Not for Rent
What was really behind all those stories that a large contingent of Pakistani soldiers may be sent to Syria? Political analysts initially talked of a few divisions of the Pakistan Army being sent to the Middle Eastern country currently caught in a civil war that does not seem to be ending soon. Then the figure ballooned to 100,000 troops. It was surmised that since Pakistan had been generous enough to send its soldiers to the Middle East on so many occasions before, it would do so again. Instances quoted in this connection was the flushing out of Iranian rebels from the Khana-e-Kaaba by Pakistani commandos back in the 80s, Pakistani pilots flying on behalf of the Palestinians and downing Israeli aircraft, or Bahrain recruiting troops from Pakistan in 2011 to stamp out a rebellion. Perhaps what boosted the rumours was the fact that Pakistan has a large professional army and has been one of the largest contributors to UN Peace Keeping forces around the world. Then there was the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince, Salman bin Abdul Aziz’s to Pakistan, in the wake of which, Saudi Arabia made a ‘gift’ of about $1.5 billion to Pakistan. The visit of Bahrain’s King, Hamad bin Isa bin Salman al Khalifa and earlier that of the Kuwaiti prime minister, also drove the rumor mills to work overtime. While it was thought that the visit by the Bahraini King was basically aimed at upgrading trade and investment links between Pakistan and Bahrain, it later transpired that the Bahrainis seemed to be more interested in enhancing defense links with Pakistan.
It was good that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif put the rumours to rest when he categorically stated that Pakistan had no plans at all to send troops to fight the forces of Bashar Assad in Syria, nor had his government been asked to do so. It is clear that sending Pakistani troops to Syria or any Gulf country for that matter would be a risky and even dangerous business. But beyond that, it is not conceivable how any national army with a high reputation for professionalism could be available against a certain financial consideration, no matter how precarious the country’s own economic conditions. Does it ever happen that when a country raises a fighting force, whether large or small, it has somewhere in the back of its mind a mercenary role for this force? How could then the idea of sending Pakistani forces on fighting duties to some part of the world ever germinate in someone’s mind? Why was it even thought possible that Pakistan would ever accept the idea of sending such a large slice of its troops to fight another country’s war? The originators of the idea perhaps did not even stop to think that if the Pakistani army got itself embroiled in another Islamic country such as Syria, whose side would it be on – the anti-Assad Sunnis or the Alawite Shias who comprise the Syrian government led by Bashar al Assad? Since Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which are predominantly Sunni, would have been involved in acquiring the services of the Pakistan army, it would have obviously been fighting on the side of the Sunnis and against the Syrian government. Pakistan has always enjoyed friendly relations with Syria so would its army fight against this country? Furthermore, if this happened, where would the Pakistan armed forces stand in the eyes of their own population which is predominantly Sunni but has a fair mix of Shias? It is obvious that if the Pakistan Army’s top brass were confronted with the requirement of sending a large body of troops to fight in Syria, it must have shot down the suggestion in its very infancy, saying it was best to keep away from Syria’s internal matters. Pakistan needs to take a tough stand on such quixotic ideas for future reference as well. No doubt that Pakistan has the 6th largest army in the world but no part of this army is available for rent and there is no question that the best place for the troops is to be in Pakistan, either guarding the national borders or fighting the militants.