What the corps commanders’ conference did not say

By Shaukat Qadir                                                                                                                                                           

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.




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  • Nadeem  On June 16, 2011 at 5:31 am

    A good one from SQ. I think the public has lost trust in the uniformed high command. The feelings run deep, as such, the armed forces will have to have a visible, public shake up. It could happen with a joint resignation of all chiefs, to be replaced by very capable officers who are without any baggage.

    I realize I am suggesting a very tough course, but, sadly, I do not see any alternative. There is a clear rupture in the public/forces relationship. The love affair has faded and accusations are flying all around. It may never be a romance again, but, it could be more civil and trusting once again.

    Nadeem Kausar

  • Shahbaz  On June 16, 2011 at 5:32 am

    Very Good Analysis by Brig S Qadir;But the ISI must investigate and bring facts to light;At times in the best interest of the nation you may to expose people and facts.

    Muhammad Shahbaz

  • shahbaz  On June 16, 2011 at 5:58 am

    After 2 may 2011 to PNS Mehran, through Akhrotabad Quetta and cold blooded murder of a young man in Karachi, the nation is in a state of SHOCK. We need to stand up speak the truth, give justice to all. Unless we take drastic action, it may all lead to CIVIL WAR.
    Suggestions from an old Soldier:-

    A. We all want to see our CHIEF of OP-Swat-Waziristan days, the proud COAS, identifying himself with the fighting soldiers.
    B. We want to support the elected Government at all cost.
    C. Hold people accountable and punish them, The Senior NLC officers, who have been found to be Guilty, must be given exemplary Punishment. The action taken must be shared with the Nation. By sharing this information, it will raise not only the IMAGE of the Pakistan Army before the nation, and deterrent for others.
    D. I wish ARMY had taken action before SOU MOTO by CJ.
    E. Investigate who killed Salem Shahzad and Tortured Omar cheema the nation must know the truth. Everyone is blaming the Army and ISI. Please hold all those intelligence persons accountable, who at any time tortured any political worker.
    F. Armed Forces and the people of PAKISTAN must stand as one, to fight the ENEMY, like 1965. Coming days are going to be very demanding with attacks from East/West and the Terrorists within.

  • Zubair  On June 16, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Like the country, our Army too is going through the toughest period of our history. If there ever was a time for regime change, this is it. However, the the army has had enough slander from both the public and politicians. When they are in the barracks, both want them to take over and when they do both bash them. Right now we have the most corrupt and incompetent BUT extremely shrewd man ruling over us. He has, very cleverly, outsourced the foreign policy and miltary functions to the army without even trying to do something on their own. So if something goes wrong, hey can always blame the army. The incidents like Abbotabad and Mehran are something to be ashamed of but giving a strong helping had to the enemies by bashing the army is not. I don’t know what really happened in Abbotabad but personally I believe the Govt was a party to the whole ops and just as in David’s case, the Govt “had” to give credit to the great US of A. In any case they cannot say otherwise. Things that ought to be discussed and done by the Govt are handed over to the Army. Let us not forget that the army is the ONLY disciplined and functional unit in the country. This is the only unit on which the nation can pin hopes. It is, therefore, logical for the enemies to discredit and demoralize it and they can find very willing Pakistanis in the media and among the “educated” elite who in any case have been known to praise and patronize India. We must also remember that the Army is a mirror image of us Pakistanis. The fact that they are better organized than the rest of us is due to rule of law, discipline and accountability, which otherwise, the whole country lacks. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s son-in-law was a disciplined officer till he joined the Mian clan and got politicized—-just an example. Even in our own families, if one brother is in the Army, he is seen to be different from the rest. In this age of free media and information explosion, PLESE BE PAKISTANIS AND SUPPORT OUR ARMY————–THEY NEED IT UUST AS WE NEED THE ARMY. DON’T TREAT THEM AT PAR WITH THE POLITICIANS.

  • Bajwa  On June 17, 2011 at 4:56 am

    How this storm about Osama’s death was engineered ? No investigative journalist has looked into this.

    May be Pakistanis are in a mental straight jacket.


  • Salim Ullah  On June 17, 2011 at 8:41 am

    An excellent piece. Kudos to Shaukat.

  • I.Zubair  On June 22, 2011 at 5:02 am

    Once again, a great write and it does make a lot of sense,
    “The real truth of this event is irrelevant; the act is what matters.” this statement says a lot by itself while the author says similarly about what his own observation could be and sets it aside as irrelevant.
    The matter that bears the prime importance on an overall basis it to restore the dignity of Armed Forces, the soldier and not just speculate but thoroughly understand how a strategically plan to demoralize our men in uniform is unfolding and it is one fast route to disable any capability that a nation may be dependent upon to secure it’s dignity, sovereignty and independence, a demoralized force cannot deliver what it is appointed to do in principal.
    Would the people of our nation rather have a demoralized force that has been subjected to mud-slinging over & again and compromise its safety and existence by introducing dirty politics in the rows of our soldiers or the people would uphold the dignity and allow the men in uniform to perform their duties as expected.
    The choice is ours what we chose being blinded by the enemy instigated propaganda and let the enemy benefit against us or uphold the dignity by giving up all attempts of demoralizing the soldiers of Pakistan.
    Ask yourself sincerely before what is brewing comes to a boil with a spilling effect as it would be too late then.

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