Categories
Commentaries Uncategorized

Why Does the Pakistan Army Deserve our Support

It seems that deriding Pakistan army and maligning its efforts has become a finely tuned mechanism within the Pakistani public sphere. It would, however, be prudent to keep certain truths in our minds when we reach hasty conclusions and then share such easily formed opinions on the ubiquitous social media outlets. I write this neither as a former army officer nor as an international scholar, but rather as a diasporic Pakistani who has never actively severed his symbolic and material links with Pakistan.

As I write these lines, the young officers and soldiers of Pakistan army are fighting and dying for Pakistan’s very survival and security on various fronts. I have no doubt that they have the necessary skills, the leadership, and the material support necessary to continue defending Pakistan against all threats. But armies are never only about equipment and technology alone: at the end of the day an armed force is a trained body of human beings who voluntarily offer their services and, when, needed their lives to defend their nation. No amount of money can induce anyone to sacrifice their life: one must believe in the nobility of one’s mission and its intrinsic value to offer one’s life for a cause larger than oneself. When I was deployed at Sia Chin, I did not give my best to the nation because I was being paid a hard area allowance; I gave my best because I believed in defending Pakistan and would have died in the process. I could have such faith because at that time when I introduced myself as an army officer, no matter what the scenario, people treated me with respect and honor. As a human being I knew deep down that the nation for whom I was willing to sacrifice my life accorded me honor and respect. In other words, the public opinion of my service had an inextricable link with my morale, my self-worth, and my commitment to lay down my life for my country!

In the early nineties, only a fraction of Pakistan army was deployed at Sia Chin: at this time over eighty percent of our troops are deployed in one internal struggle for Pakistan or another. Just visit any cantonment and you will see that most battalions only have their rear parties in the cantonment, for rest of them are fighting in one way or the other. The soldiers and young officers, according to my sources, hardly ever get the one and a half month annual, staggered, leaves that happen to be their legal right. Besides this, about seven thousand soldiers have died just in FATA and the number of seriously wounded is even larger than that. In such a scenario, the least we can do for our troops is to offer them the kind of moral support that is absolutely essential for their morale and eventually crucial to Pakistan’s survival.

I live in the United States, an established democracy with strong civil institutions. Even here, from leaders to the average people, no one ever unduly criticizes the armed forces or troops. In fact, if every day Americans run into a military person, they often say to them: “Thank you for your service.” If we just adopt such every-day rituals, it means a world to the soldiers who are fighting for the very survival of Pakistan.

I understand that some politicians and their supporters find it easy to scapegoat the army, but if their politics can only sustain itself by unduly maligning the very integrity of their national defense force, then there is certainly something wrong with such politics. Of course, the politicians are well within their rights to insist on the civilian control of the institutions, but that does not mean that they should force their will upon the internal functioning of armed forces or make it their mission to malign their own armed forces.

I am not naive and am aware of the past political adventures of the Army elite. I am, however, also aware that soldiers, officers, and the current leadership is more interested in keeping Pakistan safe and secure and impugning any other motives onto them is dangerous and self-defeating.

So, your soldiers are fighting and dying for you. It is only fair to lend them your love and support, for if Pakistan loses this fight against the forces of destruction, then no amount of electioneering or democratizing will save Pakistan!

Categories
Editorials

The US and the Myth of “Pakistan Should Do More”

Once again a US politician, this time the new US president, has offered the same hackneyed wisdom about the US war in Afghanistan, and besides other mundane things offered as new and innovative, yet another refrain was also included in the non-substantive Afghanistan policy speech delivered by President Donald Trump. Trump, like so many other US politicians before him, bellowed:

Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists. In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices.

But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try every single day to kill our people. We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.

But that will have to change. And that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order and to peace.

Beyond the usual bluster, if looked at textually only the rhetorical energy spent on Pakistan in the speech also declares, beyond the words themselves, the extreme importance of Pakistan in the US mission in Afghanistan, whatever that mission ought to be, for Mr. Trump failed to define what exactly would be the US “Victory” in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government and military should not take this as more of the same or as an empty threat. Furthermore, declaring that we as a nation are better off with China (as the argument is being made in Pakistan by some leading politicians and journalist) is also not in Pakistan’s best interest. Staying engaged with the United States can in no way be against the Pakistani national interest. But keeping the US public informed about the sacrifices made by Pakistan is also exceptionally important.

