ISLAMABAD— As Pakistan intensifies its military campaign against extremist Islamist groups -- in the wake of the recent massacre by militants at an elite army-run school in Peshawar -- the country's army chief is facing huge internal security challenges in dealing with the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. However, many in Pakistan, including former military officials, see General Rahee Sharif as a straight-talking professional soldier who can successfully confront the country's extremists.
General Raheel Sharif joined Pakistan's army in 1976 and assumed the post of Army Chief of Staff in November 2013.
General Raheel Sharif is Pakistan's fifteenth army Chief of Staff and comes from a highly-decorated army family. His older brother, the late Major Shabbir Sharif, received Pakistan's highest military award, the Nishan-e-Haider.
Months after assuming the top command, General Sharif launched a comprehensive operation against the Pakistani Taliban and their allies in North Waziristan.
Prior to the campaign, he told a military audience the army is determined to restore peace to the country.
“It is our earnest desire that all elements fighting against the state should unconditionally submit to the country’s constitution and law and come back to the national mainstream, otherwise there should be no doubt about ‘our ability to deal with’ insurgents,” said General Sharif.
Pakistan's civilian and military leaders had wanted to launch a major offensive in this tribal area for years but had hesitated because of the risks of militant reprisals.
Retired Major General Athar Abbas, a former military spokesman, said General Sharif made the right decision to go after the Taliban -- and praised his personal qualities.
“He is [a] go-getter and I think he is very patriotic, very straightforward, very upright and I think this is one thing which the outsiders have also appreciated. And therefore you see a new beginning in our relationship with [the] U.S. and our relationship with the other countries,” he said.
Defense analyst Maria Sultan called General Sharif "a man of deliberate action."
“You are looking at a man who understands Pakistan strengths as well as weaknesses and also can plan for short terms as well as long terms,” she said.
In November, General Sharif made his first visit to the United States -- meeting with American military and Obama administration officials, and also with members of Congress.
Many believed the visit went a long way toward improving U.S.-Pakistani relations.
“As you see, all the top officials of the U.S. they met him, they had discussions with him and even the visit was extended for Secretary [of State] Kerry to have a meeting with him. That speaks of the U.S. seriousness and a change of heart in U.S. policy towards Pakistan … therefore we see a lot of things improving between the two militaries, between U.S. government and Pakistan government,” said retired Major General Abbas.
“The best thing about the visit was that it was based on [an] institutional approach; it was not based on just meeting a few guys in Washington which might have changed within the administration. We believe [the] Pakistan-U.S. relationship is a strategic relationship though it is rarely understood in strategic dimensions," said Sultan.
Before becoming Chief of Staff, General Sharif served as the Pakistan Army's Inspector General for Training and Evaluation, where he worked to bring the army's training courses to face the challenges of domestic terrorism. He also developed training manuals for counter-insurgency operations, an area which was not previously part of Pakistan's traditional military training.