Tuesday, September 22, 2015
The Afghan connection Interpretations of the origins and control of the Badaber attack could cause misunderstandings between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although the ISPR account of the attack traced its perpetrators and controllers to Afghan soil, ISPR was careful not to point the finger of blame at the Afghanistan government. Nevertheless, President Ashraf Ghani's office considered it necessary to reiterate that Afghan soil would never be allowed to be used for terrorism against other countries and emphasising the need for Islamabad and Kabul to cooperate and work together against the common menace. Hopefully this clarification will lay any suspicions about Kabul's role to rest. The logic of the situation and the ground realities point to some irrefutable facts and perhaps the aim of the terrorists to create a gulf between the two neighbouring countries, which would obviously work to their advantage. The fact of the matter is that the Pakistani Taliban, having been driven out of their bases in FATA, have found safe havens across the border on Afghan soil. Kabul, hard pressed to contain the insurgency after the withdrawal of the bulk of NATO troops, is not in a position to control cross-border incursions along the infamously porous divide on its own. It is another matter that recent developments after the Kabul-Taliban talks floundered and the Taliban carried out deadly attacks in Kabul have once again soured the trust being built between Islamabad and Kabul. That has proved a setback to the critical need for both countries to work together to deny the terrorists freedom of movement across the porous border. Of course Kabul could, and does when relations deteriorate, point accusing fingers at Pakistan for continuing to harbour the Afghan Taliban on its soil. But the Pakistan government's reiteration of willingness to host the stalled second round of talks between Kabul and the Taliban leaves the door ajar for the exploration of a negotiated political settlement with the insurgency. That would be the ideal outcome, not only because peace in Afghanistan and peace in Pakistan are inextricably intertwined, but also because such a development would focus minds and effort on scotching the embryonic emergence of Islamic State-affiliated groups inside Afghanistan (and arguably Pakistan). As far as the Badaber incident is concerned, investigations, including forensic analysis of the dead bodies of the attackers, to whose body count one more has been added in the shape of a charred body discovered later, are in progress. A dragnet has netted tens of suspects, but it is not clear if this is a case of the 'usual suspects' being rounded up or based on actual leads. The owner of the vehicle used in the attack has been arrested, but reports say he had sold the vehicle, which then passed through at least five hands before the deadly attack. Nevertheless, this offers a promising trail to be vigorously pursued. While critics are pointing to a security lapse in the face of prior accurate intelligence reports about just this kind of terrorist attack on Badaber amidst calls for the accountability of concerned officials who ignored the warnings, the lapse is neither new nor the first such instance. Similar warnings of impending attacks, including the Bannu jail break, were reportedly available before the event but not acted upon effectively. The terrorists rely on heightened security after every attack to fall into the almost inevitable inertia of business as usual before launching their next assault. They therefore enjoy the advantage of will, time and space, with the security forces naturally being in a strategic defensive and reactive mode. The exception to this rule are the military operations in FATA, of which the bombing in the Tirah Valley on Saturday, September 19, which reportedly killed 16 terrorists in retaliation for the Badaber attack, proving the point about the need for being proactive and keeping the initiative with the security forces. National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz has said the evidence collected regarding the Badaber attack will be shared with Kabul. This is to the good, but to regain recently lost trust between the two sides, Pakistan should now bend its back to get the stalled Afghan talks restarted.
