When Gen. Raheel Sharif retired from his post as head of Pakistan’s army late last year, he was celebrated as a national savior for his tough stance on terrorism and becoming the first army chief in two decades to retire on time.
Just weeks later, speculation over his next career move and an allocation of land has threatened to dent that image.
Gen. Sharif is credited with reversing Pakistan’s descent into terrorist bloodshed, with an operation against the Pakistani Taliban, and cleaning up the country’s violence-plagued biggest city, Karachi, turning him into one of the nation’s most popular army chiefs.
He also became the first chief in 20 years to step down from his post on time, unlike his two predecessors. Gen. Pervez Musharraf ruled Pakistan for almost a decade after coming to power in the 1999 military coup, and Gen. Ashfaq Kayani served an extended term of six years before handing over command to Gen. Sharif.
According to Pakistani media reports, Gen. Sharif’s next step could be to command a Saudi-led military coalition of Muslim countries. Pakistan turned down a Saudi request to join its military action in Yemen while Gen. Sharif was army chief, leading to an angry reaction in the Gulf.
Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Asif, first appeared to confirm the Saudi job in a television interview, but later told parliament that the former army chief hadn’t applied for permission to take the role. Gen. Sharif couldn’t be reached for comment on the claims.
Meanwhile, last week it was reported that he had received an allocation of 90 acres of agricultural land just outside the eastern city of Lahore from the government. Pakistan’s military officers have long enjoyed generous perks, including allocations of land, but critics have said the process needs to be rationalized and transparent.
The military said that the land was allocated according to government and army procedures and rules, even invoking the constitution to justify it. It said that the debate around it was intended to malign the army and “create misunderstandings between state institutions” which is “detrimental to existing cohesion.”
Babar Sattar, a prominent lawyer and commentator, said it was appropriate for Gen. Sharif to be the focus of a debate around the propriety of such perks for Pakistan’s elite.
“The image of [Gen. Sharif] being infallible was painstakingly and deliberately crafted. Should he now complain for being judged by a higher standard,” Mr. Sattar wrote in The News, an English-language newspaper.
Military analyst Ejaz Haider said debates about such issues don’t malign the army, and instead serve to improve how the military functions.
“It is precisely to honor these brave men that we, as a society, have to ensure that no state organization become fat at the top,” Mr. Haider wrote in Newsweek Pakistan.
There was pushback from the supporters of Gen. Sharif, who remains highly popular among Pakistanis. Social media users accused those debating the allocation of deliberately trying to damage the image of the general.
“Some people with bad intentions have tried to tarnish the reputation of a good officer by presenting it in a certain way in the media,” said Amjad Shoaib, a retired lieutenant-general, who once headed the branch of the army that handles matters related to retirement benefits. Lt. Gen. Shoaib said on Pakistani channel Geo News that such allotments are made every year to soldiers and officers, and are based on meritorious service, valor and duration of service.
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