In the past two months the armed forces, ISI and law enforcement agencies have been a target of unprecedented bashing and criticism. If one were to believe the twitters and blogs, the entire security apparatus of Pakistan is discredited, disgraced and hanging by tenterhooks. Private TV channels are playing both sides and keeping their bets hedged either way. The informal social media, a revolution of sorts, have become vitriolic. Even positives are being tainted with sarcasm and pun. A certain responsible journalist spewing venom each day finds Fauji Fault with the rescue of the besieged crew of My Suez. The entire drama is akin to a punching bag. The US stands tall to spar the face; our very own take on the proverbial ‘below the belt’.
The US is talking of the much expected withdrawal at the heels of three failing surges from Afghanistan with a new mission statement that replaces Afghanistan with Pakistan. As the events unfold so does my thesis written in 2000 and published in a National Daily in 2007, “Pakistanis need to understand that in the US scheme of things, the degradation of the army is a key plank in the objective to rid Pakistan of its nuclear capability”. What could be a better shaped environment than a collapsed economy (the real GDP excluding inflation a lowly 1.3), energy shortages close to a blackout, discredited political institutions, rising poverty, and an army fighting the militancy and the media bashing.
The parallels with the Battle of Plassey (Nation 9 May 2010) where men of elastic conscience abetted the mercantilism victory are beyond symbolic. The puzzled crossword has reached a point where a sane normal Pakistani is bound to ask whom to trust and who not. More than the trust deficit that exists between USA and Pakistan, I am worried at the direction in which the national debate on the credibility of the armed forces is headed. Pakistan’s security apparatus is the worst thing that ever happened to Pakistan is the local informed war cry.
So let us begin where it all started.
As written by me repeatedly, the Kakul Operation to kill OBL had complicity from within. As events unfold and arrests of fifth columnists become public, there is much more than appears to the public eye. I may not be surprised if sooner or later, this complicity links to high quarters. Indiscriminate visas, container scandals, free movements of US operatives and souring of the Army-State Department relationship in the past year are all indicators of a division within the establishment. Lack of assertiveness on part of the army also links to the extensions. The surprise and consequent paralysis put the armed forces on the defensive An army not knowing how to duck, hook or evade this barrage of short pitched deliveries. It was a script it was never prepared for and a hypothesis it was always shy of discussing.
This was followed by the Mehran Base raid. As asserted by me, too little was known to the public. Sensational investigative journalism added to the second barrage. As events are proving, new revelations will become public adding more twists to the theories.
The Mehran issue inevitably links to the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, a lone ranger investigative journalist who operated outside the domain of Pakistan’s media czars. The fact that his murder was brutal cannot be ignored and must be investigated to bring the culprits to the book. Having followed his reports on the web for the past fifteen years, I found them sensational and repeatedly falsified by events. He was a young, ambitious and romantic journalist who loved to link a known fact to his inter twined knowledge of the militant groups and Al Qaeda, invariably giving a false sense of reality and inside knowledge. Much of what he reported can also be found on the Indian South Asian Analysis Group website that extensively reports on the terror trails, militant groups and ISI linkages with terrorists. Saleem Shahzad despite his best intentions had a shortcoming that sprang from his romanticism. He had built a cognitive construct of jungles, rugged mountainous HinduKush Range from where the phoenix of Al Qaeda would ultimately rise to defeat USA. It was usually this construct that he fine tuned with bits of authentic information and propaganda in vogue that served both the militancy exaggeration and US propaganda. He was always in quest for a new story with a new angle; sometimes he was also spot-on.
As early as 25 March this year, he reported that USA had finally traced the whereabouts and movements of OBL and some operations would follow. Unfortunately amidst the many yarns that he spelled, this accurate information went unnoticed. Who knows what else he knew and what contacts on this subject he was making after the killing of OBL? Now that all intelligence agencies of Pakistan are on the trail of his killers, truth will come out. As an analyst I find the motives of getting rid of him more on the OBL count than the contacts of militants in the security establishment. The media showed no urge to investigate beyond the obvious.
The rangers shooting is another case in point of unjustified military bashing. Rangers are a federal and civilian law enforcement agency under the Ministry of Interior. All military officials posted in Rangers are deputed to the Ministry of Interior and paid by them. Their services under the prevailing law can only be requisitioned by the Nazims/Administrators/DCOs functioning under the Chief Secretary and Provincial Home Departments. Their deployments are to be covered by administrative representatives and the judiciary. They fire only on orders of the civilian representatives. The chain of military command never comes in except where these forces are put in the operational control of the army like in FATA. However, in this case, without resort to the legal and functional positions, the media chose to single out the military leadership on a gory incident for which it was never responsible.
This entire gossip is a start up to the vicious anti military campaign. Readers must beware that many more stories, more sensationalism and events will take place with fingers apparently pointing towards the army and ISI. Many Pakistanis considering themselves moderates will join the mill. The military will be demoralised. It will question its missions. A dissent that never existed could set in. At the same time the US Psychological Warfare and Propaganda machinery will keep providing new leaks to its media. The objective will be to discredit the army and plummet it to its lowest morale levels. Combat stress and fatigue will set it. The final objective is to bring the organisation to its knees to achieve the ultimate objective; rid Pakistan of nukes.
To avoid this, the military has to be more transparent. It has to become more proactive through the ISPR. It also has to become more assertive with USA and make the government realise that it cannot fight a war in isolation. The Politicians and Civil Society have to realise that a lopsided National Power equation is doomed to fail. As poverty rises so will the crime and militancy. Economic emergency has to be declared; and renewed effort launched to jump-start the economy. If this not happen in a few months it is they themselves to blame for the ugly turn of events that may ensue.
Amidst all this confusion we must not ignore some good news. Another in a series of endemic attacks from Kunar has been beaten back. Pakistan Navy, over ruling the orders of the International Task Force in the Aden Corridor has rescued the besieged crew of My Suez. The resilient Pakistani Captain of the ship Syed Wasi is proudly bringing his flock home. Can our leaders learn something from him?
Amidst all the disinformation, Pakistan has once again done it.
Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist.