Cry baby commanders!

The long sulk – by Ayaz Amir

Corps commanders? Our guardians seem more like cry commanders these days, wearing their anger and hurt on their sleeves and refusing to come out of the sulk into which they went after Abbottabad…a place destined from now on to be less associated with Major Abbott and more with that warrior of Islam from whose parting kick we have yet to recover, Osama bin Laden.

True, May has been a cruel month for the army and Pakistan, with troubles coming not in single spies but entire battalions: the Mehran attack, Frontier Corps marksmanship in Quetta, Sindh Rangers zeal in Karachi, and the death by torture of the journalist Saleem Shahzad… this last bearing all the hallmarks of insanity tipping over the edge.

Which raw nerves had his reporting touched? Who could have kidnapped him on a stretch of road probably the securest in Islamabad? Mossad, RAW, the CIA, the Taliban? Definite proof we don’t have but circumstances point in an uncomfortable direction. If this is another conspiracy against Pakistan we ourselves have written its script.

Still, since when was sulking an answer to anything? It may suit kids and pretty girls but it makes an army command look silly, especially one prone to take itself so seriously.

Terseness should be a quality of military writing: that and precision. The rambling nature of the statement issued after last week’s corps commanders’ conference is likely to leave one baffled. It rails against the “perceptual biases” of elements out to drive a wedge between the army and the nation; contains such bromides as the need for national unity; and in part reads like a thesis on Pak-US relations, which it should not have been for the corps commanders to delineate in public.

The army has “perceptual biases” of its own. It should keep them to itself.

The National Defence University, one of the biggest white elephants in a city dedicated to this species, seems to be an idea ahead of its time. Pakistani generals putting on intellectual airs is no laughing matter. Half our troubles can be traced to ‘intellectual’ generals.

Admittedly, these are troubling times for Pakistan and the army command post-Osama is under a great deal of pressure. But the answer to this should be grace under pressure, coolness under fire, rather than desperation and hurt pride.

There are legitimate questions arising from the discovery of Bin Laden’s hideaway in Abbottabad. We should answer them without losing our cool. And, preferably, we should avoid the temptation of climbing the rooftops and beating the drums of national pride and dignity. Why is it so difficult for us to understand that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have compromised our sovereignty more than all the drones fired by the CIA?

And, please, let’s get rid of the notion that Islamist militancy is a response to the American presence in this region. Uncomfortable as this truth may be, Pakistan had become the crossroads of international jihad much before 9/11 and the subsequent American invasion of Afghanistan. The ISI was up to its neck with Afghan and Kashmir jihad much before these events. It won’t do to hide our heads in the sand and pretend that none of this happened or that the world is responsible for our woes.

In fact it is the other way round. The CIA footprint in Pakistan is a response to the jihadi footprint in this country. The Raymond Davises came afterwards. The flaming warriors of Al-Qaeda and its local affiliates, many of them trained and nurtured by the army and its subordinate agencies, came earlier. And if we are to be honest with ourselves, the CIA footprint, unconscionably large as it may be, could never come close to the enormous dimensions of the jihadi footprint on the variegated landscape of the Islamic Republic.

If half the passion the army is now showing in defence of national sovereignty in the wake of the Abbottabad embarrassment, had been displayed against Al-Qaeda-inspired jihadism we wouldn’t have been in the mess we are in now.

The world has moved on, other concerns have risen to the fore and no one, anywhere, has any patience for these games any more. They just don’t fit into the framework of present-day events. Why can’t we move on?

Let’s disabuse ourselves of another notion. There is no international conspiracy against Pakistan. We are not that important an international player to merit that kind of attention. No one is eyeing the nebulous frontiers of our sovereignty. We are the authors of our own troubles and the sooner the army command starts accepting the truth of this the sooner can begin the task of rectification.

Let us be firm with the Americans. Let us not allow them the freedom of our country. But at the same time it makes little sense to go out of our way to pick quarrels with them. It is fine to arrest local informants who may have helped the CIA to reach Osama bin Laden’s doorstep in Afghanistan. But this will be more convincing if some of our anger is also directed at our own failure to get a whiff of his presence in Abbottabad.

Five long years secreted in a compound that should have excited the suspicion of the local police station let alone our vaunted intelligence outfits. So whether we like it or not there is a case to answer and this is best done calmly instead of going red in the face.

A line should also be drawn between the larger national interest and individual discomfiture. Abbottabad was not only deeply embarrassing for Pakistan as a whole. At a personal level it must have been deeply distressing for the army chief, Gen Kayani, and the ISI head, Lt Gen Pasha. They had confronted the CIA in the Raymond Davis affair, lecturing their American counterparts about violated sovereignty and the dictates of national honour. The Americans, knowing more than we did about the trail leading to Osama bin Laden, took our inflamed looks and angry words lying down. And our senior commanders puffed up their chests in the belief that they were standing up to the Americans.

Gen Kayani declared that the back of terrorism had been broken. At a ceremony in the GHQ to remember our dead and wounded in the war in Fata, he said that prosperity could not be bought at the expense of national honour. And then May 2 came and the wind was taken out of our sails. The army command was shell-shocked and did not know what to say. Statements coming out of the Foreign Office and the GHQ soon after the American operation make for awkward reading.

Even so, whatever the blow to individual egos, Pakistan’s interests vis-à-vis the US should be projected with as little rancour and bitterness, and as much equanimity and composure, as possible. Our differences with the US should not be personalised.

True, this is not the time to attack the army or the ISI. Harsh winds are buffeting Pakistan from all directions and we will face them if all of us stand together. But the army command should also emerge from the deep bunker it went into after Abbottabad. It must emerge into the light and adjust itself to the new state of play.

It would also help if the Foreign Office, instead of always taking its cue from elsewhere, were to learn to think for itself. We do no favour to India by talking to it. It is in our interest as well. India would push its own agenda, which may be Mumbai or anything, as it has every right to do. We should push our agenda. But prior to foreign secretary-level talks what is the use of proclaiming through a loudspeaker that Kashmir was the “core issue” and it was imperative to discuss it? Do we want to step into the future or are we determined to stay in the past?

Courtesy: The News

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