islamic Army” on Islamic states turn into a civil war-type scenario as it happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria in the aftermath of the US-led international security assistance force deployment and devastation? Will IMAFT go the Western way, leaving a trail of havoc, panic, destruction and a state of permanent war in the guise of fighting terrorism and terrorists to save Islamic states? Do the present Islamic states sincerely believe the best way to tackle terrorist and terrorism is the Western way? By the combined might of the military?

Should not they realise that whereas the Western-led coalition forces tend to fight their wars (far) away from their home bases, the proposed IMAFT will fight, if they fight at all, as they are likely to be fighting against their own shadow, deep inside their own Islamic territory, they will be inflicting more misery, thereby aggravating and hastening more penury and poverty.

It does seem to this writer that the entire idea of IMAFT, in the guise of an International Islamic Army, is bound to be self-defeating and suicidal. Wars, as far as possible and practicable, should not be fought in one’s own territory, but far away from there.

Seen from another angle, it must be remembered that professional armies of modern times usually are not adept in fighting unconventional wars or terror wars which are perceived to have religious fervour and sanctimony from ecclesiastical authorities. Hence a religious colour to violence and mayhem-combat organisation would always constitute a serious internal challenge to the heterogeneous command, control, communications and operations room of a force like IMAFT.

In this context, the two World Wars of 1914-1919 and 1939-1945 come to mind. Although both wars were essentially started and fought by, and between, Christians and Christians, they never got the stamp of “religious” or “terror” conflict. It was simply war. Also, even when the offending agent provocateurs of the conflict were Christians, no defending or counter-offending combatant country ever saw it as “religious terror”.

Let us now go back and recall the “preconditions” stipulated by Raheel Sharif, commander of the 41-nation IMAFT: “that Iran be included in IMAFT; that he will not be under anyone’s command; and that he would be an arbitrator to promote greater harmony in the Muslim world”.

Seen from every, angle Raheel Sharif has failed to fulfil his wishes. He seems to have either been oblivious of his status as a retired soldier, or had conveniently forgotten that he was bound to be under the Saudi King, under whom falls the sacred shrines of Islam, and who had conceived the idea of IMAFT. Second, the exclusion of Iran is surely a potential sore point for IMAFT. And finally, Raheel Sharif must have understood by now that even if he is a much-respected soldier back home, he can’t be a modern-day 21st century Khalifa commander of the 41-nation IMAFT, even though it has been constituted to fight its own religious brethren owing to maladministration and inequality and the inability of certain nations to stand on their own feet.

It is one thing to dream of being an “arbitrator to promote greater harmony in the Muslim world”, but it is another aspect of harsh reality which stands amid the depleting resources of raw material in a shrinking world of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation. In today’s world, any war is a war of economics, for resources, and that includes the war on terror.

Tags: raheel sharif, imaft, islamic state, poverty