Badaber attack The early morning surprise attack by a reported 19-20 terrorists of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Badaber air base near Peshawar on Saturday, September 18 offers cause for satisfaction at the effective and quick response by the security forces but also poses troubling questions. According to the ISPR account of the incident, the attackers struck at 5:00 am, forcing entry into the gate with rockets and hand grenades. They then split up into two groups, one heading for the Administrative block while the other headed for the residential area. According to DG ISPR Major General Asim Bajwa, there were about 2,000 people in the residential area, and had the terrorists succeeded in reaching it, the casualty toll would have been much higher. As it is, when they were challenged by the security guards and the integrated Defence Service Group, SSG commandos and police, they turned towards the nearby mosque, slaughtering 16 worshippers there and seven in the nearby barracks. In the firefight that followed, one army officer and two soldiers were martyred. The quick and efficient rapid response by the defence forces wiped out 13 of the attackers within 50 metres of the gate, preventing a bigger bloodbath and damage to the air base and its assets. Major General Bajwa revealed that telephone intercepts indicated the whole operation originated from and was controlled throughout from Afghan territory. The entire defensive operation was completed by 9:00 am. The ISPR account however failed to say what had happened to the 'missing' 6-7 attackers, if the figure of 19-20 in the FIR registered is to be believed. Did they manage to escape? The rapid response and efficient elimination of the threat nevertheless shows that the lessons from previous such attacks have been imbibed. Messages and statements of condemnation of the attack and praise for the martyrs amongst the defenders flowed thick and fast from all quarters in the wake of the news breaking. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif led the chorus, followed by Senators and political leaders across the political divide. Each one expressed their resolve to continue the drive against the terrorists until their complete annihilation. The US too pitched in with messages of condemnation and support in equal measure. While it has been anticipated since the start of military operations in FATA that have uprooted the terrorists from their long standing bases that the latter would retaliate through terrorist attacks throughout the country to keep the security forces on the hop, the received wisdom seemed to be that soft targets would be chosen. Despite the positive development that the anticipated attacks have been few and far between, what was perhaps surprising about this attack was that a 'hard' target was chosen. The attackers must have known that such a heavily guarded facility would be a tough nut to crack. The fact that this did not deter them could perhaps be explained by what their motives or aims may have been. Of course this is conjecture at best, but here goes nevertheless. First and foremost, the terrorists may have wanted to send the message that they were still alive and kicking and had operational capability across the border from their safe havens in Afghanistan. Second, they may have wished to demonstrate their ability to attack even heavily guarded military facilities. Had the defenders' response not been so quick and efficacious and the attackers had managed to penetrate deeper into the base, the loss of life and perhaps Air Force assets can only be imagined. While the entire country is praising our martyrs and condoling their loss with their families, sober reflection suggests what we have repeatedly stressed in this space. The state and society must be prepared for a protracted war against the terrorists, particularly since they now enjoy safe rear bases across the border. This fact suggests 'dealing' with their alleged hosts in Afghanistan, i.e. the Haqqani network, rumoured ironically to be close to our security establishment. Also, efforts to gain Afghanistan's cooperation in cross-border security issues must be redoubled, which includes getting the Kabul-Taliban stalled talks back on track, especially now that the succession issue that divided the Taliban in the aftermath of the revelation of Mullah Omar's death seems to be over. Protracted wars, or any wars for that matter, are inherently full of twists and turns, advances and retreats, defeats and victories. That should not deter us from seeing through the sacred task of freeing Pakistan of the terrorist threat once and for all.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Makkah tragedy The tragedy that struck the Grand Mosque housing the Ka’aba, Islam’s holiest site, on Friday, September 11, could have been much worse had it occurred during the peak Hajj season, due to commence two weeks from now. Apparently strong winds and a rainstorm are being blamed by the authorities for a crane crashing down onto the mosque, killing at least 87 worshippers and injuring more than 180. The mosque was full of people awaiting the call to prayers. The tragic scene after the crash showed rubble and pools of blood on the floor. Rescue efforts were mounted, but initially it seems as though the authorities were so taken by surprise that the response was slow and inefficient. It seems surprising too that a heavy crane could just come crashing down due to wind and rain. There may be some other factors at work, including some mechanical/structural fault that went undetected. An investigation into the accident has been ordered by the Governor of Makkah and only after it reports will it be clear what actually caused the crash. Although the nationalities of the victims are not yet known, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has instructed our ambassador in Saudi Arabia to facilitate the families of the dead and personally visit the injured in hospital. The Pakistani embassy is said to be trying to find out if any Pakistanis are among the dead or injured. The Hajj is the greatest gathering of Muslims and arguably the biggest religious event the world over. Last year, over two million Muslims from all over the world travelled to Makkah to carry out Hajj. Even now, two weeks before the Hajj proper begins, some 800,000m pilgrims are already in Makkah. In past years, this great conglomeration has seen accidents such as fires, stampedes and crushes. The Saudi authorities have therefore undertaken a massive expansion of the Grand Mosque to an area of 400,000 square metres, which will accommodate some 2.2 million people simultaneously. Hence the presence of cranes ringing the mosque, one