The False Savior of Pakistan

Pakistanis hope that the army’s new chief of staff, Raheel Sharif, will crack down on militants and boost security. But can one man change a corrupt legal system and prejudiced security infrastructure?


Pakistan has finally found a hero in General Raheel Sharif, the army’s chief of staff since November 2013. In a short time, he has become one of the most powerful and beloved men in the country. From Peshewar to Karachi, billboards and banners thank him for curbing terrorism. This adoration stems, in part, from his warnings that regional rival India will suffer “unbearable costs” if it causes mischief.

What truly catapulted General Sharif to stardom was Operation Zarb-e-Azb, an operation launched in June 2014 to eradicate militants from every corner of North Waziristan. The operation was to serve as an aggressive response to the deadly attack on Jinnah International Airport that occurred earlier that month, and gave new hope to a nation that had lost over 3,000 lives to terrorist attacks in 2013 alone.

Zarb-e-Azb signaled a strategic shift for Pakistan’s internal terrorism policies. The international community had long charged Pakistan with providing safe haven to select militants — those fighting in Afghanistan and who do not pose a direct threat to, and perhaps even support, the interests of Pakistan’s government– and Zarb-e-Azb attempted to prove that Pakistan was, in fact, targeting all militants equally. There would be no more turning a blind eye to the terrorist activities of “good” militants.

General Sharif does deserve a certain level of praise for increasing security. Not only have terrorist attacks in Pakistan dropped by 70 percent since 2012, but  Zarb-e-Azb made a significant impact on the terrorist groups Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi through military operations to weaken safe havens and confiscate weapons — progress all of the general’s predecessors failed to achieve.

Yet, this success is tempered by accusations that the crackdown against these groups has ulterior motives. The most-targeted groups are ones known to oppose the Pakistani state. The international community has demanded a stricter crackdown on other groups, too, ones like the Haqqani network and the India-focused Lashkar-e-Taiba – neither of which Islamabad considers to be an anti-state actor in addition to a terrorist organization. Rather than tackling all of the militants in the area simultaneously, Pakistan is first eliminating anti-Pakistan groups before setting its sights on anti-U.S. or anti-India groups.

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