Mo­ment of Truth

At one stroke the United States de­mol­ished the army’s loud claim that it had made Pak­istan in­vul­ner­a­ble to alien in­tru­sions.

Southasia - - Cover story - By S.G. Ji­la­nee The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer editor of Southa­sia Mag­a­zine.

(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.

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