A khaki Re-think

The Pak­istan Armed Forces need a deep in­tro­spec­tion in or­der to re­align their tasks and pri­or­i­ties so that they can con­tinue to play their as­signed role in the ser­vice of the na­tion.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Chris Cork The writer is a Bri­tish so­cial worker set­tled in Pak­istan. He writes ex­ten­sively on Pak­istan’s do­mes­tic pol­i­tics and so­ci­ety.

Thus far 2011 has not been a good year for the Pak­istan Armed Forces. Pub­lic con­fi­dence in what is gen­er­ally ac­knowl­edged to be the most sta­ble and ef­fec­tive of all the state in­sti­tu­tions, has once again dipped. That con­fi­dence had been in large part re- stored with the suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tion to re­cap­ture the Swat val­ley from the Tal­iban; and the valiant res­cue and re­lief work car­ried out dur­ing the 2010 flood dis­as­ter. Six months later and with the hu­mil­i­a­tion of the Ab­bot­tabad raid on May 2nd which saw the death of Osama bin Laden, and the raid on PNS Mehran which saw Pak­istan’s anti-sub­ma­rine and mar­itime sur­veil­lance ca­pa­bil­ity ef­fec­tively wiped out, the Pak­istan mil­i­tary ma­chine is look­ing dis­tinctly care­worn. For the first time the mil­i­tary has been crit­i­cized pub­licly by the me­dia, and by par­lia­men­tar­i­ans who gen­er­ally take a ‘hands off’ ap­proach to mat­ters mil­i­tary. There are cred­i­ble re­ports that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen­eral Kayani has come un­der sharp ques­tion­ing from within the of­fi­cer cadre, and a nor­mally qui­es­cent civil so­ci­ety has found its voice and won­dered openly if the peo­ple of Pak­istan are get­ting value for money from the mil­i­tary.

With the sour­ing of re­la­tions with the Amer­i­cans post Ray­mond Davis af­fair and the bin Laden raid has now come a sus­pen­sion of mil­i­tary aid worth $800 mil­lion by the Amer­i­cans – much of which was owed un­der agree­ments within the Coali­tion sup­port fund (CSF) and which Amer­ica is sub­stan­tially in ar­rears of pay­ment of. The ‘ Pak­istan needs to do more’ mantra is the ac­com­pa­ny­ing mood mu­sic as ar­gu­ments rage about the use of the Shamsi air­base and bi­lat­eral in­tel­li­gence shar­ing is un­der­go­ing a sub­stan­tial over­haul as Pak­istan adopts a more as­sertive pos­ture.

The chal­lenges faced by the Pak­istan army in the short term are sub­stan­tial – and not purely mil­i­tary. The suc­cess of the Swat op­er­a­tion was par­tial rather than com­plete, and many of the top Tal­iban lead­er­ship in­clud­ing Maulana Fa­zlul­lah evaded cap­ture and have re­grouped on the Afghan side of Pak­istan’s north­west­ern bor-

ders with Afghanistan. From there they have been mount­ing an in­creas­ingly ef­fec­tive se­ries of raids into Pak­istan, al­legedly in com­pany with el­e­ments of the Afghan Tal­iban. Pak­istan moved in midJuly to strengthen bor­der de­fenses in the vul­ner­a­ble Up­per and Lower Dir ar­eas as well as Mohmand and Ba­jaur tribal agen­cies. The Chi­tral val­ley is vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack from Afghanistan and dif­fi­cult to de­fend. And no mat­ter what de­feat may be in­flicted on armed Tal­iban or ex­trem­ists, un­less there is an al­ter­na­tive nar­ra­tive, a re­think of ide­ol­ogy in those who sup­port them, then the bat­tle is never go­ing to be won.

In this the civil ad­min­is­tra­tion clearly have a lead role, but there are signs in Swat that they are slow to take over from the army and un­will­ing to move back into po­si­tions of civil ad­min­is­tra­tion. There is a dan­ger that the Tal­iban will find a way back if the civil power is un­able to as­sume ef­fec­tive con­trol – in which case the army will have to fight them all over again.