of which unfortunately fell right on it. Although the Saudi authorities have been incrementally improving the facilities in and around the Hajj, including roads, transport infrastructure and other services to allow the smooth movement of such large numbers of people, it must also be acknowledged that the Saudis have allowed the development over the years of several hotels, high rises and commercial developments around and overlooking the mosque, no doubt with an eye to the earning potential of the site during the holy event. Known for their puritanical Wahabi interpretation of Islam, the Saudi ruling monarchy has not found the consideration of commerce contradictory to the preservation of the character and profile of the holiest of holy sites. Non-Wahabi purists have been appalled at this seeming surrender to Mammon in the House of God. Not to put too fine a point on it, there does seem to be a contradiction between the Saudi ruling monarchy’s Wahabi purism when it comes to keeping the grave of the Prophet (PBUH) and his mosque in Medina as simple and unostentatious as possible while allowing the pomp, show and glitter of commercial enterprise to intrude into the holy space around the Ka’aba. Of course what is done may not be possible to undo, but the Saudi monarchy should be more sensitive to the sentiments and deeply held beliefs of all Muslims as the keepers and guardians of the holy sites of Islam and not arrogate to themselves the right to do as they please, even if in contradictory fashion, irrespective of whether it seems appropriate or not. Ideally, an international Muslim forum such as the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) should have had a role in managing and maintaining the holy sites, but since the OIC has proved over time to be a toothless talking shop, the Muslim world could discuss the modalities of the upkeep and management of the holy sites on some other (perhaps new?) forum. However, that could only come about if the Saudi monarchy relinquishes its monopoly on the holy sites, a monopoly purely based on geographic location rather than any God-given or inherent right. That seems at present at least an unlikely hope at best.
Apex decisions The apex committee at the federal level met in Islamabad on Thursday, September 10 to review for the first time the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP). Two sessions were held, the first chaired by federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali, followed by another chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The top civil and military leadership and the provincial administrations were in attendance. The apex committee decided to launch a full-scale countrywide crackdown on sectarianism. As explicated later in a press conference by Chaudhry Nisar, there is a thin (if not non-existent) line between sectarianism and terrorism. The two go hand in hand. The minister announced there would henceforth be zero tolerance for hate speech and literature. No one would be allowed to call another a kafir (infidel) or someone liable to be killed. Madrassa registration and monitoring would continue in consultation with the clerical leadership of these institutions. The federal and provincial governments would forge a joint strategy on NGOs, with a division of labour between the federal government looking at international NGOs and the provincial governments local ones. Similar arrangements would be brought into being on arms licences, security companies and sectarianism. The apex committee appreciated the results of the military operations in the north west of the country and vowed to see them through to the end while action against militants in Sindh and Balochistan would be expedited. The provincial governments made presentations on the implementation of the 20 points of the NAP. The presentations, according to media reports, impressed Chaudhry Nisar but failed to enthuse the prime minister, who instructed uniform and expeditious implementation of all aspects of NAP by all the provinces. The military on the other hand wanted the government to choke off terror financing, without which the counterterrorism campaign could not finally succeed. It also wants the revival of and setting up more special courts to deal with terrorism cases under the Protection of Pakistan Act 2014. It may be recalled that initially the political forces resisted the setting up of military courts under the 21st amendment on the grounds that the special courts were sufficient for the purpose. Later, when the military courts finally came into being, the government forgot about the special courts. It is not even known whether after their setting up, the government actually moved any cases to the special courts. Finally, the sense of the apex committee meeting was that the chief ministers of the provinces needed to take a hard line against sectarian elements. This onus of responsibility was thrust on the provincial administrations because it is feared that the military operations against terrorists will not achieve their goals unless NAP is implemented properly and thoroughly. The results achieved so far in this regard appear far from satisfactory. There is therefore talk of the military extending its operations to counterterrorism, implying urban operations. We have long argued in this space that without an overarching organisation that brings together all the state's agencies and relevant departments and coordinates their efforts, the terrorists will have a surplus of riches to choose from, managing to find wriggle room between the gaps in the separate efforts of various agencies and departments. Intelligence agencies in particular inherently are jealous of their information and reluctant to share it. The anti-terrorism campaign in all its facets requires a centralised organisation and data base for efficaciously combating the proliferation of terrorist/sectarian groups operating autonomously. At one stage, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) it was hoped, would fit the bill. However, it soon became obvious that NACTA was a dead horse, attempts to flog which produced zero results, not the least because of a trust deficit between the civilian and military agencies. Instead of now trying to reinvent the wheel, perhaps the wisest and easiest course is to utilise the happy circumstance of the military top brass and civilian leadership having come together in the central and provincial apex committees to produce just that desired result. Let the apex committees be the coordinating and directing organisations for the anti-terrorism struggle, allowing collective decisions and cooperation to flow in the sacred task of smashing the terror networks.
