Saturday, October 15, 2016
Business Recorder editorial Oct 15, 2016
Corps Commanders’ Conference Corps Commanders’ conferences are normally routine affairs, but in the present circumstances, they have added importance. Thus the Corps Commanders’ Conference on October 14, presided over by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif, was seized of the challenges on the external defence and internal security fronts. The external context focused on the prevailing environment on the Line of Control (LoC) and operational preparedness of the army to defend the country against the full spectrum of threat. The top commanders warned the enemy that any misadventure would evoke a telling response. Full spectrum includes direct and indirect, conventional and non-conventional threats. The Conference rejected the Indian claim of having carried out surgical strikes on this side of the LoC as an attempt to divert the world’s attention from the brutalities being committed by the Indian army and security forces against the people of Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). India initially trumpeted its ‘surgical strikes’ as an ostensible response to the attack on the Uri Indian army base in IHK in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed. India had tried to pin the blame for the Uri attack on Pakistan. Hence the so-called ‘surgical strikes’ riposte. However, this whole farce has by now had the wind taken out of its sails because of India’s inability to produce any evidence of the ‘surgical strikes’ to satisfy not only the world, but even its own sceptical domestic public opinion. The coup de grace to the stillborn claim was finally rendered by India’s home minister, who confessed to German diplomats that the whole thing was a “bluff”. The entire episode has left Modi’s government with more than a little egg on its face. As to the internal security imperatives, COAS General Raheel Sharif called for sustained efforts to defeat all hostile attempts to reverse the gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. This counterinsurgency offensive in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) had either wiped out or forced any surviving terrorists to retreat across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Although reports speak of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) being hosted in eastern Afghanistan by the Haqqani network and making the occasional attempted foray across the divide, the force deployment in the area seems sufficient to contain and minimise all such efforts. However, the twin requirement of a counterterrorism campaign still leaves something to be desired. There are still lingering questions about coordination between the civilian and military sides of the equation, as well as between the federal government and the provinces. What makes this inherently complicated structure more prone to shortcomings is the absence of a coordinating centre, housing a comprehensive intelligence data base and the mandate to ensure all the component parts of the required intelligence-based anti-terrorist operations, civil and military, federal and provincial, click together like a well lubricated machine. This role was theoretically envisaged for the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), but this organisation has by now been instead subsumed as just another component of the National Action Plan (NAP), without the clout or ability to carry out its originally conceived role. Hopefully the experience of counterterrorism actions since the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb has accumulated enough wisdom to overcome this lacuna and make the counterterrorism effort more effective. Last but not least, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) issued a statement that the issue of the Dawn story that led to its staff member Cyrus Almeida’s name being placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) had been discussed in the Corps Commanders meeting. The commanders expressed serious concern over the feeding of a false and fabricated story about an important security meeting and viewed it as a breach of national security. Now logically a ‘false and fabricated’ story cannot produce a breach of national security precisely because it is untrue. The military cannot have it both ways. Either the story had the veracity to breach national security since it was true, or it did not because it was not. Nevertheless, the military’s concern about ‘leaks’ regarding such sensitive meetings is understandable. Fortunately, Almeida’s name has been now taken off the ECL, but the continuing investigation, as emphasised by federal interior minister Chaudhry Nisar, means we may not have heard the last of this furore just yet.