Moment of Truth
At one stroke the United States demolished the army’s loud claim that it had made Pakistan invulnerable to alien intrusions.
(A time will come) When from this God’s holy earth
All idols will be removed …”
– Faiz Ahmad Faiz
Faiz’s dream seems today to be on the way to fulfillment. The biggest idol in Pakistan has been its army. People had loved it to the point of deification for all of the three and sixty years of the country’s history. Today that love has turned into seething anger as they feel betrayed.
For times without number army chiefs have been proclaiming at their loudest that that they had made the country’s defense impregnable all the more because it possesses nuclear deterrence. But what happened on the night of May 1 at Abbottabad left not only the people at home but the whole world aghast.
Pakistan’s army and air force slept comfortably while the U.S. invaded Pakistan. Not one, but five of its he- licopters with Special Forces troops penetrated deep inside Pakistan, completed their mission on the ground comfortably and flew away as safely as they had come.
People had all along trusted the army blindly. In return for the army’s ‘sacrifices’ for the country, the people calmly reconciled to the denial of basic amenities such as education, health and potable drinking water to keep the army well-fed and well-shod. The largest single chunk of the national budget went to defense without any debate in the national assembly. To question the defense allocation was unpatriotic; to critique any general, sedition.
The people watched how the army performed in the fights with India in 1965, 1971 and 1999. The same, who are outraged when the national cricket team is routed, asked no question at the debacle of 1965, the surrender and loss of East Pakistan in 1971. Even when the army branched out into commercial and industrial enterprises; real estate, fertilizer, cement, corn flakes, goods transportation, catering, wedding halls and so forth, the people raised nary a finger.
Gushing with ambition the army first took upon itself the additional responsibility of what it called the ‘ideological frontiers of Pakistan.’ The term was never defined. But because it was a big word, the hoi polloi thought it was caviar to the general, too esoteric for their comprehension and let it go.
The next step was to defend the political frontiers against incursion by
politicians of the “wrong kind” and the deleterious effects of bad governance. Therefore, the generals took over the reins of government at frequent intervals and ruled the country for about half of its life, to set examples of good governance for politicians to follow.
Even when they were not directly ruling, they stayed in the wings and cast their shadow over the rulers. If the elected government was reluctant to kowtow, the generals promoted rival political alliances to overthrow it. Yet throughout, the people never wavered in their esteem for the army.
But May 2 suddenly changed all that. The raid by U.S. Special Forces on Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad proved the last straw on a rickety camel’s back. It was by all definitions an invasion. They flew deep into Pakistan with five helicopters, landed on the premises and carried out their operation with shooting and killing. They blew up a helicopter that had been damaged, took the bodies of Bin Laden and his son and flew away whistling as they had come.
It was midnight. All was quiet. Yet the defenders of the geographical and ideological frontiers of the country did not hear the sound of helicopters as they flew or the shooting or even the flames rising from the damaged helicopter the commandos had blown up.
This incident surpassed all the humiliations the army had brought unto itself and the country in the past. Even in 1971 it did at least put up a fight. But this was unique. Even Mike Mullen said that the raid was a “humbling experience” for the Pakistanis and that “their image has been tarnished” by it.
The American propaganda machine had hyped Bin Laden into a world figure as the most dangerous terrorist and Obama’s victory speech giving details of the raid was heard all over the world, from Norway to New Zealand. Therefore, Pakistan became an international laughing stock for failing to detect and prevent the intrusion of the raiders into its territory.
The incident has shaken the foundations of public trust in the armed forces. It is being widely argued that either the army was complicit in the operation, or it was incompetent in fulfilling its duty. But more weight is being given to the first possibility because people still cannot believe that our armed forces, which have to guard the nuclear arsenal as well, could be so inefficient. Or was it that the army offered no resistance because, as Gen. Kayani has been quoted saying, “We cannot fight America?”
The best and perhaps the only wise course for the army chief in the circumstances was to come clean and level with the people. Admitting a mistake is a sign of moral courage. Elsewhere in the world the chief would have resigned. But it seems the army still believes in its old tactics of suppressing criticism, forgetting that in this age of Twitter and Facebook and internet, even censorship cannot suppress information.
Yet, the “core” commanders’ conference of 9 June, instead of being
The incident has shaken the foundations of public trust in the armed forces. It is being widely argued that either the army was complicit in the operation, or it was incompetent in fulfilling its duty.
introspective and accepting blame, alleged that “some quarters, because of their perceptual biases, were trying to deliberately run down the Armed forces and the Army in particular.”
Meanwhile, Advocate Sardar Muhammad Ghazi has filed a petition in the Supreme Court against journalists, Ejaz Haider, Hamid Mir, Najam Sethi as well as Express Tribune and Geo News TV for “defaming Pakistan’s armed forces and its top spy agency,” who are “responsible for defending the geographical and ideological boundaries of Pakistan.” Because Ghazi is not the affected person, the petition has led to the suspicion that he has been put up by the army.
This is the moment of truth for Pakistan army. It needs as its first priority to take stock of the situation and set out with full vigor first to resuscitate and repair its “tarnished” image and then to recast it with a new sheen. Happily, Gen. Kayani has been showing lately that his is in full control of his wits and affairs he is dealing with.
Of late he has shown in his dealings with the United States that he is a “stand up guy” in the true sense of the term though George Bush gave this sobriquet to President Musharraf. As a first step he has sent away the U.S. troops who, in the garb of trainers collected intelligence and posed a threat to the country’s defence. And he has refused to blink before the threat of holding back 800 million dollars in military assistance in retaliation for the dismissal of the trainers.
If he continues to keep a stiff upper lip during the coming days and weeks, he is sure to receive unstinted popular support and at the same time take the institution he represents to a new high.