Lessons from History


The lessons of realpolitik emerging from Afghanistan are extremely scary for countries hard put to defend themselves, both physically against aggression as well as targetted media campaigns that may be less than liberal with the truth. Before the two World Wars, the major powers would decide the fate of nations at their will, which country could or could not exist, and if they should exist, in what form? A de facto government-in-place in Kabul allowed the Punjsheeris to virtually compose the Interim Government heavily weighted in their favour, ostensibly at the expense of the Pakhtuns, in fact at everyone’s expense, fellow Tajiks included, among them their nominal leader former President Burhanuddin Rabbani as well as warlords Dostum and Ismail Khan. That the US, whom some of us look upto as the symbol of fairplay and justice, compromised their high moral standards at the altar of convenience, was disappointing. A hint of silver lining is that Hamid Karzai got his way in moving Punjsheeri troops out of Kabul, Fahim and Qanooni reluctantly signing off on that arrangement with the International Peacekeeping Force.

Given the geo-political precedences established post Sep 11, Pakistan has reasons to be apprehensive about its own sovereignty. Some ethnic Quislings could well be set up by the enemy as a government-in-exile. While one must not be carried away by “conspiracy theories”, the third world is full of puppet governments given legitimacy by the force of arms at the expense of complacent great silent majority. India has taken no time since Dec 13, 2001 to build up forces multiple times more than the quantum of troops deployed in 1971 on the same front. Very deliberately mass war hysteria has been stoked within India. It is far too expensive a logistical exercise to be a bluff, failure to carry it through to war would mean death-knell for BJP’s Hindu chauvinism in the impending elections in the Indian heartland of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in February.

For the first 25 years of Pakistan’s existence we lived with the strategic delusion that “defence of the east lay in the west”, a convoluted logic that culminated logically in a catastrophic defeat for Pakistan in 1971. Now we cannot afford the illusion that “defence of the south lies in the north”. With Indian Lines of Communication (L of Cs) literally at stone-throwing distance, a multiple Pakistani offensive capability in East Pakistan would have put India at serious disadvantage. As CO 3 Commando in East Pakistan in 1971, Lt Col (later Brig) Z A Khan wanted to infiltrate a force into Calcutta at the outbreak of war but was overruled by Lt Gen A A K Niazi, Commander Eastern Command. Need I describe the resulting mayhem? Today, Bangladesh, with its seven divisions plus (in December 71 Pakistan had 3 é lightly equipped divisions without integral artillery or first line transport), can only defend itself by going on the offensive. Ask General Pervez Musharraf, as a young SSG captain he traversed, a fair portion on foot, the entire 1700 miles East Pakistan’s border with India in 1967-8. Everyone of India’s major airfields was within reach less than one hours infantry march away. The quality of our soldiering has always been of a high class at the junior leader level but our generalship has been wanting, both the tactical and at the strategic level. The quality has certainly improved since 1971, yet very few of today’s senior leaders possess the combat experience acquired in 1965. Besides General Pervez Musharraf (both 1965 and 1971) there are only a handful of Lt Gens of 1971 vintage. The sound of a bullet is a great equalizer, it separates the men from the boys. Rotating officers through the Siachen grinder has filled this critical deficiency with respect to combat experience (and character) for a whole lot of young officers upto the rank of Brigadier, and now rising to the rank of Major Generals with the recent promotions.

Without getting into specifics, and giving away vital information to the enemy, one must again repeat quite vehemently that the Defence of the South does NOT lie in the North. Given present Indian dispositions our troops in the Naya Chor é Badin area will have more than their hands full. At least one more infantry division as well as an independent armour brigade must be moved in now, during war such movement can be interdicted by enemy air. The sight of a squadron of Guides Cavalry on MBFRs on fire at Daharki Railway station in early Dec 71 stays vividly in the mind, we got through despite incessant Indian air attacks, that delayed us by 3 days. The defending force must have inherent mobility and strength in place to react against any heliborne and para-dropped troops in conjunction with a possible amphibious landing, coupled with an enemy thrust for a link-up on a non-traditional axis. There is minimum security, let us doubly ensure safety with deploying a Corps HQs dedicated to giving local battle here. The enemy’s primary intention would well be the narrow neck of Pakistan opposite Rahimyar Khan (where it is a must a separate ad hoc Corps HQ should assume responsibility), his XI Strike Corps is parked opposite in offensive posture, his XXI Corps is not there to take in the fresh desert air in South Rajasthan. Since the enemy knows that we know and that we can react quite devastatingly, this could well deter him from the obvious. We must cater for the enemy concentrating his resources for a short period time on multiple axis in a combined multi-Service operation. We cannot afford to take chances, even though any encroachment in strength will leave us no option but that of a tactical nuclear strike, doomsday will come that much closer if the nuclear situation escalates.

Is it a mere coincidence that Ms Bhutto was wined and dined in India just before Dec 13? And for her supper she sang an anti- Kashmir Mujhahideen song? Their silence of both Ms Benazir and Altaf Hussain in this hour of crisis is deafening and giving wrong signals, may even be taken as a vote of support for the enemy. While one cannot believe it to be true, people murmur that given very credible proof of corruption against her, has Ms Benazir concluded that Pakistan holds no future for her? While giving strong anti-Pakistan statements coincidentally just prior to Dec 13, her strange silence about the massive Indian threat unfortunately points to collusion. This cannot (and should not) be so, she is late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, she would never sell us out to the Indians, therefore it is important that she stands up and is counted for Pakistan. While Altaf Hussain may have reasons to be aggrieved, MQM’s flirtation with die-hard Sindhi separatists, Altaf’s sudden “religious necessity” to visit India and his lack of condemnation of Indian moves are cause for concern to his followers. The country is facing its gravest danger since 1971, Altaf Hussain needs to raise his voice and rectify this anomaly immediately.

An Advisory Council of politicians and eminent elders could be instituted for the duration of the present crisis. The burden of battle must be shared by all Pakistanis, Armed Forces by themselves cannot win wars, the whole country has to be motivated and mobilized. Those politicians who are articulate, charismatic, credible and popular must take up cudgels to present Pakistan’s point of view to the world and motivate the masses domestically. The media battle is very important, India is clearly the aggressor, the world recognizes we are clearly the underdogs, we have clearly shown who are the ones being persecuted. The world loves underdogs, particularly Americans. The military regime cannot disseminate such facts to the world at large by themselves. The government may already be about to send Ambassadors-at-large to foreign capitals, they must be chosen with care, keeping in mind world perceptions. As prime political spokesperson only Imran Khan presently fits this description completely, he should immediately be tasked to present the human face of Pakistan’s problems, in particular Kashmir, to the world. A known face internationally, his full potential must be tapped.

The President must be sincerely commended for having the battle instinct to post combat experienced officers to what is perceived as “vital ground”. Pragmatism has generally evaded our military hierarchy for over 50 years. Some are great “warriors” during times of peace (a booming loud voice helps), very few choose to be in harm’s way once war is imminent. Pervez Musharraf has made very calculated moves cold-bloodedly in the supreme interests of the nation, he must ensure that only the best fill critical civil and military positions as force-multiplier assets to Pakistan. As a man who does not wait for hell to freeze before taking decisions, Pervez Musharraf has now to take some very important ones in a great hurry. On his correct instincts will depend the future existence of Pakistan, by now we know that Pervez Musharraf will not shirk his duties to the nation whatever it takes.

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