NCA meeting The National Command Authority (NCA) met on Wednesday, September 9 with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the chair and the top civilian and military leadership in attendance. The meeting emphasised that national interests would be protected at all costs by maintaining a full spectrum deterrence. The state, it was underlined, is fully cognisant of the evolving security dynamic of South Asia. While the regional security environment was reviewed, the meeting was briefed on the fast-paced developments on strategic and conventional capabilities in the neighbourhood. In view of the growing conventional asymmetry, the resolve was reiterated to maintain a full spectrum deterrence capability in line with credible minimum deterrence without indulging in an arms race. Full confidence was expressed in the robust nuclear command and control structure and the security of strategic assets. Pakistan would remain actively engaged with the world on nuclear stability and security issues. In its appraisal of the non-proliferation debate since it last met, the NCA expressed satisfaction on Pakistan's enhanced outreach to the multilateral export control regimes. Pakistan reiterated that it shares the goals of non-proliferation and is committed to playing its role as a mainstream partner in the effort. The NCA meeting reiterated Pakistan's interest in joining the multilateral export control regimes on a non-discriminatory basis, including membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to give it deserved full access to civil nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, particularly to meet its energy deficit. While the NCA reiterated its stance of peace and strategic stability in South Asia, for which conflict resolution was the necessary means, it also expressed concern at the absence of such a mechanism between Pakistan and India. A comprehensive briefing to the meeting by the Strategic Plans Division Director General dealt with the repeated apprehension in some quarters internationally that Pakistan's nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands by pointing to the 30,000 strong security force guarding the nuclear arsenal. Reports have spoken lately about Pakistan possessing 120 nuclear warheads to India's 100. But other reports also point to India's rapidly growing nuclear and conventional military capabilities in the absence of a conflict resolution mechanism. The upsetting of regional strategic and conventional stability is a cause for concern. One think tank has reported that India has sufficient fissile material, both reactor and weapons grade plutonium, for more than 2,000 warheads. In addition, India is pursuing the addition to its arsenal of new weapons systems, including submarine-launched intercontinental and medium range ballistic missiles and improvements to its ballistic missiles defence. There is no reliable estimate available of India's missile inventories. The growing conventional asymmetry is doubly dangerous in the presence of doctrines like Cold Start (a limited war). Juxtaposed with the current tensions with India, the dialogue suspended since January 2013 and skirmishes on the Line of Control and Working Boundary, the whole scenario is scary. The NCA's argument that it does not want to enter into an arms race is correct in principle, but the ground realities and developments may inexorably lead to just such an outcome. It goes without saying that an arms race, nuclear or conventional or both, is not in the interests of either country, burdened by mass poverty and the demands of progress and development. The only way out of misperceptions about the other is to return to dialogue. The fact that the Pakistani Rangers-Indian Border Security Force meeting is taking place in New Delhi as these lines are being written is a hopeful chink of light in an otherwise dark horizon. The sooner Islamabad and New Delhi find the path back to the negotiating table, the better. That path seems to suggest itself in the light of the series of debacles in the dialogue as being none other than quiet diplomacy, proper preparation at the level of officials before the leaders meet, and the additional conduit of back channels that offer the advantage of discretion away from the glare of publicity.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Allah Nazar killed? Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Bugti claimed in a press conference on Tuesday, September 8 that Dr Allah Nazar, leader of the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) had been killed. This development, he asserted, was the result of the massive operation in his home district of Awaran. In addition, Mir Bugti claimed that a huge communication centre had been destroyed in the mountains in Dalbandin, Chaghai district, from where 600 international SIM cards, 1,000 antennas and seven militants operating the centre were seized. Regarding the purported death of Dr Allah Nazar, the home minister, after sounding confident of his claim, contradicted himself in the next breath by saying he could not confirm the news, but since there had been no sign of Dr Allah Nazar since the operation one day before Eid, he must be dead. The droll absurdity did not end there. The communication centre, Mir Bugti asserted, was being used by Baloch nationalist militants, extremist jihadi terrorists, agents of Afghan and Indian intelligence services and drug smugglers. The only name he inadvertently perhaps left out was Charlie’s aunt. The linkage sought to be created by Mir Bugti stretched credulity to the breaking point when he juxtaposed ideologically and politically opposed nationalist guerrillas with fanatical religious terrorists and criminal drug smugglers, and then attempted, as usual, to drop the whole lot into the convenient catch-all basket of India’s and Afghanistan’s intelligence agencies. While this may bring the home minister the satisfaction of neatly tying up all these disparate forces and lumping them under one umbrella, in fact it does his case little good. In fact the phantasmagorical nature of his claims in this regard cast severe doubts on his claims about Dr Allah Nazar too, even if we ignore his own ‘qualifications’ to the news of the BLF leader’s death. Rumours of Dr Allah Nazar being killed in an air strike on the purported BLF headquarters in Awaran had been doing the rounds in July but were categorically rejected by the BLF, which said he was very much alive and leading the group. There has been no reaction or response from the BLF so far to Mir Bugti’s claims now. It goes without saying that if Mir Bugti’s kite flying about Dr Allah Nazar’s death turns out to be true, it would be a big blow to the Baloch insurgency and a matter of great satisfaction for the security forces for whom he has proved a thorn in their side. Unlike most of the Baloch insurgent leaders, Dr Allah Nazar is from a middle class background. As a student of medicine, he rose to prominence in Balochistan’s nationalist student politics. He has always been considered a close follower of late Nawab Khair Buksh Marri. He was arrested in 2006 after he protested, along with so many others, the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti by the Musharraf regime. In 2008 he was released on promise of ‘good’ behaviour but soon joined the ranks of the insurgents and set up his own BLF. Amidst all the swirling rumours and lack of reliable information about the Baloch nationalist insurgency, one rumour of late has it that Dr Allah Nazar developed differences with Nawab Marri’s son Hyrbyar. Such rumours of the splintering of the Baloch insurgency have been rife lately, although reliance on mere rumour is not free of risk. Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept that Dr Allah Nazar has been killed, will that mean the end of the Baloch problem? Not if history is any guide. Each generation of the Baloch people has risen in revolt against the repression, injustices and deprivations that are the lot the state has reserved for them. We are witnessing the fifth insurgency in the province since independence. An essentially political issue that is Balochistan cannot be resolved by military might and repression. You can kill a man (or many men) but you cannot as easily kill an idea. It is the idea of the self-respect, dignity and rights of the people of Balochistan that cannot be crushed by force. For each insurgent killed, hundreds, if not thousands, now and in the future, will come forward to pick up the gun of their fallen comrade and intone new funeral dirges punctuated by the crackle of bullets. Political problems require, nay demand, political solutions. But how to persuade the security establishment of this self-evident truth? Therein lies both the dilemma and the answer to the Balochistan conundrum.