Just the last month as I sat with one of my former army seniors, he informed me that my old battalion was slated to be deployed in an operation in the Pakistani tribal areas that very night. As we talked, we both hoped and prayed that everyone in our battalion came out of the operation unscathed and unharmed, but, deep down, we both knew that in operations such as these there are always casualties. Pakistan has suffered tremendously over the last decade or so both in terms of military and civilian casualties. We need to remember that this war against the Taliban and ISIS and other extremist groups is not necessarily a war conducted at the behest of the United States, but crucial to our own national future. We should fight this war on all fronts, military, civic, and economic, with or without US help, but we should also do a better job of challenging absurd claims by the US politicians about “reluctant” Pakistan “not doing enough.” Our men and women, civilians and soldiers are dying every day in this complex and expansive war: WE ARE DOING A LOT!!! We need to do a better job of foregrounding our sacrifices and our efforts nationally and globally. Our politicians, generals, journalists, and academics need to help develop a counter narrative to the Taliban and others but also a strategic counter narrative to any scapegoating of Pakistan proffered by the US politicians.

We should also pose some hard questions to the US policymakers: What, to them, is victory in Afghanistan? Obviously it cannot be the conquest of Afghanistan! If the victory to the US is a stable democratic Afghanistan with a democratically elected government, then it cannot be accomplished through military means and even if Mr. Trump does not like it, he will have to invest in building the civic and political institutions in Afghanistan. Building a stable and autonomous Afghanistan should also be a top Pakistani priority. We as a nation need to rid ourselves of the misconception that Afghani people owe us for anything. Yes, we hosted millions of their refugees during the Soviet-Afghan war, but that alone does not give us the right to dictate Afghan politics or their foreign policy. If we need to win Afghanistan over as a regional ally and friend, then we should accomplish that with deep cultural and economic investments in Afghanistan and not through proxy groups or through politics of intimidation and isolation.

If there is some truth to Trump’s claims about Pakistan serving as a safe haven for Taliban groups, then we as a nation should openly declare that no place in Pakistan shall be or could be used as a safe haven for any Taliban group. If we have used any of these groups as our proxies in the region, we should know by now that the same groups can turn on us any time and conduct horrible terroristic attacks on our people. At this point there seems to be no advantage to us in harboring any terroristic groups both  officially or unofficially. Pakistan should, therefore, declare openly that Pakistani territory will not be a safe place for any terroristic proxy group, may they be targeting Afghanistan or any other adjacent regions.

Only when we have a clear and open policy against terror groups can we challenge the sad and shallow stereotyping used by US politicians against Pakistan. Furthermore, our relationship with the US should not be transactional but rather deeper and long-term. Th US on her part can continue to invest in Pakistani education, infrastructure, and other civic and cultural fields. If the US decides to isolate Pakistan and defunds US cultural and military support to Pakistan, the long-term implications  of such steps might be hard for Pakistan but would certainly be damaging to the US interests in the region.

So, as two nations focused on solving an intractable problem in the region, the US and Pakistan should treat each other with the kind of respect and dignity as two sovereign nations ought to!

Categories
Commentaries Editorials

Taliban, the Politics of Death, and our Obligation to Speak

That the Taliban claim certain mastery over the methods and instruments of death is no secret. They taliban_pickuphave proven their skills at killing their civilian brothers and sisters quite consistently over the last decade or so. The question that we need to pose to them and to many other like-minded groups is simply this: Do you have a politics of life?

Dispensing death is the easiest things in the world, given the fragility of human body and the power of tools of destruction that we humans have created. But to create conditions that sustain life requires a lot of doing! So, at the end of the day, how would Taliban, if they were to establish their so-called just system, make people’s lives better and would transform Pakistan into a place where living with dignity becomes a right and not just a privilege?

No ideology–religious or secular–can succeed if it does not contain a plausible narrative of life. A social system succeeds only if people see it as a life-giving system and want to become a part of it. Forcing people into a way of life through violence is like putting people in ideological concentration camps and using the religious rhetoric as a path to dignified gas chambers.

And we all know what happens when a powerful group of citizens decides that a certain part of population is undesirable and a danger to the body of the nation: This line of thinking leads only to death camps and gas chambers.

The whole purpose of any civilizational project is to privilege physics (politics) over nature. Much that I disagree with this nature versus politics dichotomy, as it relies on an instrumental logic, it has always worked under certain rational assumptions:

  • That humans are no longer able to sustain life in the state of nature.
  • A Government is necessary to protect them and to create conditions that enable life.

Law is meant to enable life and the role of justice and punishment is to maintain the established order. But to establish an order  through punishment and threat of violence and death is not the right method. To be a part of any system, people must voluntarily become a part of it knowing that after they accept to be a part of a community they will have to live by its rules. To force people into a “community” through violence and then to keep them enclosed is exactly opposite of voluntary participation in the communitas. And this is what the Taliban hope to accomplish: to force people into an ideological straightjacket and then keep them there through coercion and force. Thus, a politics of death is the only mode of action available to them. Taliban, it seems, are trapped in the logic of their own ideology: since their vision of the world is based in force and not in love, they must, automatically, become more violent and death-driven, for signs of love, within this masculinist narrative, are markers of weakness.

