In a recent article Battered, But Still Afloat, British author Anatol Lieven speaks about the resilience of the Pakistani society. While reviewing various strands of the society, Lieven lists the extended family and the Army as the two institutions that, he says, have been central reasons why crises that would have sunk other states have left Pakistan battered, but still afloat.
“The centrality of the Army to Pakistan’s existence and future has been demonstrated both by its victory over the Pakistani Taliban and by China’s commitment to CPEC and its associated projects, which was made possible by the defeat of the Pakistani Taliban,” Lieven says. In addition to ongoing military operations against terrorist outfits, the Army has been assisting civil authorities in management of natural calamities as well.
Rescue and relief operations carried following the 2005 earthquake, the massive floods of 2010 and 2011, and the recent torrential rains in Karachi are just a few examples.
A gallery in the Pakistan Army Museum – devoted to the evolution of the global war on terrorism and the military’s operations in the Pak- Afghan border areas since December 2001 – offers a chilling reminder of the sacrifices that this country and its Armed forces have rendered.
The subversion of the Constitution and self-serving socio-political engineering adventures by military generals like Ziaul Haq (Islamisation) and Pervaiz Musharraf (ill-conceived enlightened moderation) obscures a lot of good that the Armed forces have done for their country.
Sucked into affairs of electoral politics, the Army officers are expected to go by the cardinal principles taught to them in training: command and obey.
To our misfortune, such episodes have only served to distort the country’s political economy and stunt the growth of other national institutions like the judiciary, interior and foreign affairs ministries, and provincial police departments.
Former Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani had admitted this in a detailed interaction with a group of policy experts and journalists in September 2009. He told us that negative consequences of Army’s involvement in politics had led them to step back. He recalled that soon after the March 2008 elections, he had requested all party heads at a meeting at the Prime Minister’s House to avoid involving the Army in their party matters. “We will follow your command whenever needed but try avoiding calling us out to dealing with political situations,” Kayani recalled as saying to then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani and others.
Kayani also spelt out the course the Army was to take from then onwards with regards to outfits challenging the writ of the state. Under this policy, the Awami National Party (ANP) had been requested to guide talks with the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) chief Maulana Sufi Mohammad. By May 2009, the ANP had figured that talks were hardly of any use in solving the crisis, Kayani told us.
Under Kayani, the military establishment had also reached the conclusion that there would be no more talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The PML-N government did give talks a shot in early 2014, but as forecasted by observers, that turned out to be a futile attempt. The Army followed up with Operation Zarb-e-Azb that continues to date as Operation Raddul Fassad, with varying degrees of success against militant groups.
Even foreign observers, including US Army generals such David Petreus, Admiral M. Mullen, and General Nicholson as well as the former UK Army chief General Dave Richards, have lauded these counter-terrorism operations.
Notwithstanding the Army’s involvement in politics in the past, its efforts against terrorist outfits remain laudable.
Since the Army Public School tragedy, the Army has led paramilitary forces, civilian intelligence and police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to identify, divide, degrade and eventually neutralise several terror groups.
The terror threat still at hand is primarily a consequence of deterioration in Pakistan’s relations with India and Afghanistan. Also, our partnership with the United States in the latter’s war against terrorism has been given as reason for violence against the state by groups such as Al-Qaeda or Daesh.
Progress on these two fronts would require both the Army and the civilians to think and act in unison. The way they did in response to President Donald Trump’s recent diatribe against Pakistan.