Monday, September 7, 2015
Lessons of 1965 This year's 50th anniversary of the 1965 war has witnessed unprecedented patriotic hype, whose thrust has been the claim that Pakistan won a great victory in that war by defeating an enemy many times its size. Although there is a grain of truth in this assertion, for the generations born after 1965, it is equally important to realise that this is also a moment for sober introspection and reflection in order to correctly imbibe the lessons of the 1965 war. Soon after independence, and while reeling from the mass influx of refugees and the problems of making the infant state functional, Pakistan found itself embroiled in the first war over Kashmir with India in 1947-48. That conflict brought home the gaps and requirements of our defence forces. Between 1954 and 1965, Pakistan's defence forces benefited from our joining the western alliance in terms of receiving modern armaments. The events of 1965 need to be placed in context. The 1962 Sino-Indian war exposed India's military weaknesses. The west responded in its Cold War anti-communist zeal by bolstering India's military capabilities, much to Pakistan's chagrin because it felt betrayed by its western allies in disturbing the military balance in the subcontinent. Pakistan responded by incrementally cementing its ties with China. The immediate curtain raiser to the 1965 war was the clash with India in the disputed Rann of Kuchh area, in which Pakistan fared better than its enemy. Whether that bolstered our confidence so much as to leave us contemplating action in Kashmir is debatable. What is beyond question, however, is our attempt in August 1965 to insert infiltrators into Indian-Held Kashmir on the assumption that the oppressed Kashmiri people would be inspired by this step to rise up in a liberation war against India. The other assumption attending this gambit was the conviction that India would not in response widen the war theatre by attacking across the international border. Both assumptions proved unfounded. Neither did the Kashmiri people rise, nor did India oblige us by confining itself to the Kashmir front. When the attack came on September 6, 1965, the armed forces and people of Pakistan fought off the onslaught with great courage and the heroic defence of the country by field commanders and soldiers, many of whom rendered the ultimate sacrifice and were honoured with the country's highest military awards. The role of the Air Force deserves special mention, since without their heroics, Pakistan's defence may have been far more difficult. Post-war and current claims of victory notwithstanding, an objective appraisal of the outcome of the war would suggest that it was at best a stalemate, a result that could and did give heart to Pakistan for fending off the Indian assault but which also exposed flaws in Pakistan's higher direction of war and its logistical frailty because of dependence on western allies who cut us off as soon as hostilities began on September 6. There was no alternative then to accepting international (Soviet) mediation to bring about a ceasefire after 17 days of all out battle. The war also brought to the fore the precariousness of the defence of East Pakistan, separated from the western wing by 1,000 miles of hostile Indian territory. The implications of this reality may or may not have sunk in in our minds, but it seems India had drawn some far reaching conclusions from this fact, which were to have a profound impact in the crisis and war of 1971. After the breakaway of East Pakistan to emerge as Bangladesh, the remaining Pakistan was subjected to another test when India exploded a nuclear device in 1974. Pakistan was compelled to embark on the path of acquiring a nuclear deterrent, demonstrated beyond question in the nuclear explosions of 1998 in response to India's fresh nuclear tests. Since then, logic dictated that war between the two neighbours was no longer an option, given the risk of mutually assured destruction. However, that thesis has been put to the test in a sub-nuclear threshold fashion in 1999 (Kargil) and 2001-2002 (in the wake of the attack on the Indian Parliament when both militaries mobilised for an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation). The risk now of any even limited conflict between the two sides escalating into full scale war with its attendant horror of a possible nuclear exchange suggests that there is now no other option except resolving the long standing and seemingly intractable disputes between the two neighbours except to exchange the language of weapons with the weapon of language (dialogue).
COAS’s message On the occasion of Defence Day, September 6, COAS General Raheel Sharif took advantage of the occasion to send a loud and clear message for internal as well as external consumption. Addressing a special ceremony at GHQ to pay tributes to the martyrs of Pakistan, on the internal front General Sharif dilated on the operation in Karachi, reiterating the resolve to continue it till its logical end. He underlined the need for all state institutions to play their role in achieving the objectives of the National Action Plan (NAP). General Sharif stated categorically that the army would not relent until all terrorists, their financiers, abettors, facilitators and sympathisers had been brought to justice. On both the internal and external challenges, General Raheel Sharif said the army was capable of dealing with any kind of situation and had achieved major successes in the war on terror. The terrorists, he pointed out, were on the run and would not be spared till they were eliminated. On the external front, the COAS warned the enemies of Pakistan that they would suffer irreparable losses if they dared to commit aggression against the country. The army was prepared to deal with all military doctrines of the enemy, including ‘cold starts’ and ‘hot starts’ (an obvious reference to the Indian strategic doctrine). General Sharif pointed to the importance of September 6 as on this day in 1965, Pakistan repulsed the attack of a far bigger enemy and caused it heavy losses. He emphasised that Kashmir remained the unresolved part of the agenda of partition and it was high time it was solved according to the UN resolutions and the Kashmiri people’s wishes, since there could not be any peace in South Asia without such a solution. Citing the successes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb against the terrorist networks, General Sharif said Pakistan and its army had been engaged in a non-traditional war for years. Referring to the Peshawar school massacre that triggered an even