A chal­lenge which the army is be­ing forced by cir­cum­stance to con­front is that of ex­trem­ism within its own ranks. En­ti­ties such as armies are mi­cro­cosms of the so­ci­eties that they draw their re­cruits from. If so­ci­ety has be­come rad­i­cal­ized and has moved to­wards an ex­treme po­si­tion, then it fol­lows that the pool of re­cruits is go­ing to con­tain rad­i­cal­ized men and women who will join the army with an agenda very dif­fer­ent to that of the re­cruit­ing sergeant.

Rad­i­cal­iza­tion will also have been go­ing on within ex­ist­ing mem­bers of the forces, and there will be sym­pa­thiz­ers if not col­lab­o­ra­tors within those who are in touch with ex­trem­ist el­e­ments. This was ru­mored though not yet proven to be the case with the at­tack on PNS Mehran. Zia’s chil­dren are in the ranks and the of­fi­cer cadre – de­tect­ing, dis­em­pow­er­ing or re-ed­u­cat­ing them is a job that only the army can do for it­self, but a job that must be done if the most ef­fec­tive (for all its faults) or­gan of state is not to be­come de­based.

The army is cur­rently stretched by the nec­es­sary sup­port it of­fers for the civil power. Forces re­main in Swat and else­where that there has been fight­ing, and they can­not re­main there in­def­i­nitely. The mil­i­tary was pre-em­i­nent in res­cue and re­lief op­er­a­tions dur­ing the 2010 flood. It will be called on again in the fu­ture as that event is un­likely to be iso­lated and large-scale flood­ing will be a fea­ture of the fu­ture prob­lems faced by any gov­ern­ment. As has been the case in the past (2005 earth­quake for in­stance) the pub­lic pro­file and stand­ing of the Pak­istan armed forces rose al­most in syn­chronic­ity with their re­lief ef­forts. In that sense a bat­tered im­age was quickly and eas­ily re­stored, in main be­cause the Pak­istani col­lec­tive un­con­scious has a fa­mously short mem­ory. If the army is go­ing to con­tinue in this vi­tal role it is go­ing to need the re­sources and train­ing to de­liver the ser­vice the gov­ern­ment and the pub­lic ex­pect of it – and that may mean a re­align­ment of tasks and pri­or­i­ties at a time when bud­gets are tight­en­ing ev­ery­where.

And there lies both the rub and the great­est chal­lenge for the mil­i­tary of Pak­istan as well as the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ments of many other coun­tries, in­clud­ing those in the de­vel­oped world. Armies are ex­pen­sive ev­ery­where, and war fight­ing is ru­inously ex­pen­sive as the EU is dis­cov­er­ing yet again in its air cam­paign against Libya. Sol­diers are paid and bul­lets bought with tax­payer’s money, but in a coun­try like Pak­istan where the tax­payer is a tiny frac­tion of the work­force and of that tiny frac­tion an even tinier frac­tion ac­tu­ally pays its taxes. The state gen­er­ates in­suf­fi­cient rev­enue to sup­port even the most ba­sic of func­tions for a pop­u­la­tion that is grow­ing far faster than is sustainable. How much of a mil­i­tary ma­chine Pak­istan will be able to af­ford twenty years hence when the pop­u­la­tion may al­most have dou­bled; is a ques­tion that mil­i­tary plan­ners need to be ask­ing them­selves now, not ten years hence.

‘There is a greater need for the elected gov­ern­ment’s vis­i­bil­ity

in na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy for­mu­la­tion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing.’

- Maj. Gen. (R) Salim Ul­lah, for­mer Di­rec­tor Gen­eral, ISPR and for­mer Am­bas­sador to UAE

Would you say the im­age of Pak­istan Armed Forces has been im­pacted neg­a­tively as a re­sult of cer­tain re­cent events?

Yes, in­deed.

What are the fac­tors that have con­trib­uted to this cor­ro­sion in pub­lic per­cep­tion?

There have been sev­eral con­trib­u­tory fac­tors, the fore­most be­ing

com­pla­cency. Pak­istan Armed Forces have tra­di­tion­ally en­joyed a pos­i­tive pub­lic per­cep­tion. Not­with­stand­ing avoid­able pe­ri­odic for­ays into the po­lit­i­cal arena, the Armed Forces have been gen­er­ally re­spected as a dis­ci­plined and pro­fes­sional in­sti­tu­tion. In the present con­text, the mil­i­tary la­bored hard to re-es­tab­lish its im­age against heavy odds and tempt­ing provo­ca­tions. As a na­tional in­sti­tu­tion it lent un­qual­i­fied sup­port to the elected gov­ern­ment and helped sta­bi­lize a fledg­ling democ­racy.