I keep writing about these subjects, knowing that the Taliban certainly do not read this, and if they did, they are not likely to be persuaded by my argument. So, what is the purpose of these words that I craft painstakingly and then throw them into the wind? I have no clear answer. maybe, it is my way of saying that I disagree with what Taliban stand for and since I cannot change much, I will, at least, say something about it, for silence is the ultimate form of surrender and, for me, surrender has never been an option.

Cultural silence and general apathy are dangerous signs: they lead a nation to put other humans in death camps. Not speaking against epistemic and physical violence will only lead us to our material and spiritual annihilation. We always assert that ours is a religion of peace, for that is the Arabic root of the word Islam, but do we seriously work to make this statement a real-life project. If we are about peace, then where do these brothers of ours come from? These brothers of ours who in the name of our God have decided that it is perfectly desirable and even virtuous to kill, maim, and destroy ordinary citizens of our country. What logic drives this insanity? Why should we accept it as our fate?

Yes, there are always material reasons for our actions. Yes, we are partially a construct enabled or encumbered by our surroundings. But we do not need to be rich to understand love, nor do we need to be scholars to understand compassion and kindness. I have travelled extensively to the farthest regions of Pakistan, regions considered “backward”–yes that is the term they use in Pakistan–and found the most natural kindness and compassion from amongst the very poor and destitute. Compassion and care of the others have been a part of our culture for thousands of years: we do not need a college degree to learn these values, and we certainly do not need English medium schools to learn these values!

So, what is it that  baffles me the most about Taliban: Their extreme lack of compassion and love. If they are adherents of Islam that I understand and if they read the Qur’an and Hadith and want to follow the sunnah, then how come they completely miss the most alluring part of all these texts. Every time I see images of Taliban–brandishing foreign-made guns and riding the pickups also invented and produced in the West–their faces offer no trace of the kind of compassion and love that is supposed to define a general Muslim demeanour. I see no difference between these stern faces and the faces of other gangsters from other parts of the world, gangsters who, in this realm of privatized violences, terrorize the common people to gain their material or spiritual ends.

As a nation we are in dire need of inventing new narratives of selfhood and nationhood: the ideal narratives would retain the best of our tradition and the best of what the world has to offer. A reliance on a purist past will not do; it will only produce more monstrosities like the Taliban. There is no natural path to the past: past is only textual and when we read the textual signs of our past, what we bring to the act of reading decides what we seek and see in the text. There is no unmotivated, unmediated engagement with history, nor is there an accidental transition to a bright future. To forge a future with a total reliance on history is a complete denial of the present and without the present–our only tangible signpost–one can neither retrieve a useable past, nor create a better future.

So, what the Taliban do in our streets, cities, villages and public spaces is nothing less than the destruction of the present to overwrite it with a simplistic and purist narrative of the past. If we lose, we would have lost the past, the present, and the future and such a loss of all temporalities is unsustainable.

It is time for us to wake up as a nation of living breathing beings and say it in our different voices that those who can so randomly and callously kill, maim, and destroy our brothers and sisters do not have our silent acquiescence. Yes, it is time to speak, for silence is now only a slow march to the death of our culture!

Categories
Editorials

Taliban, the Politics of Death, and our Obligation to Speak

That the Taliban claim certain mastery over the methods and instruments of death is no secret. They have proven their skills at killing their civilian brothers and sisters quite consistently over the last decade or so. The question that we need to pose to them and to many other like-minded groups is simply this: Do you have a politics of life?

Dispensing death is the easiest things in the world, given the fragility of human body and the power of tools of destruction that we humans have created. But to create conditions that sustain life requires a lot of doing! So, at the end of the day, how would Taliban, if they were to establish their so-called just system, make people’s lives better and would transform Pakistan into a place where living with dignity becomes a right and not just a privilege?

No ideology–religious or secular–can succeed if it does not contain a plausible narrative of life. A social system succeeds only if people see it as a life-giving system and want to become a part of it. Forcing people into a way of life through violence is like putting people in ideological concentration camps and using the religious rhetoric as a path to dignified gas chambers.

And we all know what happens when a powerful group of citizens decides that a certain part of population is undesirable and a danger to the body of the nation: This line of thinking leads only to death camps and gas chambers.

The whole purpose of any civilizational project is to privilege physics (politics) over nature. Much that I disagree with this nature versus politics dichotomy, as it relies on an instrumental logic, it has always worked under certain rational assumptions:

  • That humans are no longer able to sustain life in the state of nature.
  • A Government is necessary to protect them and to create conditions that enable life.