more robust response to the terrorists, he said the incident was the epitome of barbarity. He praised the immense patience of the parents of the slain school children in the face of the atrocity and said this patience gave the nation a new motivation. Today, most of the terrorists involved in that murderous bloodshed had met their fate, the COAS stated. General Sharif also paid tribute to the people of FATA for their sacrifices, adding that the return of the internally displaced persons to their homes had already begun and the process will be further expedited. The media too came in for rich praise from the COAS for unveiling the true face of the terrorists, which was a key aspect of the war against the militants. Emphasising the critical importance of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, the army chief reiterated the army’s resolve to play its full role in its completion. On Afghanistan, the COAS pointed out that the two countries were tied by blood and had a deep-rooted, historic relationship. He mentioned the steps Pakistan had taken for peace in that war-torn country, referring in this context to spoilers of the peace process whose efforts would be foiled. The unprecedented show of unity and enthusiasm on Defence Day this year can and should be placed in the context of the current tensions with India. For Pakistan, there is no choice but to keep its powder dry and wait for the current fever in Modi’s government against Pakistan to die down and for New Delhi to return to inevitable talks between the two neighbours for resolving their problems. Pakistan needs peace on its western and eastern borders in order to deal effectively with its internal problems and pave the way for a peaceful and prosperous future. For this purpose, there is also the need for the civil and military leadership to continue to work in the close coordination that has been on display for some time, while heeding the COAS’s words on state institutions playing their due role in this existential struggle against the terrorists and fanatics that afflict our society.
Saturday, September 5, 2015
No breakthrough Taking advantage of the opportunity provided by Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz’s presence in Kabul to attend a regional economic conference, meetings were held with President Ashraf Ghani and other top Afghan officials. Not unexpectedly, despite the meeting between President Ghani and Mr Aziz continuing for an hour and a half, there was no word on what transpired. No joint statement or communiqué was issued. The few crumbs that could be gleaned from media reports indicated that perhaps the two sides had at least agreed to tone down their harsh statements against each other, which had lately become the norm, with Kabul blaming Afghan terrorists based on Pakistani soil for attacks in Kabul that killed over 50 people. Other than that, it was thin pickings. If anything could be gathered it was between the lines of President Ashraf Ghani’s address at the economic conference. He reiterated his country’s commitment to pursuing a negotiated peaceful political settlement with the Taliban, something the Pakistani side said it was willing to facilitate but Kabul had now to make the first move after the hiatus in the talks process brought about by the news of Mulla Omar having died in 2013, news that remained suppressed until now. But this positivity was negated by the Afghan president pointing accusing fingers at elements of the Pakistani security establishment that were opposed to the peace process, implying such elements in Pakistan wanted to see Afghanistan weak and thereby more amenable to control from Islamabad. While reiterating his National Unity government’s commitment to pursuing reconciliation, President Ghani attempted to put to rest any speculations about differences within the government on the issue. He underlined that his government had reached out to the Taliban despite the continuing attacks by the other side. The Pakistani foreign office in its weekly briefing in Islamabad stated that Sartaj Aziz took five messages to Kabul. These included good wishes, the desire for good relations, stopping the campaign perceived in Islamabad as anti-Pakistan, addressing the security concerns that have emerged for the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, and the willingness to facilitate an Afghan-owned and -led peace and reconciliation process. The messages were no doubt delivered, but what they achieved is open to question. The desire for not muddying the waters by refraining from hostile statements against each other reflects the aspiration to restore mutual trust between Islamabad and Kabul. However, this is easier said than done. For example, although it was apparently spoken of, it now appears the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two countries for intelligence sharing is all but dead in the water. Trust is not a commodity that can be switched on and off at will. Kabul had plenty of reasons for resentment against Pakistan, based on our almost continuous interventions in that unfortunate country over the last four decades, interventions that have reduced the country to rack and ruin. Building trust in the wake of this history would at the best of times have required extraordinary efforts and steps to convince Kabul that Pakistan had turned the page on its past ambition to install a weak regime in Kabul beholden to Pakistan and unable, as the icing on the cake, to press past revanchist claims on Pakistani territory. As things have panned out, however, the ‘turn’ only appears to be a ‘half-turn’ (a disturbing pattern in our history). Pakistan may be bending its back to eliminate homegrown terrorists and nudging the Afghan Taliban to talk peace with Kabul, but the elephant in the room remains the Haqqani network, considered the author of the deadly recent bombings in Kabul that took such a high toll of life. Washington and Kabul have both expressed concerns about the ‘mollycoddling’ of the Haqqani network by Pakistan. Perhaps this ‘strategic asset’ has not yet outlived its utility for the security establishment of Pakistan, despite its reported support for and providing safe havens to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in the provinces of eastern Afghanistan controlled by the Haqqanis. At the very least, Pakistan needs to restrain the Haqqani network from working at cross purposes to the peace talks. Unless space for the talks to succeed is carved out by reduced, if not entirely stopped, attacks on civilians in the Afghan capital, the peace and reconciliation process may prove stillborn.
