Changing Times


Pakistan’s constitutional crisis will soon come to a head, in the meantime no business will be transacted in the houses of Parliament, which is about par for the democratic course anyway.  An 11-member Committee comprising both Coalition and Opposition representatives (five members each) was due to assemble to sort out the LFO impasse. Opposed tooth and nail by the Opposition, Ch Shujaat Hussain resigned as Chairman and gave way to Ch Amir Hussain, Speaker of the National Assembly. Very coincidentally and thanks to Yashwant Sinha’s “pre-emptive strike” gaffe, there were dramatic developments because Vajpayee’s sudden offer on talks on all issues including Kashmir, whether the India-Pakistan de-freeze goes any distance is still a matter of conjecture that depends upon the prevailing mood of India’s Parliament, they are enough mixed signals going around to confuse even the most adroit and knowledgeable of analysts. While fully engaged in domestic and external issues, what are the primary lessons we have learnt from Iraq i.e.; if we have learnt any lessons at all?

The first lesson must be that things are not what they seem to be, that perception must not obscure actual facts. The Coalition went to war, ostensibly to  (1) emasculate Iraq’s capacity to wage war using its suspected cache of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs) (2) to effect regime change and (3) to destroy a perceived nexus between WMDs and international terrorism.  Most muslims, and primarily Arabs, felt that these objectives were simply camouflage meant to hide the Coalition real aims i.e. (1) seize Iraq’s rich resources of oil wealth and (2) establish a long-term presence in Iraq that would facilitate dominance of the oil-rich region. The Coalition felt that the “liberation of Iraq” would cause a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude in the streets, on the other hand the Arabs hoped that the Iraqis would keep fighting a guerilla war long after actual combat operations were over, they did not expect the war to end so suddenly. Both assumptions were proved incorrect. The Coalition’s pronounced successful strategy was a high-tech “shock and awe” cataclysmic strike followed by a blitzkrieg cutting through the Iraqi Army like knife through butter, the blitzkrieg did happen but only against token resistance, most of the fighting was done by individual units and stray Fedayeen groupings.  It is now clear that commanders up the line had been bought over by a combination of fear and the green of US Dollars, Tommy Franks may be clairvoyant but even he could not know that all highways and bridges would be usable and that not even one stretch of road would be mined. The war can be labeled as one of “shock and stealth”, right upto capturing Baghdad without a fight, far earlier than expected. With very few US troops available for policing, the resultant looting was been catastrophic for Iraqi society. In retrospect it is a good thing that the much promised Iraqi warfare remained a figment of imagination, the ensuing destruction would have been meaningless in relation to the end result.

Having won the war in the “fastest movement in history”, to quote US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, one hopes that military analysts will not come to the wrong conclusions about how to conduct future operations.  In military terms Mr Rumsfeld just got away by the skin of his teeth from a military disaster, if Iraq’s regular army had shown even an iota of willingness to fight, Rumsfeld’s grand high-tech strategy would have been in tatters. Leaving such a long and vulnerable Lines of Communication (L of C) was potentially disastrous militarily, had the resistance been organized around numerous but well dispersed small sub-units that gave “soft targets” to blunt the high-tech Coalition air capability, the resultant low-tech war would have tied the invading forces for weeks. The Coalition Command well knew that Iraq’s military was abstaining from the fight, from the evidence at hand even the Republican Guard formations were in no mood to die for Saddam Hussain.

The second major lesson is also military, when your air defences cannot give you air parity, then armour and artillery assets must be well dispersed and constantly on the move. Because of enhanced electronic warfare capability communications must be decentralized down from the formation to the unit/sub-unit level, commanders down the line must be trained to fight individual battles and not keep waiting for orders. In fact armoured vehicles (what known armour can deflect the present missile-penetration capability?) can be a huge disadvantage in the present military circumstances. The modern fighting vehicle should be four-wheeled drives like the Toyota Pick-up, the Somalis showed the way in the early 1990s by arming these with heavy machine guns and carrying anti-tank rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, the “Technical” became a lethal and very mobile armed functionary. Carrying a four-five man crew alongwith anti-tank mines and even hand-held surface-to-air weapons, it is the modern face of warfare to counter high-tech capabilities. After all what is the “Humvee” but a US military version of the “Technical”?  Someone in Pakistan’s military hierarchy should already be thinking of raising permanent units like the “Long Range Desert Group” (LRDG) that the Britsh used in the Western Desert in World War 2. And while one is at it why not have at least two sniper rifles per infantry section i.e. 6 to a platoon, 18 to a rifle company, at least 72 in an infantry battalion?

Iraq may have lost the battle for Baghdad, despite the doomsday scenario the constant refrain from all factions, except perhaps some elements among the Kurds is that Iraq must remain one, Iraq for the Iraqis, all Iraqis for one Iraq.  And as much as various groups are jockeying for position, almost every one has that single chant, US forces should leave Iraq as soon as possible. For a country that has seen over three decades of autocratic, sadistic dictatorship, the citizens are surprisingly quite conscious (and vocal) about their nationhood. For them Iraq comes first, everything else afterwards. That is a tremendous lesson for all Pakistanis, many of whom give lip-service to “Pakistan First” but when required to give their ultimate, are usually found wanting.  It is for the Pakistani media to pick up this refrain, God knows we need the strength of unity as one, single sovereign entity now more than before.  We may disagree with each other on any number of issues, on the concept of nationhood there is no ambiguity and no dissent.

Pakistan’s economy has shown definite signs of stability and improvement, a cause effect of good economic governance practiced over the past half a dozen years, but most forcefully during the last three of military rule. The emphasis on development of Gwadar and ancillary facilities, etc is brilliant, this will keep the construction industry humming. Emphasis is also rightly being put on agriculture finance, housing finance and consumer lending with special emphasis on auto and motorcycle finance. If credit disbursement (and repayment thereof) can be closely monitored, the economic cycle will force-multiply into an economic boon.  What we do need is careful management selection in keeping with the industry and service requirement, we cannot afford passengers. People should not be chosen only on the basis of loyalty to the individual but on merit based on their competence. During normal times this may not matter, in a crunch the whole edifice may come crumbling down as it has in Iraq. Iraq had the sustenance of oil wealth to fall back upon, we must look for force multiplying our strength where it matters most, by successfully exploiting the merit of our talented manpower potential.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).