Law is meant to enable life and the role of justice and punishment is to maintain the established order. But to establish an order  through punishment and threat of violence and death is not the right method. To be a part of any system, people must voluntarily become a part of it knowing that after they accept to be a part of a community they will have to live by its rules. To force people into a “community” through violence and then to keep them enclosed is exactly opposite of voluntary participation in the communitas. And this is what the Taliban hope to accomplish: to force people into an ideological straightjacket and then keep them there through coercion and force. Thus, a politics of death is the only mode of action available to them. Taliban, it seems, are trapped in the logic of their own ideology: since their vision of the world is based in force and not in love, they must, automatically, become more violent and death-driven, for signs of love, within this masculinist narrative, are markers of weakness.

I keep writing about these subjects, knowing that the Taliban certainly do not read this, and if they did, they are not likely to be persuaded by my argument. So, what is the purpose of these words that I craft painstakingly and then throw them into the wind? I have no clear answer. maybe, it is my way of saying that I disagree with what Taliban stand for and since I cannot change much, I will, at least, say something about it, for silence is the ultimate form of surrender and, for me, surrender has never been an option.

Cultural silence and general apathy are dangerous signs: they lead a nation to put other humans in death camps. Not speaking against epistemic and physical violence will only lead us to our material and spiritual annihilation. We always assert that ours is a religion of peace, for that is the Arabic root of the word Islam, but do we seriously work to make this statement a real-life project. If we are about peace, then where do these brothers of ours come from? These brothers of ours who in the name of our God have decided that it is perfectly desirable and even virtuous to kill, maim, and destroy ordinary citizens of our country. What logic drives this insanity? Why should we accept it as our fate?

Yes, there are always material reasons for our actions. Yes, we are partially a construct enabled or encumbered by our surroundings. But we do not need to be rich to understand love, nor do we need to be scholars to understand compassion and kindness. I have travelled extensively to the farthest regions of Pakistan, regions considered “backward”–yes that is the term they use in Pakistan–and found the most natural kindness and compassion from amongst the very poor and destitute. Compassion and care of the others have been a part of our culture for thousands of years: we do not need a college degree to learn these values, and we certainly do not need English medium schools to learn these values!

So, what is it that  baffles me the most about Taliban: Their extreme lack of compassion and love. If they are adherents of Islam that I understand and if they read the Qur’an and Hadith and want to follow the sunnah, then how come they completely miss the most alluring part of all these texts. Every time I see images of Taliban–brandishing foreign-made guns and riding the pickups also invented and produced in the West–their faces offer no trace of the kind of compassion and love that is supposed to define a general Muslim demeanour. I see no difference between these stern faces and the faces of other gangsters from other parts of the world, gangsters who, in this realm of privatized violences, terrorize the common people to gain their material or spiritual ends.

As a nation we are in dire need of inventing new narratives of selfhood and nationhood: the ideal narratives would retain the best of our tradition and the best of what the world has to offer. A reliance on a purist past will not do; it will only produce more monstrosities like the Taliban. There is no natural path to the past: past is only textual and when we read the textual signs of our past, what we bring to the act of reading decides what we seek and see in the text. There is no unmotivated, unmediated engagement with history, nor is there an accidental transition to a bright future. To forge a future with a total reliance on history is a complete denial of the present and without the present–our only tangible signpost–one can neither retrieve a useable past, nor create a better future.

So, what the Taliban do in our streets, cities, villages and public spaces is nothing less than the destruction of the present to overwrite it with a simplistic and purist narrative of the past. If we lose, we would have lost the past, the present, and the future and such a loss of all temporalities is unsustainable.

It is time for us to wake up as a nation of living breathing beings and say it in our different voices that those who can so randomly and callously kill, maim, and destroy our brothers and sisters do not have our silent acquiescence. Yes, it is time to speak, for silence is now only a slow march to the death of our culture!

Categories
Editorials

On Negotiating with Taliban

Recently the negotiations between the Taliban and Pakistani government have been one of the major daily stories in the Pakistani and international media. My purpose here is not to deride this recent attempt at peace by the Pakistani government, but to ask one important question: What is likely to be the cost of this peace?

There are two parties to these negotiations: people of Pakistan–represented by their elected government–and the Taliban, an extra-national violent group in a state of war with the people and government of Pakistan. This aspect of these negotiations should be very clear: Taliban are not another political party negotiating a sort of peace settlement with Pakistan. Taliban, as an entity, have declared war on Pakistan and are, therefore, a belligerent group that has used their coercive violence to bring the Pakistani state to the negotiation table. It seems as if without having read Clausewitz, the Taliban seem to be working within the logic of modern warfare: fight your enemy to a point where you can bring them to the negotiation table to seek an advantageous peace.

Let us also remind ourselves as to what kind of war have the Taliban waged: they have killed women, children, soldiers, doctors, the poor, and the rich from all walks of life. We are not talking about a noble resistance movement that fights its “enemies” with a certain degree of honor and respect for the lives of average citizens. No, this group has targeted schools, mosques, hospitals, military installations, bazars, polio workers, and Pakistani streets. They have done it to break the will of our nation in order to overwrite the constitution of the state with their own vision of what constitutes Islamic, moral, and properly religious.

I understand the reluctance of military leadership to negotiate with the Taliban: The army, along with thousands of civilian citizens, has paid a heavy price for this ongoing war in defense of Pakistan. The army must also see this as a delaying tactics by the Taliban: what better way to buy more time and regroup to continue their violent war than by negotiating for an unreachable peace.

This peace cannot be achieved unless the government of Pakistan abandons Pakistan’s constitution and rewrites it to suit the Taliban. And what kind of a constitution would it be: a constitution that practically bans women from the education and other aspects of the public sphere, that further reduces the minorities to the levels of abject silence, and that regularizes only one interpretation of Islam–Hanbaliyya-Wahabi–as the ultimately correct interpretation of Islam. These changes, let us remember, would have to be brought in without a public consensus and without involving the majority of Pakistani people. This implies that Taliban want nothing less than restructuring of the Pakistani national identity and nothing less than this would satisfy them. In return, if their demands are not met, they go on killing innocent Pakistanis as indiscriminately as they have done so far.

There is a certain point beyond which all cosmetic attempts at peace fail and a nation must decide that if the price of peace is to abandon the very nature of the nation, then that is too high a price. So, yes acceptance of the constitution of Pakistan as it exists should be an absolutely necessary point for the negotiations to begin. To participate in this the Taliban must accept the Pakistani law, abandon all murders and killings, and then they should be welcomed at the negotiation table. Anything less than this is not a peace negotiation but a genuflection to the violence that Taliban have perpetuated.

Yes, I know a failure of these negotiations could be catastrophic. But we have seen, for the last ten years, the destruction that these so-called  Muslims can bring about and as a nation, despite our limited resources, we have withstood them and not allowed them  to send us cowering into the kinds of caves that they dwell in. Yes, the losses have been great, the suffering high, but at least, as a nation, we can proudly declare that no amount  of bloodshed by the Taliban and their ilk has forced us to surrender the basic humanity of Pakistan as a modern nation, a nation that can live with differences and does not need to be forced into a violently created straightjacket of a fanatical interpretation of religion.

So, if we must negotiate with the Taliban, and I am doubtful about this, we must first make sure that those who have to fight them–the soldiers, the police, and others–are on board this process, as theirs are the lives that have been affected the most by this ongoing war and they are the ones who will put their lives at risk whenever asked.

Furthermore, the Taliban must first renounce violence, turn in their weapons, and accept the Pakistani constitution as a necessary precondition for peace talks.

If these steps are not met, then the negotiations will fail and even if they succeed, we would have surrendered Pakistan to the destroyers Pakistan. The result would not be a peace but a total surrender of our entire way of life!

Categories
Editorials

Pakistan Should Re-evaluate its Relationship with the US and NATO

Photo From Dawn http://www.dawn.com/2011/11/28/pakistan-fire-may-have-prompted-nato-strike-wsj.html

In wake of the recent killing of Pakistani soldiers as a result of NATO bombing, Pakistani government has gone into a crisis mode and so has the Pakistani public: while the civilian government and the army have issues some powerful rhetorical statements, including the ultimatum to the US to vacate their base in Balochistan, the Pakistani people are out in the streets protesting against yet another violation of their airspace by their so-called allies.

Yes, I know Pakistan is weak and needs all the friends in the world that it can gather, especially against the daily terror unleashed by the Taliban and others in its cities, villages, and public spaces, but does that mean that Pakistan should be a total hostage to the interests and policies of powers that suffer no direct consequences of their actions in the region.

Here is a sad irony: while the Pakistani troops were being killed by NATO bombers in the tribal region, the US citizens were camping outside corporate big-box stores to purchase the latest gadgets at reduced prices. Is this what Pakistan is underwriting with its sacrifices? Are we there to serve the empire so that its privileged citizens can buy their video games in peace, while our children suffer of malnutrition, our cities stink of raw sewage, and while our soldiers are being killed by the very allies for whom over three thousand of them have died in the past few years.

