Before assessing what the press release issued after the 139th corps commanders’ conference on June 9 said or did not say, it is essential to review the backdrop in which this conference took place and the impact of the events of the past six weeks on the people of Pakistan.
In all fairness, I am compelled to precede the foregoing by narrating a few facts of significance. In November 2007, General Kayani inherited a demoralised and dysfunctional army; one that was viewed with disrespect by the Pakistani people. Within a year, he had turned it on its head, recreating the efficient fighting force that it used to be, restoring, not only the soldiers’ self-respect but also their respect in the eyes of ordinary citizens: No mean achievement.
By 2009, the nation stood united behind the military, enabling it to undertake two remarkably successful operations to reclaim Swat and South Waziristan Agency. Kayani was on top of the army’s pinnacle. Even the Raymond Davis affair reflected creditably on the army/ISI who had successfully got rid of ‘rogue CIA’ elements walking our streets and killing at will.
The problem with riding a pinnacle that high is that if you fall, the fall is long and very hard.
On May 2, Navy SEALs violated our territorial sovereignty, penetrated as deep as Abbottabad and reportedly killed Osama bin Laden, who had been in hiding in a house a couple of kilometres from the Pakistan Military Academy, and escaped unchallenged. The real truth of this event is irrelevant; the act is what matters.
As soon as the Pakistani public recovered from this stunning piece of information, their first response was a sense of outrage. Outrage that the US could carry out such an attack unchallenged and without the knowledge of the military/ISI; outrage that Osama could have been housed in a cantonment like Abbottabad, without the knowledge of the army/ISI, accusations of complicity/incompetence flew as wildly domestically as they were being raised abroad. But, most of all, a feeling of deep agony and betrayal, that the military they had held in such esteem was not even capable of discovering and responding to such a raid. Had PAF planes taken to the air in time, even if only to be shot down; had the army reacted in time, even if only to be killed, the agony would have been less.
As if that wasn’t enough, within days, suicidal attacks avenging Osama’s death started and, exactly three weeks later, PNS Mehran was attacked; a naval base housing extremely valuable assets which were destroyed. The naval chief informed the public that it “was not a security lapse”! How gullible he must think us to be? But the people received another message: ‘Your armed forces cannot even guard their own precious assets’.
Once again the question of the safety of our nuclear assets is under debate: Abroad, and in every drawing room in Pakistan!
To add slime to the mud was the foul murder of Saleem Shahzad. Personally, I don’t think it was committed by the ISI merely because, given the intense pressure that it currently is under, it would be stupid of it to do so and to leave the body to be found; and General Pasha is anything but stupid! However, my view is irrelevant; public perception isn’t.
It is in this backdrop that the press release has to be viewed.
Clarifying the question of how much US aid has been received and how much has gone to the military was important. And the suggestion that funds intended for the military be diverted to improve the lot of the people is a good gesture, but the most significant comment was the concluding one; “Pakistan’s internal situation is the most important factor and it cannot be relegated in priority. Army leadership reaffirmed its resolve to continue supporting the democratic system without any preference to any particular political party. It is also determined to lead the fight on terror in partnership with other law enforcement agencies and in line with the Constitution”.
It was important that support to democracy be restated and that this support was not to the exclusion of any political party. It was also important to reaffirm the resolve to fight the scourge of terrorism.
The earlier comment in the press release, implying the military’s acceptance of the supremacy of elected leaders, might be superfluous and, given the state of our democratic environment, difficult to swallow.
However, this press release was, quite obviously, addressed to the public; and in that respect, woefully inadequate. That military to military relations (with the US) will have to be reassessed; or an appeal to the public to refrain from maligning the armed forces is not reassuring, nor is it likely to have a visible impact. Nor is it sufficient to restate the opposition to drone strikes.
The people needed to hear a more positive, confident response; one that openly acknowledges errors, even if without detailed explanation, and one that offers reassurances for the future and promise of action.
Implying that the government will formulate a policy on drone attacks is almost laughable. It is an open secret that governmental response to US demands is never negative; if there is any resistance to the US, as CIA Director Leon Panetta’s most recent visit again reminded us, it comes from the GHQ/ISI. If drone attacks are to be permitted only to ‘take out’ high value targets, with permission of the GHQ/ISI, the PAF should be visible, patrolling the skies.
The military’s image has again hit an all-time low. If it is to be rebuilt, the GHQ will need to speak confidently to reassure the people and demonstrate its will by following words with action. Palliatives will not suffice; it is time to stand tall; respond openly to questions being raised on the military’s ability to deliver; and, most importantly, to deliver.
This nation stood united behind the military, leading to its success; it must be won over again. This is doable, but not through such press releases.
The writer is a retired brigadier and a former president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.
NOTE:THIS IS A CROSS POST FROM EXPRESS TRIBUNE