Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Time is Running Out by Masood Sharif Khan Khattak

Mr Masood Sharif Khan Khattak, Former Director General of The Intelligence Bureau, Government of Pakistan

Time is Running Out by Masood Sharif Khan Khattak, Dated, May 17, 2009

The fresh military operation in Swat, launched with a lot of fanfare, is underway. The army will, undoubtedly, roll over the disturbed areas and it shall look as if the militants have been completely wiped out. But then this is where reality takes over from the apparent. It is a known fact that unconventional forces/insurgents never put up a pitched battle against an advancing and angry regular army. They wait for the army to tire itself through days of operations incited by sporadic acts of violence, ambushes, raids etc in the entire disturbed area so that the army extends itself, dissipates its resources and extends its lines of communications thus opening itself to more attacks in terms of raids, ambushes and other violent acts. For the insurgents this can take days, weeks, months or even years. They have all the time in the world to fight when they want to and wherever it suits their purpose. This is what the Pakistan Army needs to guard against. It should locate itself in the disturbed areas in order to help the civil structure take root again rather than tire itself running after shadows over inhospitable terrain.

We must understand that the Pakistan Army, Navy and the Air Force are Pakistan’s first as well as last line of defence. Now that we are in the grip of internal disorders the armed forces, essentially the army, have become our last line of defence. What will happen if this institution somehow suffers back-breaking defeats and the insurgents are able to control large tracts of the country? Must Pakistan let that happen? The answer is an obvious no. But when the army is deployed to fight a seemingly endless insurgency of the intensity that we are today witnessing, all on its own, the results have to be detrimental.

We need to now understand that military actions that cause disruption to normal civic life in the country will always be something that favours the militants. Today, the entire country is in a state of siege. The question that begs an answer is regarding who actually is winning this war, the state or the militants? Most people would say that the militants seem to have the upper hand because the state is getting more and more stuck in quicksand and is steadily losing its ability to maintain its writ. Under the garb of security the sycophants have bottled up the leadership at the local level, the provincial and the federal level so that then they themselves can rule on behalf of the actual rulers at all levels.

Time is, indeed, running out for Pakistan. It is never going to be enough to throw the Pakistan Army into an endless cycle of counterinsurgency operations and then hope for a turn around. What will be of help are political actions at all levels aimed at providing a normal civic life to the citizens of Pakistan whether they live in small remotely located villages or in the bigger cities. The army should then form the punch under which the launching of those initiatives is possible - a punch that builds confidence in the population of the disturbed areas to carry on living in their homes because of just the simple presence of the army in the area. Under the cover of that punch the revival of the civil machinery in all disturbed areas must take place immediately and when the population of an area realizes that the state of Pakistan is there to make life better for them in terms of civic amenities, schools and colleges for their coming generations, hospitals to provide them health care when they need it most the state would have attained a decisive victory.

While dealing with the present crisis the Pakistan Army’s deterrent potential and its military balance needs to be kept intact in order to save Pakistan’s integrity from suffering a grievous blow. Most Pakistanis would agree that today, when Pakistan is in the grip of intense militancy, the Pakistan Army is the last hope to keep Pakistan intact. The Pakistani nation must understand clearly that the target of any internal or external force that is interested in weakening and disintegrating Pakistan is none other than the Pakistan Army itself. When, and if ever, those forces achieve the aim of neutralizing the Pakistan Army the disintegration of Pakistan would be a natural corollary. Therefore, people who matter have to join heads and hands immediately in order to make Pakistan cohesive all over again.

It has to be unambiguously said that, at present, it is the admirable level of patriotism of the Pakhtuns that is saving Pakistan from a very ugly situation. However, aspects like these are never permanent and should not be taken as granted. We must remember that the Bengalis were perfectly patriotic Pakistanis too but are now very patriotic Bangladeshis after events pushed them away from Pakistan. We must learn from our own history and rectify the overall national situation through good statecraft backed by a strong military before time actually runs out on Pakistan. It is clear that blazing guns, tanks and gunship helicopters alone will not retrieve the situation for Pakistan unless unprecedented and bold political and developmental initiatives are taken.

The writer is a former director-general of the Intelligence Bureau and former vice-president of the PPP Parliamentarians. Email:

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