It is an open fact that Pakistan is not run by its democratically elected government but by the army. General Raheel Sharif can, therefore, be called the top boss of Pakistan, especially in matters that concern the security and foreign policy of the country.
It now seems that the General is also involving in other matters as well, which are usually handled by elected leaders.
While on his two-day visit to China, Gen Sharif discussed economic ties with none other than Chinese Premier Li Keqiang besides the usual talks on enhancing defence cooperation.
While the Chinese Premier acknowledged its long-standing relationship with Pakistan, Keqiang also stressed on the need for the successful completion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Gen Sharif’s visit comes in the backdrop of crucial developments in India’s neighbourhood.
A Pentagon report recently submitted before the US Congress pointed out that China had increased its military presence along the Indo-China border and in other parts of the world.
At the same time, Pakistan said that it will take up India’s test of a supersonic interceptor missile at the international level. Islamabad is also planning to take up with the United Nations India’s decision to penalise anyone who depicts Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory.
In April, Gen Sharif had accused India of trying to sabotage the $46 billion CPEC project.
Pakistan’s military is also wary of US changing lanes and taking the one that leads to New Delhi. And so it has increased its pandering of Beijing.
As you can see, the General is practically talking about multiple issues not directly related to the armed forces or Pakistan’s defence.
Normally, military chiefs do not discuss economic matters at the highest political levels. Simply put, the Indian Army Chief is not expected to talk about economic projects with the Afghan President; it is the job of the civilian administration.
Even last month Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar visited China and discussed border issues with Premier Li Keqiang. But Parrikar is a (1) defence minister, who is (2) an elected civilian representative.
Yet in Pakistan Gen Sharif is the man who dictates the country’s military, foreign, and, now, economic policies too.
It is worth noting here that Pakistan is the only country where the Army chief holds highest-level meetings with civilian administrations of other countries including United States.
And he spends five to seven days in United States like he did in 2014 and in late 2015!
Experts in international affairs have often pointed out that anyone willing to conduct any kind of business with Pakistan must speak with the “other Sharif” besides PM Sharif, which can be seen as fulfilling a mere formality.
In fact it is the army and not the civilian administration which takes a call on who Pakistan should be friends or enemy with and what the country’s diplomatic policy should be.
Pakistan’s powerful army controls and operates the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which is often accused even by the US of fomenting terrorism, much of which is directed against India.
And since the Army has ruled the country for most part of its post-independence era, Gen Sharif knows the power his uniform carries.