In the con­text of the war on ter­ror the mil­i­tary stood solidly be­hind the po­lit­i­cal gov­ern­ment in build­ing a na­tional con­sen­sus to elim­i­nate the scourge of re­li­gious ex­trem­ism. At great cost to it­self and the na­tion, it re­cap­tured space lost to ex­trem­ism through sus­tained po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency. Re-tak­ing of Swat and South Waziris­tan in quick time and at low cost sur­prised even the in­sur­gents. Some ac­tions, in­clud­ing the brigade­sized he­li­borne op­er­a­tion at an un- prece­dented scale and al­ti­tude, are now a sub­ject of study in some mil­i­tary schools in the West.

The Great In­tel­li­gence De­ba­cle of Ab­bot­tabad has stunned the na­tion. While the mat­ter is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by a na­tional com­mis­sion and the mil­i­tary sep­a­rately, the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies must clean up their own sta­bles too. Be­ing the prima

donna of the in­tel­li­gence opera, the In­ter Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI) has far more to ex­plain. Com­plic­ity or in­com­pe­tence can­not be con­doned re­gard­less of the level. Over time, the agency had estab­lished its pro- fes­sional cre­den­tials and earned recog­ni­tion, of­ten grudg­ingly, from its over­seas com­peti­tors too. In the war on ter­ror its track record in bag­ging the largest num­ber of rank­ing Al-Qaeda and Tal­iban com­man­ders re­mains un­matched to date, even by CIA. The dis­il­lu­sion­ment was thus re-dou­bled; all its past feats stood dwarfed by the OBL de­ba­cle. CIA’s fail­ure on 9/11, MI6 fail­ure on 7/7

or RAW’s fail­ure on 26/11; none can si­lence the crit­ics who are bay­ing for blood. The OBL de­ba­cle was re­played at P.N.S. Mehran within 20 days with match­ing frus­tra­tion. The In­tel­li­gence Bureau (IB), CID or other civil­ian in­tel­li­gence agen­cies re­main largely un­ac­count­able as lit­tle in­tel­li­gence is ex­pected of them any­way. Also, their man­date is politico-ad­min­is­tra­tive rather than strate­gic.

The deaf­en­ing dis­con­nect by the es­tab­lish­ment - both civil and mil­i­tary - for over a fort­night after the OBL fi­asco added fuel to fire. It was gen­er­ally ex­pected that the Min­is­ter of In­for­ma­tion, with DG ISPR in at­ten­dance, would hold a com­pre­hen­sive me­dia brief­ing. Although the Par­lia­ment was briefed in cam­era by the DG ISI in keep­ing with the demo­cratic tra­di­tion, the peo­ple at large re­mained in the dark. A joint brief­ing would have cor­rected mis­per­cep­tions and nipped un­founded ru­mors. Pro­tracted of­fi­cial si­lence made mat­ters worse. The me­dia brief­ing by the Chief of Naval Staff rul­ing out a se­cu­rity lapse in the Mehran Base dis­as­ter was ill-ad­vised and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. The neg­a­tive per­cep­tion kept on thick­en­ing.

In­ad­e­quate trans­parency in cor­rec­tive action against meddlesome op­er­a­tives has been a com­mon source of neg­a­tive per­cep­tion. Com­plaints of arm twist­ing, in­tim­i­da­tion and in­ter­fer­ence, at times for per­sonal chores, by some in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials at­tracts flak upon the agency.

What steps should the Armed Forces take to im­prove their im­age?

There is a greater need for the elected gov­ern­ment’s vis­i­bil­ity in na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy for­mu­la­tion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing. The Troika meet­ings to over­see se­cu­rity man­age­ment are a wel­come mea­sure. How­ever, closer in­sti­tu­tional integration is called for be­tween the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment and the gov­ern­ment at var­i­ous con­sti­tu­tional tiers, viz, DCC, the Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee on Se­cu­rity, JCSC etc. In supreme na­tional in­ter­est, as in­deed in the in­ter­est of the Armed Forces, the cen­tre of grav­ity must be re­lo­cated where it right­fully be­longs.

