No army in the world wants to engage in fratricidal counter-insurgency operations; pitching its firepower against its misdirected countrymen who for whatever misconceived motivations may choose to turn their guns on their compatriots and the armed forces.
Before the Twin Towers in the Manhattan district of New York came crashing down in the early morning hours on September 11, the prospects of Pakistan Army entering the Fata and taking on an insurgent threat were nowhere on the horizon.
The western frontier with Afghanistan was safe and secure and the Frontier Corps, working within the parameters defined by the FCR powers wielded by political agents along with the time-honored code and traditions of Pukhtunwali, managed to keep the lid on to contain the menace of on the run criminals, smugglers, gunrunners and other unsavory characters who found refuge in illaqa-e-ghair’s vast embrace.
Arrival of the elements of al-Qaeda and foreign protégées of the Taliban flushed out by the US onslaught in Afghanistan in Oct 2001, blew away this lackadaisical, time tested milieu.
The TTP with its Pakistan specific terrorist agenda took shape in the early 2000s and ever since the threat scenario has been incrementally getting vicious, radiating pain and bloodshed in the farthest reaches of Pakistan.
An area that once served as the buffer on Pakistan’s western flank is now terrorists’ hornet nest calling upon Pak Army to undertake a challenging and pain intensive counter insurgency campaign to defeat the liberty of action desired by terrorists who want to implement their detestable agenda in Pakistan and elsewhere.
At such junctures of national upheaval, the unequivocal national support is the sheet anchor that lends moral and emotional strength to the soldiers who serve their nation to the peril of their lives.
There is no room for confusion. The resolve that drives the soldiers is the just and clear articulation of the national cause that justifies the ultimate sacrifice. In this context the recent publication of an article “Pakistan Army and its War on Terror” by Musa Khan Jalazai comes across as an uninformed and distorted reflection of facts that tends to underrate the national achievements in the ongoing counter insurgency campaign and takes vicious swipes on the army as an institution. He is entitled to his warped opinions but by propagating his unfounded views on mainstream media, he is only imparting further impetus to the forces of obscurantism which want to engulf Pakistan.
The author has tried to mitigate the Pakistan Army’s sterling achievements in the counter insurgency campaign, which on all accounts are undeniable. Swat once deemed to have been hopelessly lost to forces of terrorism, is now back to normalcy and bustling with normal economic and routine activities associated with an at-peace civil society. This winter the trout from the Swat’s once demolished farms was back on sale in supermarkets and the luscious peaches from its verdant fruit orchards are abundantly available, underscoring the return to normalcy to this once terrorism-ravaged heaven on earth.
A similar success story is reflected in the South Waziristan Agency, where after annihilating the TTP’s strongholds in Kotkai, Srarogha, Kunigram, Makeen, Shrangrawari and Ladha, the army is busy in bringing about a radical change in the lives of the locals who are thronging back to pick up the threads of their interrupted lives by setting up communication infrastructure as well as economic projects, including vocational schools, to generate economic activity and wean away locals from the clutches of terrorists.
Notwithstanding Musa’s jaundiced assertions, the army’s success against militancy couldn’t have been possible until its doctrine, strategy and training were not fine-tuned to resonate in step with the changed threat perception whereby the internal security has risen to the top of priority list. Jalazai’s misperception that Pak Army is ill equipped and untrained for low intensity conflict only shows his detachment from the ground situation. It is insightful to read what Brian Cloughley has written on this aspect in his book, “A History of Pakistan Army”. “The (Pakistan) Army had to retrain almost from scratch to meet the new challenge and it has done remarkably well in completely altering the training priority and emphasis in such a short period,” he says.
Likewise his observation that the US priorities were compelling the Pak Army to take on the TTP is spurious. There are no grounds to suggest that Pakistan’s fight against forces of obscurantism, extremism and terrorism is not our national fight and through no strand of logic can be dubbed as an American war, as the writer wishes it to portray. This aspect was recently emphatically explained by the COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani who articulated that operations against an enemy that defied the Constitution of Pakistan and the democratic process and considered all forms of bloodshed justified, could not be considered someone else’s war but our own. Nowhere else is Musa Khan manifestly more out of his depth, than while making observations on the mindset of the rank of file in the army.
His preposterous reference to the non-existent sectarian and ethnic rifts being visible in the army is only a poor reflection of his ill intent and reeks of malicious bent towards the armed forces. Despite his self-contrived authority on military matters, it is obvious that he has probably never worn the Khakis nor had the honor to lead men or to be in combat situations. He has simply not fathomed the espirit de corps and ethos of the fighting men of the Pakistan Army which is such an effective melting pot of all sectarian and ethnic identities creating deepest of respect for the personal beliefs yet turning these into irrelevant side distractions in execution of the assigned mission. Once the bullets closely whiz by and shrapnel begin to fly, there is no time for reflecting on such obnoxious divisive thoughts. What matters is to fight effectively, prevail and let the other guy across the sights bite the dust.
The Pakistan Army’s fight against terrorism is a campaign in progress. The objectives of this campaign are clear; foreign fighters have to leave, terrorists of all ilks, including the TTP have to forsake terrorism and lay down arms and the writ of the state has to be established. On all accounts we have done well.
Swat and South Waziristan are two major success stories, yet the fight for the soul of Pakistan is far from over. The nation and its armed forces have given a sacrifice of 50,000 casualties and the people of Pakistan are solidly behind the Pak Army.
At such a juncture articles like one written by Musa Khan hardly make a sense. These only serve to create confusion and sow seeds of division and acrimony. Notwithstanding his outlandish assertions, as a soldier would know; no fault lines exist within the Pak Army and there are no prospects for one to emerge and enlarge.
About the author: Momin Iftikhar is a retired brigadier of Pakistan Army.