The ongoing military offensive against terrorists yet again proves that pivotal decisions on national security in Pakistan are taken exclusively by the military high command. The politicians are obsessed with the illusions of power and senseless rhetoricâ€¦
Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif with Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdelaziz during a meeting in Riyadh.
The battle lines are clearly drawn. Insofar as the armed forces of Pakistan are concerned, there is no looking back. The ongoing military onslaught in North Waziristan, code-named operation Zarb-e-Azb, will be relentlessly carried through and this was made clear by Major General Asim Bajwa at a press briefing on June 26: â€œFor the military, there will be no discrimination among the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan groups or the Haqqani network, all terror groups are going to eliminated.â€
Bajwa also revealed that the Afghan army had been requested â€œto take action against terrorist hideouts in Kunar and Nuristanâ€ but, till then, the request had not been heeded. The same day the Afghan National Security Adviser, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, arrived in Islamabad with a letter from President Hamid Karzai for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The joint statement issued afterwards would have us all believe that the two countries had finally decided to roll up their sleeves and cooperate closely to conclusively defeat terrorism which was their â€œcommon enemy.â€ But there is a world of a difference between the real and the apparent. Karzaiâ€™s letter which was revealed to the media by his office, in violation of all ethical and diplomatic norms, is startling in its crass stupidity. The operative part begins with the words, â€œI will cooperate on the condition that,â€¦â€and one of the seven preconditions is that â€œPakistan and Afghanistan coordinate their anti-terrorist efforts with important regional nations like India and China.â€ As a follow-up of the Spanta visit, security officials of two countries met in Islamabad on Thursday. The tone of the letter leaves the impression that Karzai, like a drowning man, is desperately clutching at straws to remain above the surface. He refuses to come to terms with the reality that in a few weeks, when the results of the Afghan presidential election (delayed by a recount of ballots in 2,000 voting centres because of fraud allegations) is announced, he will have to hand over the baton to his successor. The thought of drifting into political obscurity haunts Karzai like a terrifying nightmare.
But what will remain is the existential threat that Afghanistan and Pakistan face from the same terrorist groups â€“ the Taliban and their affiliates â€“ that have struck roots deep in the soil of the two countries. This is a fight that will have to be fought to the bitter end. There is no other option. Close coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan is indispensible and Karzaiâ€™s insistence that regional players, notably India and China, should also be roped in is as senseless as it is counterproductive.
In his autobiography, Friends Not Masters, the military dictator General Ayub Khan (1907-1974) observed with remarkable perspicacity: â€œNobody gives you freedom: you have to fight for it. Nobody fights for you: you have to fight for yourself.â€ These words ring true in the context of the ongoing war â€“ it is much more than an isolated military operation â€“ for the liberation of North Waziristan from the stranglehold of the Al Qaeda-inspired terrorist conglomerate which has sworn that it will persevere with its so-called jihad till it is able to impose its poisonous ideology on the entire country.
After two weeks of aerial bombardment and heavy artillery shelling, Pakistan launched its long-awaited ground offensive on Monday. A senior army officer told me that this was the second phase of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and was expected to be completed by the end of the month. He explained that this would only be â€œthe end of the beginningâ€ â€“ the third and decisive phase would be fought in the major cities because â€œover the years the civilian leadership slept while the terrorist outfits entrenched themselves in our urban centres.â€
He had no doubt that it would be a long war though it could yet turn out to be â€œPakistanâ€™s finest hour.â€ But for such an outcome the politicians of the country would have to stop bickering with each other and take the lead in galvanising an unstoppable tidal wave of popular support for our soldiers in the battlefront â€“ several have already rendered the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live. The expectation, he said, that the political leadership will rise to the occasion is perhaps overly optimistic.
The criticism, though certainly warranted, does not reflect the whole truth. In his recent interview to the BBC, the former Director General ISPR, Major General (r) Athar Abbas, revealed that a decision had been taken in 2011 to launch a military offensive â€œto rid North Waziristan of extremists once and for all.â€ But at the eleventh hour the previous army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, had second thoughts and â€œkept delaying the operation.â€
The disclosure was not only unethical but also not entirely accurate. There was good reason for Kayaniâ€™s decision to delay the military action and this was explained by two top former military officials. On May 13, 2011 the ISI chief at the time, Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, told a joint session of parliament that there were approximately 3,500 foreigners in North Waziristan who would use the local population as a human shield if a military operation was launched. This would, therefore, have to be preceded by the elimination of foreign terrorists.
A variation of the same theme was elaborated by the former chairman joint chiefs of staff committee, General (r) Ehsanul Haq at a seminar on November 26, 2013. A deliberate policy of gradualism had been adopted for going into North Waziristan in order to minimise collateral damage. â€œIf one tried to jump from the top of the ladder, there was the possibility of ending up with broken limbs. It was therefore decided to climb down the ladder one step at a time,â€ he said.
All this confirms yet again that pivotal decisions on national security are taken exclusively by the military high command. The politicians of the country are obsessed with the illusions of power. Their lives revolve around rallies and senseless rhetorical outbursts.
Some years back one of Pakistanâ€™s outstanding diplomats with an inimitable sense of humour sent a coded telegram after a stupendously productive meeting with one of the most important world leaders. The envoy described his excitement on the outcome as similar to that of â€œa suddenly turned on battery-powered toy chicken!â€
The ambassadorâ€™s description sums up the political leadership of Pakistan. But unlike toy chickens, they scream inanities. In his last rally in Bahawalpur on June 27, the PTI chief, Imran Khan, threatened a â€˜million manâ€™ march on Islamabad on August 14 if his demands were not met. Last yearâ€™s elections, he claimed, had been massively rigged and Nawaz Sharif had delivered a victory speech on the night of May 11, well before the outcome was confirmed. He also wanted to know what role former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had played in manipulating the election results.
Need one remind the PTI chief that: (i) on the night of May 11, 2013 his own party workers from Rawalpindi celebrated victory in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and even clashed with the police; (ii) he conceded defeat on May 12 and congratulated Nawaz Sharif; (iii) despite his claims that the elections were rigged the ruling coalition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is led by the PTI; and (iv) in order to save himself from contempt proceedings, he solemnly declared before the Supreme Court last year that he had never accused chief justice Chaudhry of rigging and that his grievance was only against the returning officers.
Not one of our so-called leaders has thought it worth his while to take out mass rallies in support of the war being fought for the countryâ€™s survival. What else can one expect from those who represent the quintessence of all that is commonplace?â€“The News
All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan
S Iftikhar Murshed is a veteran Pakistani diplomat and political and strategic analyst. He is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly and a columnist of the News International