Save it for the other Sharif, some reports and experts suggested last month as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif toured the US. Army chief Raheel Sharif, who wields real power in Pakistan, was on his way.
He is indeed but, in a curious twist, the US military, which has been traditionally close to the Pakistani military, has let it be known that Gen Sharif is coming without an invitation.
“COAS Gen Raheel Sharif is travelling to Washington, DC of his own volition and DoD (Department of Defense) officials are meeting (him) at his request,” a US defence official told Hindustan Times on Thursday.
News agency PTI, which first reported this development, said the general had sought meetings with defense secretary Ash Carter and joint chiefs of staff Gen Joseph Dunford.
While Sharif’s reasons for seeking the meetings have not been publicly announced by Pakistan, the US is expected to cover “topics that we routinely cover with our Pakistan partners”.
As army chief, Sharif wields immense and real power in Pakistan, as did all his predecessors. But he is also currently riding a rare wave of popularity for a general.
Newsweek Pakistan declared him Man of the Year in 2014. And the day Prime Minister Sharif met President Barack Obama last month, The Wall Street Journal reported, “But next month, top American officials will hold talks with the man many people say calls the shots on the issues Washington cares most about: Gen Raheel Sharif.”
Michael Kugelman, a US-Pakistan ties expert at Wilson Center, wrote around the same time: “The upcoming US visit of another Sharif – Pakistan army chief Gen Raheel Sharif – has much more potential to make waves and bring meaningful results.”
US officials don’t seem to see it quite the same way though. “That is interesting indeed! Though in some ways not surprising,” Kugelman told Hindustan Times in an email on Thursday.
It may have something do with his agenda, which hasn’t been announced yet. “My sense is that there is unease within the Pakistani security establishment that the US could reduce levels of assistance in the coming months, and Gen Sharif wants to make a pitch to keep the spigot open and the aid flowing.”
Also, many in the US believe that while the army chief may have moved decisively against the Pakistani Taliban, he has not done enough to degrade the Haqqani Network or Lashkar-e-Taiba.
But Kugelman argued, “Regardless of what is discussed, this much is clear –Gen Sharif will be warmly welcomed in Washington.”