The Pakistani military is caught in an image crisis and is fighting hard to regain its lost prestige as a guardian of the nation’s geographical and ideological frontiers.
Our cover story this month attempts to highlight the role of Pakistan’s armed forces in upholding the sovereignty of the country and how it can regain the
confidence of the people.
Democracy being the cementing factor for Pakistan’s unity is good in theory, the hard fact remains that it is the Armed Forces that cements the unity. Thus, the Army has an inherent responsibility to ensure that even as it remains the prime guarantor of our sovereignty it does not become masters of the realm. But more often than not it does exactly that because of circumstances, not necessarily out of choice. This, coupled with other factors has made the Army vulnerable to the propaganda of external forces that are inimical to the existence of Pakistan. One can understand the motive behind the bile and venom that flows across international borders. Many within the country who are either ignorant about the crass motives of the cheerleaders against the uniform, or are on the payroll of their masters abroad, jump onto the bandwagon. The aim is the destruction of whatever is left of the Pakistan that came into existence after 1971. Every Pakistani knows that our nuclear prowess acts as the strongest deterrent; guarding our freedom, it acts as a bulwark against adventurism.
One of the prime ploys since centuries is that if you cannot beat somebody on the battlefield, use psychological and other forms of subterfuge to undercut the base of support and gain victory, hence, the resort to psychological warfare or Psy war in the form of propaganda to discredit and defame the Pakistan Army. Make no mistake, the ultimate aim is to rid us of our nuclear capability. The reality of a nuclear-armed Muslim country just does not go down well with the world where the bogey of Islamic terrorism was carefully created with a purpose.
A concerted campaign has been set in motion to defame the Army with the ISI taking the brunt of the assaults. While the foreign media has been especially vocal in maligning and condemning the ISI; a section of our own media has followed suit without worrying about the consequences. After the kidnapping and murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, a section of our media went overboard alleg- ing ISI’s involvement in the affair; this was not only unfair, it bordered on irresponsible reporting. The media must not indulge in speculation - this is one of the basic laws of fair and accurate reporting. The effects of pollution and vitiation unleashed against the ISI are now discernible in a section of our media. Many of those who are spreading venom and hatred on the electronic and print media may certainly have very justifiable grievances because of excesses against them during Martial Laws (and even afterwards). The unfortunate fact, however, is that even those with motivated bias and/or even a paid agenda, cannot justify the scathing denunciation of the entire Army’s rank and file even as they are fighting and dying for what is essentially the sins of the few. It is in our self-interest to sustain and motivate this fine Army and not resort to selfflagellation. Criticism, if any, should be well-conceived and objectively targeted without slurring the reputation of the Army as a whole.
On July 8, the New York Times in its editorial claimed that the Obama administration has evidence implicating the ISI in the Shahzad killing and that new intelligence indicates that senior ISI officials ordered the attack to silence him. This was followed by comments by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen that the Pakistani government had “sanctioned” the killing of Shahzad but he
did not tie the death to the ISI. This is how wars are fought today, by disseminating disinformation, pure and simple and the government of Pakistan has been left to fend off these allegations as best as it can. These accusations have been made without proof, at least none has been provided but such is the power of the media today that once the seeds of doubt have been sowed nothing else matters - the Army and the ISI stand “disgraced” once again. It does not stop there. The NY Times then urges the U.S. “to use its influence to hasten Mr. Pasha’s departure. It should tell Pakistan’s security leadership that if Washington identifies anyone in the ISI or the army as abetting terrorists, those individuals will face sanctions like travel bans or other measures. The ISI has become inimical to Pakistani and American interests.”
The NY Times is considered to be a newspaper with a fine reputation; however, to even suggest that the U.S. demand the removal of the head of an intelligence agency of a sovereign nation, one that is touted as an ally in the war on terror and is also a major nonNATO ally, amounts to gross interference in our national affairs. The case of Raymond Davis is still fresh in our minds. Davis was a CIA contractor who was arrested for killing two Pakistani civilians but everyone in Washington from the President down asserted he was protected by diplomatic immunity which certainly was not the case. So much pressure was exerted that Pakistan had to release Davis. Such are the lengths that those with vested interests will go to arm-twist Pakistan and malign the Pakistan Army. It is time for those representatives of the people that one truly had faith and trust in to not join the “criticism” bandwagon without thinking about the motive behind the barrage of lies and half-truths that appear so consistently and the consequences that will befall upon the country. The ISI is our first line of defence against external enemies and the attacks on the Army and the ISI have grave repercussions for us.
However, one must accept the erosion in the Army’s image on a number of counts internally. One of the scandals came, rightly and wrongly, from managing the Defence Housing Authorities (DHAs) in Karachi and Lahore. Some individuals have made billions in real estate transactions. The whole military gets a bad name by plot manipulations by the ‘untouchables.’ To safeguard against this an internal confidential accountability process should ensure a maximum of one house in the army housing scheme. Gen. Kayani is distancing the Army from politics (and from the bureaucracy); he should also give priority to distancing the Army from the undeserved perception of pervasive corruption. The National Accountability Bureau has prosecuted many bureaucrats for “living beyond their means,” yet those in uniform clearly breaking the same covenant have escaped justice.
Military procurement is another area that the Army gets a bad name for but corruption in military purchases is not Pakistan-specific; it is rampant all over the world. However, two wrongs do not make a right and if the laws are followed to the letter and the principals or their agents (or lobbyists) are discouraged, corruption can be rooted out but this will take time because these agents wield considerable clout and have their roots deep inside the corridors of power. It is our misfortune that despite a wealth of evidence available (and flagrantly displayed commensurate affluence) not a single agent has been prosecuted.
Both the civil and military media units have not done a good job of projecting the army’s image abroad where it counts. A comprehensive media strategy must incorporate the new ground realities with image-building handed over to professionals who ex- cel as specialists. Some of the most effective means of neutralizing negativity against the Army and the uniform, as spelt out by a dynamic advertising entrepreneur, are, (1) counter misunderstandings through change campaign and (2) create positive news towards the agenda of Pakistan. In countering misunderstandings one has to (1) do damage control on a day to day basis (2) announce process of change and candidly explain situations, challenges and plans for progress within the military (3) facelift all existing touch points including TV Ads, songs, online touch points and others around this process of change (4) remind the public of past and present achievements and (5) emphasize young military faces for greater connection with the audience. In short the military has to be more transparent and more proactive.
The Army has no reason to be defensive, especially because of the vagaries of a few misguided individuals and has nothing to be ashamed of. The Abbottabad incident was especially damaging for the Army’s reputation but despite this, recent polls conducted by external agencies show that 79% of the people of Pakistan still retain immense faith in them. This is an indication of the trust and esteem of the people in their Armed Forces, where the Army is especially adulated.
In a welcome change from the past, the Army is being taken in the right direction by Gen Kayani, re-focusing army officers on the task of securing the country from terrorists rather than playing politics or vying for public perks. The Army is crucial to our existence as a nation, whatever the democratic nature of its Constitution and they remain the guardians of the integrity and the sovereignty of the State.
Pakistan’s military needs
the nation’s support.