The mil­i­tary must in­te­grate the rel­e­vant min­istry in me­dia pro­jec­tion. Important brief­ings and me­dia dis­sem­i­na­tion should be timely and held in­vari­ably un­der the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion. ISPR and other rel­e­vant fed­eral/ provin­cial min­istries should be rep­re­sented at ap­pro­pri­ate level for pro­fes­sional in­put. The re­cently or­ga­nized me­dia con­fer­ence on ter­ror­ism by ISPR in Swat on 5 July 2011, ad­dressed by the Prime Min­is­ter and the COAS, is a step in the right di­rec­tion and should go a long way in cor­rect­ing the mis­per­cep­tion. How­ever, the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion must be in the fore-front of such ini­tia­tives.

The mil­i­tary must

in­te­grate the rel­e­vant min­istry

in me­dia pro­jec­tion. Important brief­ings and

me­dia dis­sem­i­na­tion should be timely and held in­vari­ably un­der the Min­istry

of In­for­ma­tion.

How far do you think me­dia has in­flu­enced the think­ing of the gen­eral pub­lic?

Greatly. The elec­tronic me­dia in Pak­istan wit­nessed un­prece­dented mush­room­ing dur­ing the Mushar­raf era. Lib­er­al­iza­tion of li­cens­ing con­trols brought in scores of new chan­nels over night. Me­dia’s pro­cliv­ity for the hy­per­bole - man bit­ing dog syn­drome - is uni­ver­sally ac­cepted. The new en­trants com­peted in sen­sa­tion­al­ism cross­ing all lim­its of me­dia ethics. ‘Break­ing News’ be­came the buzz word to at­tract au­di­ences, qual­ity or cred­i­bil­ity re­gard­less. News chan­nels sel­dom cross-checked au­then­tic­ity in the race to be the first to break news. The fa­mous dic­tum of Lester Markel (18941977), “What you see is news, what you know is back­ground, what you feel is opin­ion”, was fla­grantly vi­o­lated. It is still dif­fi­cult at times to dis­cern news from the opin­ion of the an­chor or the me­dia group.

The new breed of jour­nal­ists that emerged soon started en­joy­ing prox­im­ity to in­sti­tu­tions and in­ter­ests with their slanted re­port­ing. Se­ri­ous panel dis­cus­sions de­scended into shout­ing matches which be­came the hall­mark of some chan­nels or an­chors. Bar­ring honor­able ex­cep­tions which con­tinue to be pop­u­lar among the in­tel­li­gentsia, most chan­nels or an­chors have lost se­ri­ous view­er­ship. Rather than pro­mot­ing en­light­ened

aware­ness, the new trend spreads de­mor­al­iza­tion. The Es­tab­lish­ment and in­cum­bent po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship has be­come pop­u­lar punch­ing bags, the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment top­ping the honors list.

With the Global War on Ter­ror (GWOT) con­flict re­port­ing has be­come the new genre of jour­nal­ism. The chal­lenge and glit­ter both are too tempt­ing to re­sist. The ad­vent of em­bed­ded jour­nal­ist in Iraq and later in Afghanistan has put paid to in­de­pen­dent re­port­ing. Closer at home, young fix­ers roam ho­tel lob­bies boast­ing elite con­tacts and rel­ish­ing gen­er­ous re­tain­ers. Some oth­ers have be­come gen­uine sup­port­ers of one ide­o­log­i­cal cleav­age or the other. Me­dia re­port­ing thus has be­come murkier. Like a se­nior me­dia per­son­al­ity re­marked,” It is dif­fi­cult to iden­tify friend from foe.”

On the pos­i­tive side, how­ever, the honor­able ex­cep­tions in both print and elec­tronic me­dia con­tinue with their ob­jec­tive re­port­ing. Lib­er­al­iza­tion only seems to have for­ti­fied their re­solve in pro­mot­ing healthy jour­nal­ism. They do not pull punches where it is nec­es­sary and un­leash con­struc­tive, un­bi­ased and ma­ture crit­i­cism for course cor­rec­tion.

How can me­dia play a more pos­i­tive role in safe­guard­ing the na­tional in­ter­est?