Friday, September 4, 2015
China’s V-Day The People’s Republic of China celebrated the 70th anniversary of its victory over Japanese imperialism’s aggression that also signalled the commemoration of the end of World War II (WWII). Seventeen countries participated in the celebration, including heads of state and government and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Pakistan was represented by President Mamnoon Hussain and a smartly turned out contingent of our three armed services that marched in the epic parade held in Beijing. While the victory over fascism in WWII is the common heritage of mankind, China had the distinction of suffering Japanese aggression as early as 1931, when the Japanese set up a puppet state in northeast Manchuria. The full force of their invasion however, came in 1937, two years before WWII began in Europe and four years before Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and the Japanese launched their attack on the US in 1941. The military parade in Beijing clearly showed the extent of the modernisation of China’s military, betraying the country’s new power and confidence. President Xi Jinping made clear on the occasion in his address that China, despite being strong today, believed in and would promote world peace. He also announced his country would cut its armed forces, the largest in manpower in the world, by 300,000 troops. Partly this reflects another aspect of his peace message, partly the transformation of the Chinese military from a largely ground forces army relying on manpower to a powerful, modern, high tech fighting force commanding the sea and the skies too. President Xi described the victory in the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, as the war is formally known in China, as its first complete victory in modern times, a great triumph, great renewal and rebirth of the country. It should not be forgotten that for at least a century before these events in the middle of the 20th century, China lay supine and humiliated before the western powers and Japan, reduced virtually to a semi-colony. The rebirth of what was once considered by its citizens to be the centre of the world began with the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of an admittedly weak republic in the 1911 revolution. This cataclysmic event triggered the era of the rise of the nationalists in the shape of the Kuomintang and the subsequent emergence of the Communist Party of China in 1922. Civil war followed the betrayal by Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek when he turned on his communist allies in 1927 and attempted to brutally eliminate them. Had it not been for the start of the Japanese aggression in 1931, arguably China might have remained trapped in its internal convulsions, at the expense of its sovereignty and independence. The communists’ decision to take up the banner of national resistance to Japanese aggression, whose high point was the formidable and legendary Long March, finally brought sufficient pressure to bear on Chiang Kai-shek to force him to abandon his ant-communist campaign and join hands in the national resistance effort. As soon as the Japanese were defeated in 1945, however, he once again turned on the communists but this time, having accumulated military and political strength through the long resistance war, the communist armies under Mao Tse Tung vanquished the Kuomintang and forced it to flee to Taiwan in 1949, after which the People’s Republic was declared by Chairman Mao. It is a sign of the changed times that a Taiwan contingent was present to commemorate the 1945 victory in Beijing. While we marvel at the rise of China as an economic and military power, it is necessary to reflect on the lessons this history teaches. Was fascism (and therefore Japanese aggression in the east) an aberration or the logical outcome of capitalism in its greatest crisis, the Great Crash of 1927-29? Does the drive for greater profit, and the historical tendency of the profit rate to fall as capitalism develops, provide the unavoidable push toward militarism, global expansion, aggression and conquest? Is it not the admitted case that the military-industrial complex is the engine of developed capitalism’s growth and has a vested interest in driving the world into inevitable conflict? Has the history of the world since 1945 provided sufficient proof of this inexorable phenomenon of capitalism’s inherent tendency towards war and conflict as the slave to the profit drive? True or not, these questions should act as warning beacons to the world today to learn the appropriate lessons from WWII and the enormous sacrifices it extracted, particularly from the Chinese people, and vow never again to allow the mistakes of this sorry past to be repeated. Capitalism or no, peace must be the destiny of the world if a better future is to beckon.