Tag Archives: veteran

Veteran soldiers from India and Pakistan join hands to help peace process

By Jugal R. Purohit

Veteran soldiers from the Indian and Pakistani armed forces started their annual peace initiative in Delhi with a discussion where they called for a paradigm shift in the relations of the two neighbouring countries.

Organised under the aegis of the India Pakistan Soldiers’ Initiative (IPSI), the event saw the Indian chapter hosting an 18-member strong delegation of retired Pakistan armed force members and their families.

“Both our populations today have far less of collective memory of India and Pakistan being a part of one dominion. This, in my understanding, is a conducive climate for peace. However, from what I have observed, Indians in their thoughts remain frozen in the psyche of the 60s. But Pakistanis have moved on to the 21st century,” Congress MP and IPSI Chairperson Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former diplomat, said at the event on Friday.

The leader of the Pakistani delegation, former ambassador Lt. Gen. (retd.) Humayun Bangash, stressed the need to bust myths and clarify perceptions.

“I have lost my brother, who was the police chief of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to a suicide terrorist strike. And there are many like me in my country who are victims. Not every terror attack in India is planned by the Pakistan Army,” he said.

From the Indian side, Maj. Gen. (retd.) M.A. Naik remarked that it was fitting that ex-servicemen got the opportunity to talk about peace.

“After spending 39 years in the Army where we planned on check-mating the other side, after retiring when I got this opportunity it felt very odd. But come to think of it, who can understand the value of peace better than those who have lost friends, relatives and colleagues to violence,” he said.

Peace, Johnnie, peace. Salaam. Shalom. Shanti.

By: Anwar Iqbal

He is gone, disappeared among the waves. And I am looking for him. Has he disappeared though? He may have gone to another beach, perhaps on the West Coast, away from Hurricane Sandy.

Moving from one place to another was never a problem for him. He lived out of his suitcase, rather a large bag that he carried with him. He ate little, morsels of bread with coffee in the morning and some bread, with coffee and cheese at night. And he carried these with him too.

I met him at Ocean City, Maryland, where I also watched him playing his guitar. He played well. So when the session ended, he collected about $30, put his guitar back in its case and said: “Enough for the dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast. Now I will go back to the waves, they are calling me.”

His name was Johnnie, Johnnie what, he never told me but he did tell me that he was a Vietnam veteran. I met him on the beach when one of my sons wandered away. He saw him far from us, brought him back and said: “You are from India, right? I know you people, you believe this country is crime free, so you let your children wander away. Let me tell you, it is not crime free. He can be kidnapped from anywhere.”

I told him I was from Pakistan, not India, thanked him and offered him a sandwich. He accepted the offer but put two sandwiches in his bag and said “This means less work and more time for the waves.”

He then said he only works to make enough for breakfast and dinner and never eats lunch. “And who pays your bills?” I asked. “No bills, I do not own or rent anything.”

He said he had a friend in Ocean City, and was living in his basement. But there are places where he does not have a friend and in such places, he has to work a little more to pay for sleeping somewhere. For him working a little more is playing his guitar a little more.

We became friends when I told him I was a war correspondent. “In Vietnam?” he asked. “No, in Afghanistan, during the Soviet occupation,” I said. “Do you sing?” he asked. “No,” I said. “Then what do you do? Those who have seen wars always do something other than what they do for a living, like singing, painting, writing poetry,” he explained.

I said I love poetry. Although I am not a poet, I do sometimes write a little poem. He asked me to read a poem about my war experience. I said I did not have one with me but I had one about terrorism in my cell phone and could read it out for him. He agreed.

“No, no, this is not how it happens, when crops of pain are reaped. Nobody beats drums, when village youths return home in body bags. Women do not dance, people mourn, they do not rejoice,” I read the poem.

