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New Yorker: Pakistanís Next Top General

Author: Omar Waraich
December 3, 2013

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"All of these steps are meant to ensure that the prime minister, and not the Army chief, is the most powerful Sharif in Pakistan. But that status is not easy to guarantee: before he was toppled by Musharraf, in 1999, Sharif thought that his position was invulnerable, thanks to a landslide victory that gave him an overwhelming majority in Parliament. If the direct threat of a coup has receded, today Sharif faces a broader array of checks on his power."

When General Raheel Sharif was appointed as Pakistan's Army chief last week, a flurry of profiles described the new occupant of the country's most powerful office as a "moderate" and "professional" soldier, with "no interest in politics." In a country that has spent half its history under military rule, this is a polite way of saying that General Sharif is unlikely to overthrow the government. For Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who selected the new Army chief, this disinclination to political involvement may have been among General Sharif's prime qualifications—Nawaz's previous term in office came to an abrupt end, in 1999, when he was ousted by General Pervez Musharraf, whom he had handpicked to head the Army.

Nawaz Sharif's election earlier this year marked a milestone for Pakistan: for the first time, an elected civilian government completed a full five years in office and made an orderly transfer of power to its successor. For much of those five years, speculation swirled that the government, headed by Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, would not survive. Now it appears that Sharif—whose party enjoys a large majority in Parliament—should be able to complete another full term of his own. If that happens, the door to further military coups, which has been slowly creaking closed, might even be firmly shut.

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