It is our own war!
After the propaganda about the purported joint operations against terrorists, there were hostile outpourings that it was not our war. Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani himself had to set the record straight by categorically stating: “It is our war!” As he put it so succinctly in his speech on August 14, no army can succeed in its mission without the people’s support. Of course, the military has unqualified support from the people, but the politicians and some state institutions have downplayed its efforts in the war on terror.
Factionalism has decimated national cohesion and the society is divided vertically, horizontally as well as diagonally on ethnic, sectarian and regional lines, presenting the scene of a divided house. Unfortunately, some of our analysts have the penchant for denigrating the armed forces. Some private TV channels provide the platform to all those who project military action against the Taliban as a proxy war fought on behalf of the Americans; thus glorifying the terrorists and demoralising the security personnel fighting the terrorists.
A well-known Pakistani columnist in his article, General Kayani’s war, has criticised General Kayani. He wrote: “Not only is the army openly in exclusive charge of the country’s foreign and security policy, it is the real power in Pakistan behind the façade of democracy.” He recounted the Osama bin Laden episode, Salala incident and Raymond Davis case and described the General’s decisions as populist, rather than realistic. He accused the COAS for “letting the proxy warriors of the army flex their muscles, even after solid evidence of their acts of terrorism outside Pakistan.” It is true that Osama’s killing had come as a huge prize to President Barack Obama’s administration and a tremendous booster to his own campaign to recapture the White House in the forthcoming elections, but there are many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip. Of course, the Osama episode had pushed Pakistan in dire straits, both internally and externally - internally, putting a question mark on Pakistan’s ability to defend its sovereignty; and externally, tarnishing its image as a state ensconcing terrorists.
Many politicians, opinion leaders and so-called analysts criticise the war on terror as against our own people conducted at USA’s behest. Of course, it was America’s war to start with, but over time it has become “our war”. It is time for all democratic forces to join ranks with the civil society, build an across-the-board national consensus and take ownership of the war. In other words, the war on terror by Pakistan is a national effort and not the sole domain of the army. Those elements blaming the army as an institution having absolute control on its direction and conduct are spreading disinformation. As regards the point raised by the author about Pakistani military’s preponderance in security matters and foreign policy issues, it has to be mentioned that even in the entrenched democracies weightage is given to their advice. In the US, Britain and India political leaderships take decisions on the basis of the information provided by intelligence agencies and advice of military leadership.
The US/Nato’s admirals and generals often address press conferences, issue statements and warn their governments about the consequences of flawed decisions.
A year before his retirement, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen wrote an article in which he was critical of USA’s effort about strategic communication with the Muslim world, stating that no amount of public relations will establish credibility, if America’s behaviour generally is perceived as arrogant, uncaring or insulting. He wrote: “The Muslim community is a subtle world we don’t fully - and don’t always attempt to - understand. Only through a shared appreciation of the people’s culture, needs and hopes for the future can we hope ourselves to supplant the extremist narrative.” There was yet another example of former Commander Nato/Isaf Stanley McChrystal criticising his leadership, though he was sacked when he and his subordinates passed derogatory remarks against the establishment as well as the civilian leadership.
In 2006, a blistering assessment of UK’s policy in Iraq from British Army Chief General Richard Dannatt had left Tony Blair reeling, when he said that the troops should come home within two years - contradicting the then PM’s policy that “the military will stay as long as it takes.” In unprecedented comments, he had warned that the army could disintegrate, if the British soldiers are kept too long in Iraq. He even criticised the then PM Gordon Brown for his government’s failure to arrange the equipment for the forces in Afghanistan, holding him responsible for the deaths of British soldiers. But in Pakistan, there has been at least one incidence whereby the then COAS Jehangir Karamat was asked to resign by the elected PM for suggesting that a National Security Council should be formed to discuss the security issues with a view to have better understanding and liaison between the civil and military leadership. The then PM felt offended; and the rest is history.