Yes, the war against fundamentalism is in the best interest of Pakistan, but why should we call it a WAR? Why not call it a struggle and then harness all resources, mostly peaceful and pedagogical, in order to win this struggle against intolerance and terror. In my meeting with a senior ISI officer last year, who happens to be an old friend and my mentor in so many ways, the most important thing that I learned was this: Even the ISI knows that this struggle cannot be won through military action alone and that in order to win, Pakistan would need a lot of international support to literally rebuild its national infrastructure. Yes, rebuild the educational system, the healthcare system, and the system of law and justice. Of course all these sectors are considered “non-developmental” sectors by the IMF. So, if the US is so committed to the long-term interest of Pakistan, then where is the help to restructure and overhaul Pakistani economy and the public sphere?

Sadly, it is quite obvious that the world economy is not really “Flat.” Third world nations have now become living and ghettoized sweatshops for the developed nations: how else could Walmart sell its crap for so less to its American customers. Politically also nations like Pakistan are expected to submit their national will to the dictates of the likes of USA; that, the surrender of our national will, is too high a price for a nation .

The current policies and agreements with the US and NATO, let us not forget, were forged by a dictator under duress. It is time that the popularly elected government asked its people, the people who are the true owners of the nation, as to what its policy should be. Yes, our people are poor and not highly educated but you will be surprised to know that most of them are politically more aware than their average American counterparts.

So, this time let this not again be another set of empty slogans and un-implemented ultimatums: let us remind our so-called allies that killing our soldiers and civilians–even if it is hot pursuit or collateral damage–is not acceptable under any circumstances. I mean what was the army high command doing when two of their posts were under attack? Obviously, according to the protocol, the officers on the posts must have reported what was happening, must have asked for aid: Why did no aid arrive? Where was Pakistan Air Force whose job it is to defend the nations borders? Or was the current military leadership following the same cowardly policies as the ones followed by Pervez Musharraf when he abandoned his soldiers to die in Kargil!

This is also the time to ask these hard questions of our military commanders: did they let these soldiers die in vain without even mounting minimal countermeasures? And if they did, doesn’t that mean that they have let down the very soldiers they expect to die for their country on their orders? Yes, enough empty posturing: answer our questions honestly. Your troops deserve the answers and so does the nation.

Categories
Editorials

Killing of Pakistani Soldiers: A Mistake or a Message?

Map of Pakistan with Balochistan higlighted
Image via Wikipedia

According to recent reports, 24 Pakistani soldiers were allegedly killed by NATO airstrikes along the Pak-Afghan border. The Pakistani government, in retaliation, has blocked the two NATO supply routes and has also asked the US to vacate the CIA (drone)base in Balochistan.

This is a crucial moment for the so-called alliance between Pakistan and the US. So far, this alliance has only brought misery to Pakistani people and caused them to be immediate targets of Taliban and other militant reprisals. Pakistan so far has been the ideal soft target for the militants any time they are under pressure and want to lash out against targets close by. The Americans, on the other hand, might lose their troops in this war but their home country is safely away and thus not subject to such reprisals.

This latest bombing of Pakistani border posts should not be taken lightly: the general fog of war claims cannot hold here as the positions were known to NATO, as they have been provided the exact coordinates of Pakistani posts. If this is a sort of message to Pakistan, it is rather a sad and cynical message. What does it tell Pakistani people: simply that when cornered, the NATO troops have no qualms about killing the troops of their most important ally in the region.

I am glad to know that the Pakistani government is showing some courage here, as they have asked the US to vacate their base in Balochistan, but I think the government and the military need to do more. They need to clarify it to their so-called allies that killing of Pakistani soldiers and civilians cannot be tolerated especially if they turn out to be premeditated or caused by the carelessness of NATO forces.

The NATO commanders should learn that in their zeal to capture or kill their foes in Afghanistan, they cannot just blow up anything that stands in their way. Sometimes, it is necessary to let your enemy escape if bombing them kills quite a few of your friends in the process.

Yes, it is time Pakistan re-evaluated its committment to the war on terror and it is also time for the Pakistanis to safeguard their own people and their own national interest.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Editorials

US-Pakistan: Latest Accusations, Threats, and Counter-Threats

It was evident a few weeks ago, after the public accusation of Pakistan’s alleged involvements in the attacks on the US embassy in Kabul, that we are now entering a new phase of the unequal relationship between Pakistan and the United States.

The early signs of this change were clear when Admiral Mike Mullen declared that Pakistan was “exporting” terror to neighbouring Afghanistan.” The admiral’s these views, launched an entire array of counter proclamations from all Pakistani circles.

Looking at it in another way, one could easily state that Admiral Mike Mullen’s words, obviously cleared by the highest levels of United States government, are not just words of a frustrated commander whose mission in Afghanistan is seriously bogged down, but also the views of a skittish American establishment that has failed to conclude this long, unending war.