Me­dia is the first line of de­fence of a na­tion’s core in­ter­ests. Like an ever alert watch­dog, it mon­i­tors en­croach­ments from within and without and fires off the first salvo in de­fence. In­deed, the me­dia strength­ens the gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion in ne­go­ti­a­tions by light­ing up red lines in ad­vance. An illustration here may be in or­der from across the east­ern bor­der where the me­dia is reg­u­larly briefed be­fore bi­lat­eral meet­ings and scrupu­lously projects the line given by South Block. To be able to do so ef­fec­tively, how­ever, the me­dia needs to be fre­quently ed­u­cated by the Es­tab­lish­ment on the core na­tional in­ter­ests and nu­ances thereto.

It is heart­en­ing to see that a Me­dia Code of Ethics has been de­vel­oped unan­i­mously by CPNE, APNS and PFUJ some time back. Its im­ple­men­ta­tion, how­ever, leaves much to be de­sired. The code needs to be re­vis­ited and a mech­a­nism evolved to mon­i­tor vi­o­la­tions and ini­ti­ate cor­rec­tive action. Like­wise, se­nior me­dia lead­er­ship had jointly and vol­un­tar­ily evolved an in­for­mal code of DOs and DON’Ts with the ISPR in 1996. The code was fol­lowed by most me­dia groups in let­ter and spirit and a healthy me­dia-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship pre­vailed till Novem­ber 1999.

The me­dia’s role as the na­tion’s all-weather om­buds­man must be duly rec­og­nized. It has served as, and must con­tinue to be, the per­ma­nent NAB for all walks of life, not least the Es­tab­lish­ment. Any mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tions of the tax payer’s money or wrong­do­ings must con­tinue to be un­earthed. No holy cows need be spared un­less they are holy.

What steps should the Armed Forces take to counter at­tacks on its good im­age in the fu­ture?

It must be re­mem­bered that the at­tacks had been di­rected from the Western me­dia and were mostly in­spired through leaks. The na­tional me­dia lifted these at­tacks and fore­warned. The pres­sure should have been ex­pected since the Ray­mond Davis af­fair, if not ear­lier. The need for the Armed Forces was to be proac­tive and take guard. Let the onus of prov­ing OBL’s death lie with the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion who may time its dis­clo­sure to make a fi­nal ‘kill’ in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. Mean­while, we must plug loop-holes in our net­work.

In­sur­gency and the low in­ten­sity Mehran car­nage may not be the end of the menu: more in­ci­dents of co­er­cion should not be ruled out.

The need for integration of all in­tel­li­gence re­sources, civil­ian and mil­i­tary, can hardly be over-stated. There is a need for a Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Cell to pool in and task all in­tel­li­gence as­sets for the war on ter­ror. IB and CID must be tasked to cover the rear ar­eas and re­vamped. This will en­able ISI to di­vert its ef­forts to strate­gic in­tel­li­gence and counter-in­tel­li­gence which is its pri­mary do­main.

Is the ISPR play­ing its due role in pro­mot­ing the im­age of the Armed Forces in the cor­rect per­spec­tive?

The ISPR has ac­quit­ted it­self well by and large, given its di­verse hand­i­caps. There is al­ways room for im­prove­ment, how­ever. But it is a gi­gan­tic task. Be­ing a na­tional cause, it should be a na­tional re­sponse. Be­sides nec­es­sary ca­pac­ity build­ing, ISPR needs un­re­served sup­port from other state or­gans, the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion in par­tic­u­lar. It is the Min­istry which should co­or­di­nate and ar­tic­u­late the re­sponse. Var­i­ous me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions, me­dia groups and NGOs need to ex­tend their sup­port to this na­tional cause, po­lit­i­cal in­cli­na­tions not­with­stand­ing. Let there be an AMAN KI AASHA for Swat and FATA.

In the present times im­age build­ing is a spe­cial­ized, highly skilled and softly man­aged task. It is con­ceived, ar­chi­tec­tured and ex­e­cuted by pro­fes­sion­als. There is a sub­tle line defin­ing im­age pro­mo­tion from pro­pa­ganda. If crudely done, it can be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. To this end, ISPR would be well-ad­vised to seek pro­fes­sional con­sul­ta­tion.

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