“Their coffins are brought home, drenched in tears. No, no, this is not how it happens. You cannot sow seeds of hate and hope for flowers. When a storm lands, when a fire rages, homes burn, people cry. They do not rejoice, cities of pain do not thrive, flowers do not grow in fields of hate. No, no, this is not how it happens,” I finished.

He asked me if I wrote it in English. I said no, in my language, Urdu. He copied the English version in his diary and then asked me to recite some lines in Urdu. I did. He noted them too.

“You gave me a lot of work,” he said and disappeared.

Continue reading Peace, Johnnie, peace. Salaam. Shalom. Shanti.

Zardari and the Generals’ consensus

By Praveen Swami

Pakistan’s civilian rulers seem to have averted a possible coup with a little help from inside the army itself.

Eight weeks ago, as rumours of an imminent coup swirled around Islamabad, few seemed to doubt democratic rule in Pakistan would soon be marched before a firing squad.

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United States, had been recalled to face charges of conspiring to sack top military officials. There was even talk of a treason trial targeting President Asif Ali Zardari himself — with Mr. Haqqani as the Army’s star witness.

Events since, however, haven’t quite panned out as hardline Pakistani generals might have anticipated: instead of capturing power, the army has found itself in retreat.

Mr. Zardari, Pakistani media have reported, is almost certain to deny the Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, an extension to serve until 2013 — a blow directed at Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and a sign of civilian confidence.

In November, Pakistan’s military had shut down the Shamsi airbase, used to stage United States drone attacks against Islamist insurgents: actions intended to distinguish them from political rulers too-willing to please the United States. Last month, though, drone strikes resumed — directed by United States intelligence officers located at the Shahbaz airbase near Abbottabad.

Politicians have become increasingly defiant of ISI authority: even Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who has long shied away from controversy, warned against efforts to run “a state within a state”.

The Generals’ consensus

LONG held together by a Generals’ consensus on the direction Pakistan ought to head in, the army now seems divided as never before. Last month, at a January 13 meeting of the corps commanders conference, where Gen. Kayani briefed generals on the evolving political crisis , he ran into unexpected in-house resistance, leading to a 10-hour debate.

The toughest questioning, a Pakistani government source privy to the discussions told The Hindu, came from Lieutenant-General Tariq Khan — the commander of the Mangla-based 1 corps, and a veteran of counter-insurgency operations who is considered among the most competent of the army’s commanders

Gen. Khan, the source said, made clear the army was unprepared to take power, and demanded to know how the army chief intended to resolve the still-unfolding showdown with the civilian governments. He noted that the army had no coherent plan to address its increasingly-fragile relationship with the United States, too. Backed by other key officers, like Gujaranwala-based XXX corps commander Raheel Sharif, Gen. Khan pushed for the army to pull back from the brink.

Ever since the killing of military ruler Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1998, the corps commanders conference has been a key instrument of what Mr. Haqqani once described as “military rule by other means”. The resistance faced by Gen. Kayani within the institution is, therefore, of great significance.

Ever since he took office, Pakistan’s army chief had worked to rebuild the army’s relationship with the jihadist groups it had patronised for decades. Terrorism in Pakistan, he argued, had come about because the country had become enmeshed in the United States’ war against jihadists in Afghanistan. Building peace, he argued, necessitated reviving this relationship — even at the cost of ties with the United States.

In 2008, Gen. Pasha delivered an off-the-record briefing to journalists, where he described Tehreek-e-Taliban commanders Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Muhammad Fazlullah — responsible for hundreds of killings in Pakistanas “patriots”.

Following the raid that claimed Osama bin Laden last year, Mr. Pasha put the case for an aggressive anti-United States line to Pakistani legislators: “At every difficult moment in our history”, he said “the United States has let us down. This fear that we can’t live without the United States is wrong.

Gen. Kayani’s line, the government’s decision not to allow his spymaster to serve on suggests, no longer represents the army’s institutional consensus.

The path to peace he envisaged involved costs the army isn’t willing to pay.

Political resurgence?

Continue reading Zardari and the Generals’ consensus