One must also keep in mind that the current situation in Afghanistan is a direct outcome of the way the invasion of Afghanistan was planned and executed (I had published an article to this effect in 2007 but, obviously, no one has ever read it). The ground offensive in the earlier stages of the war was led by US troops but most battles were fought by the foot soldiers of the Northern Alliance. Thus, from the outset, while Afghanistan was being “liberated” the seeds of a future ethnic divide, hatred, and mistrust were already being sown. Let us also not forget that the Northern Alliance did commit numerous recorded atrocities during their invasion of the south.

So, yes it seems that having reached a stalemate, the US is now turning on its own allies in order to apportion blame for their own failures of strategy and tactics. Pressuring Pakistan to launch an offensive against the Haqqani group is wrong strategy, wrong politics, and terrible tactics.

On the strategic level, it is an attempt to expand the current theater of war to Pakistani territories, which would certainly end up expanding the war to a larger area affecting a wider number of people. Tactically, this makes no sense. Why start a new theater of war? Why not stop the terrorists from operating in Pakistan but allow them to move into the theater of war to take them on where the war is. politically, to expect Pakistani government to buckle down and start a new war just because US wants it is based in a myopic policy driven by hubris.

As a further proof of political short-sightedness,  Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asserted that  the United States needs to leave “all options on the table” including a possible invasion in order to bring Pakistan in line with US policy. One other senator, whose name I do not care to remember, also suggested that US relations with Pakistan should be “transactional,” meaning that the US should only give aid to Pakistan in return for services rendered. Well, the honorable senator should know that the US relations with Pakistan have always been transactional and were mostly built by appeasing, establishing, and supporting military dictators, three of them in my lifetime. The US has never tried to build a people-to-people relationship with Pakistan.

So, let us assert once and for all. Pakistan is a sovereign state and is obligated to live by its international obligations but no one, least of all United States, should expect Pakistan to sacrifice its own national interests just to appease the United States.

It is also time that most US leaders took a crash course in humility and patience: thankfully we are still far from that moment in history where everyone lives to serve the mandates of US government and corporations.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Editorials

Aid Wars: US-Pakistan and Politics of Coercion

In a latest move, the US government has decided to  suspend $800 million military aid to Pakistan. It is fairly obvious that grounds for this had already been smoothed by the powers that be: The recent statements by senior US military officers about involvement of ISI in the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, it seems, was the tipping point of war of words and silence that has been going on between the two allies. Another reason being given for this drastic step is   “the Pakistani army’s decision to significantly reduce the number of visas for U.S. military trainers” (Douglass Birch, AP).

It is also being suggested that the US wants the Pakistan army to launch a major offensive in the tribal regions to ease pressure on the US forces across the border in Afghanistan. Those of you who have read my recent public writings know that I am not really a fan of the Pakistan army brass, but in this situation I agree with General Kiyani’s suggestion that “the aid should be diverted to civilian institutions.” This means that while General Kiyani is not willing to kowtow to the American policy makers, he understands the importance of this aid and would rather still have it delivered to the civilian government of Pakistan.

In fact, this could be a very important step for the US. By diverting this aid to the civilian administration, the US can convey its displeasure to the Pakistan army–whatever their reasons–without hurting the general Pakistani population. Let us not forget that there is a popular myth in Pakistan about the fickleness of US friendship: we tell stories–some true some pure legend–of how America betrayed us time and time again. This step would only enhance the level of distrust of the US by the Pakistani public.

The same report that I cited above also suggests that Pakistan, it seems, has not been doing enough in the war on terror. Let us not forget that both Pakistani civilians and military personnel have sacrificed heavily during this unending war. As I wrote a few months ago, the losses have been great. Here are some of the figures as provided to me by some very reliable sources within the Pakistan army:

  • There were 118 drone strikes in 2010 claiming 1127 lives of which 680 are believed to be those of civilian bystanders.
  • As of January 2011, Pakistan has lost 2740 soldiers while 8500 of them have been wounded in action.
  • According to very conservative estimates about 5800 civilian were killed during 2010 due to terrorist actions.
  • Total civilian casualties in Pakistan since 9/11 have now exceeded 36,000.

These are some of the figures of what has befallen Pakistan since the beginning of this unending war. The intangible factors are beyond just these figures that include destruction of infrastructure, loss of productivity, and simple increase in public fear of terroristic attacks and reprisals.

