Kunjah is a small town near the Gujrat district of province Punjab, the village is associated to the former Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif (Retired). The ancestors, grandfather and father of former Chief are buried here, though Sharif was not born in this village While driving towards Kunjah, about 10 kilometers to the west of Gujrat city, it is difficult to miss the change in scale; towns and villages, roads, shops and tea stalls, everything looks smaller than it does on the Grand Trunk Road that links Gujrat with Rawalpindi, to the north, and Lahore to the south. Within Kunjah, the scale shifts again from small to narrow: bazaars are narrow, streets even narrower. It is hard to imagine that this is the native town of Raheel Sharif, arguably the most important, most powerful person in Pakistan.
In this old town of about 50,000 people, a labyrinth of narrow lanes leads to a blind alley where a dilapidated two-storey locked house wears the same aura of mystery that all empty spaces acquire after their occupants have left long ago. This is where Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif’s grandfather, Mehtabud Din, lived — as did the general’s father, Major Muhammad Sharif. It was also in this house that his elder brother Shabbir Sharif was born and raised until he joined the Pakistan Army in the early 1960s.
During the 1971 war, elder brother of Raheel Sharif Major Shabbir Sharif was posted at Head Sulemanki near Okara. Major Shabbir Sharif embraced Shahdat (martyrdom) during the war and was awarded the highest gallantry award, Nishan-e-Haider, for his act of valor.
Being the brother of Major Shabbir Sharif, the officers and soldiers had high expectations of Raheel Sharif. He had to work extremely hard to come up to their expectations, It is correct that Raheel Sharif carried the legacy of his family in befitting manner and did come up to the expectations of not only Pakistan Army but of Pakistani nation also as the Chief of Army Staff.
Even though Raheel Sharif could see any of his elder brother’s army friends, including Pervez Musharraf, whenever he needed to. But the General had always been an upright soldier and never looked for any shoulder or sought any favors from colleagues and friends of his “Shaheed” brother.
The general comes from a religious family. His grandfather, after whom their home street is named as Koocha Mehtabud Din, was a known religious scholar in the area, whose forefathers had settled in Kunjah in 1840. A younger cousin of Raheel Sharif who still lives in Kunjah knows the general as a friendly person who does not let anyone feel insignificant in his presence. “He knows how to give respect to others and how to command respect from them,” the cousin says without wanting to be named. Raheel Sharif also loves driving cars and hunting game, according to his cousin. “Being a chain-smoker, he looks out of his element when he cannot smoke.”
Within the military, Raheel Sharif is known from his early days in uniform as a man of strong character and steely resolve, Raheel is an iron fist in velvet gloves, said his first commanding officer, General Ghazi ud Din Rana (Retired).
Raheel Sharif is also considered to be one of the most popular army chiefs in recent times. “His ability to inspire confidence and love in the troops is quite remarkable,” say officers and soldiers of Pakistan Army.
Musharraf, who was a course mate of Shabbir Sharif, is also a big admirer of Raheel Sharif. “He has been to the most dangerous places in the (Zarb-e-Azb) battle zone. Many others would not dare go near those places fearing for their lives,” Musharraf says. “It is Raheel Sharif’s strong character and compassion for his juniors that sets him apart from the rest of the pack. He is not just a commander but a leader the one soldiers happily obey and follow in war,” the former president says in an interview in Karachi.
In 2015, Raheel Sharif’s popularity nurtured out of the military barracks and feasted across Pakistan, making him more popular than any politician including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan. A mosque in Islamabad was named after him last year and his portraits could be spotted on the back of trucks and auto rickshaws everywhere. Banners and billboards featuring his image still adorn the streets of almost every big city, particularly Karachi, and many contesting the recent local government elections put his photo on their publicity material to attract voters. Even on social media, a #ThankYouRaheelSharif hashtag has trended for months.
The details for his rising admiration and popularity are quite easy to grasp in times of rampant terrorism, uncertainty, corruption and a general disappointment with politics. He played vital role in improving security in the country in general and Karachi in particular, he ensured to continue the policies of his predecessors and the military to nub the evil of terrorism.
The general spent a lot of his time visiting key global capitals from London and Washington to Beijing and Kabul to dialogue monarchs, presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and, yes, his own counterparts. No important foreign dignitary visiting Islamabad leaves Pakistan without having one on one meeting with General Raheel Sharif.
The passage of the Protection of Pakistan Act shortly after the launch of Zarb-e-Azb in July 2014, the announcement of the National Action Plan (NAP) in the aftermath of the Peshawar school attack in December that year and the passage of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution early in 2015 put together, according to Shah, “effectively took away the initiative from the civilians and handed it over on a platter to the military.”
The massacre of APS Peshawar touched deep the Chief of Army Staff. General himself was present to receive the student once school opned after the disastrous attack, Emotional scenes were witnessed in the school as many children were crying while remembering their school mates. The army chief said that the morale of the entire nation is high. He added that terrorism will be wiped out from the country. He recited the national anthem and poem “Lab pe aati hai dua ban ke Tamanna meri” with the school children during the assembly. General Raheel Sharif always kept the photograph of Shaheed children in his office drawer for the rest of his tenure as the military chief.
The reasons for Raheel Sharif’s popularity are not difficult to comprehend in times of rampant terrorism, insecurity, corruption and a general disappointment with politics.
He was influential in crafting a counter insurgency doctrine of Pakistan Army which emphases on training and preparing the military for anti-terrorism operations as the Inspector General for Training and Evaluation.
In an interview with Herald, Musharraf acknowledges being in touch with General Raheel Sharif since leaving the office of the president of Pakistan in 2008. Though he says the frequency of their interaction has decreased after Raheel Sharif became the army chief “so that he did not come under any criticism” for that, the two regularly exchange messages on important personal and social occasions.
Through @ Hearld