So, those who claim Pakistan has not done enough should get off their proverbial, prejudiced behinds and look at the situation more carefully. This is no way of treating an ally: one simply does not kick one’s friends when they are down. The US policymakers need to realize that using Pakistan as their whipping boy to buttress their domestic political agendas is not good policy and may come to harm US interests in the long run. On a simple level, I would suggest that instead of playing this game of coercive power politics, try to develop a serious, equal, and lasting relationship with Pakistan.

Yes, there will be policy differences between the two nations: Pakistan, after all, is a sovereign nation and, thankfully, not a US colony. It is time the US government realized that politics of coercion will not work, but a serious attempt at helping Pakistan develop its civilian infrastructures might help the US in the long run.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Commentaries Editorials

US-Pakistan Relations: The Need for a Strategic Vision

As a former Pakistani military officer and as the editor of an academic journal on Pakistan, I often interact with Pakistanis from different walks of life. During my visit to Pakistan a few months ago, I had the privilege of engaging with ordinary Pakistanis, academics, and some very powerful old friends. Our conversations always centered on the US-Pakistan relations probably because of my connection to the US as an academic. I find it worthwhile to share some of my exchanges about the US-Pakistan relations, as these views are not normally covered by the mainstream US media.

In my conversations with my friends, relatives, and people from my village, one topic always came up: the US drone attacks within Pakistani territory. According to my sources, there were 118 drone strikes in 2010 claiming 1127 lives of which 680 are believed to be those of civilian bystanders. President Obama has continued these attacks as an “effective” tactics in the US mission in Afghanistan. But strategically, in symbolic terms, these attacks tend to damage the long-term US interests in Pakistan. The Pakistanis see these attacks under several symbolic registers:

They see it as a mockery of Pakistani sovereignty, a perception that is further accentuated by the frequent deaths of civilians caught in the targeted areas. The drone attacks also make their own government and their military look weak and ineffectual, even though, as is suggested by the US media, the Pakistani government often coordinates these attacks with the US forces.

The people also see it is a tactics that replicates the Israeli targeted killings of Hammas leaders, and thus the US tactics, somehow, is seen as part of larger Israeli conspiracy.

One of the most interesting and probably the most apt question came from one of my ex soldiers, who asked: “Do American people know that a lot of civilians are getting killed by these drones?” And, he further asked, “If they know about it, do they object to it? Needless to say, I had no convincing answer to this pointed question.

In my conversations with my military friends, the war on terror was often the main topic. In terms of Pakistan’s military operations against Taliban, as of January 2011, Pakistan has lost 2740 soldiers while 8500 of them have been wounded in action. These figures are enough to counter any claims by the US media that Pakistan is not doing enough. In fact, it seems, that Pakistanis have sacrificed quite a lot in this unending war.

While almost all these officers were sure that they can tactically control the FATA and probably win the war, but they all also suggested that in order to really solve the problem of radicalization of youth, Pakistan will need a lot of international help. Some of the sectors that could, in their view, use this help include: education, healthcare, and job creation. Pakistan, obviously, cannot transform its infrastructure in all these areas single-handedly and this is where the US aid is crucial to the long-term stability of Pakistan. During my visit to one of the defense-funded schools (Heavy Industries Taxila Education City) I was astounded to learn that the school was providing free education for two hundred students recruited from FATA. Imgaine the impact these students would have on the economic and cultural life of their respective regions after they have had a chance to get a more cosmopolitan, modern education. Just a little bit of help from the US and other powers could drastically increase the number of such students whose lives would have a long-term impact on the future of Pakistan.

It seems, however, that when it comes Pakistan, the US is guided more by an arbitrary, short-term vision and lacks any long-term plan of developing a people-to-people relationship. The US handling of Raymond Davis’s trial in Pakistan is a case in point. It is sad to note that in this case the US has chosen to respond with the typical myopia that signifies its relations to Pakistan. In an attempt to pressure Pakistan into handing over Mr. Davis, the Us state department, as per the reports here, has cancelled high level meeting with the Pakistani government on Afghanistan, has threatened to reduce defense aid, education aid and, also decided to slow down the visa process for Pakistanis aspiring to travel to the US. While it is important for the US to insist upon defending the diplomatic immunity of its embassy staff, the measures threatened publicly do not help the US cause in any way. In material terms, these measure would end up hurting Pakistan in the very areas where Pakistan needs US help, which would ultimately also hurt US interests in the region. In symbolic terms, these actions would also harden the popular views against the US and against the unequal relationship between the two countries.

Unless the US transforms its relations to Pakistan to that of equal partners and unless Pakistani national interests are foregrounded in this relationship, the chances of US success in the region would be seriously hampered. The US media, therefore, need to highlight the nature and importance of this relationship. Looking at the situation from a Pakistani perspective, instead of just a US-centered approach, would be a good start.

(Also published by The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations)