Reforming the Uniform

A deal between the Government coalition and the MMA which would turn LFO into a constitutional package is in the offing. Even though the major ARD parties (PPP-P and PML-N) will certainly vote against the proposal, with the support of the MMA, the government has the two-thirds majority to convert the consensus clauses into the laws of the land. The country will take a mass breath of relief, the impasse was a debilitating experience. Showing its contempt for the normal economic indicators Karachi Stock Exchange anticipated the political agreement by breaking the 4000-point barrier, almost a four-fold rise in a couple of years. The have-nots of Pakistan have yet to savour the effects of a whole set of re-forms meant for their economic amelioration, the fat cats of the Stock Market are laughing all the way to the bank.

Pakistan is certainly a better place to live in from what it was in 1999. While the military regime’s technocratic team were no geniuses, they have been methodical and generally honest in pursuing (and implementing) re-forms. The residual benefits of 9/11 aside, add Pervez Musharraf’s luck (or destiny as you may prefer it) and the result has been more than satisfactory in the economic field. The need for continuity has made the democratic oddity of a President in uniform necessary, Pervez Musharraf is himself on record that he doesn’t like it. In the political arena we have not managed to shake off our penchant for manipulation, being hamstrung by an out-moded and unworkable electoral system, the result is that democracy remains in a holy mess in Pakistan. Unless we re-form the basic electoral system, viz (1) a majority vote and a run-off election if the majority is not obtained in the first electoral vote and (2) Proportional Representation so that any party with a minimum of 5% of the vote nation-wide has representation in the Assemblies, the premise of one-person one-vote as a democratic happening representing all the people is a myth.

With his continuity as President secure for the foreseeable future, Gen Pervez Musharraf must turn his attention to his responsibilities as COAS Pakistan Army. The Pakistan Armed Forces will certainly be able to fight India to a standstill but that is not good enough. Deterrence is only effective when the enemy has much to fear in going to war, at the moment they are willing to chance it! Because of obsolete organisation, shortage of funds and lack of pragmatism, we will only be able to fight a conventional 21st century war by early 20th century (World War 1 and 2) methods and organization, nuclear bombs and missiles aside! Drastic overhaul is overdue in our bloated military infra-structure. To mention some of the re-forms, viz (1) terminating the imperial concept of a buffer between the officers and the men by eradicating the post of Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) from all fighting and support arms except in specialized positions (2) doing away with batmen (orderlies), monetarily compensating the officer suitably, thus saving enough manpower for two infantry divisions (3) removing the fourth rifle company in an infantry battalion (what does it do anyway?) to bring it into line with other fighting arms. e.g. the armour/artillery regiments having three squadrons/batteries each respectively, this will create one more brigade in each infantry division, (4) standardization of light weapons into 5.56 mm (or even lower caliber) from the present 7.62 mm so that more ammunition can be carried by the infantryman in his basic fighting load (5) standardization of equipment and mechanical transport so that multitude does not complicate logistics problems (6) the curriculum of all three Staff Colleges viz Command and Staff College Quetta, PAF Air War College and Naval War College be rationalized to reflect ground reality, these to culminate in a three month Joint Services Staff course run by the National Defence College (NDC) (7) cut down on the number of ASC, AMC and Ordnance units and their personnel, too many and too bloated. (8) sell off land in huge cantonments like Lahore, Sialkot, Peshawar, Malir, etc, with the money generated make compact military personnel-only cantonments with modern high-rise living for officers, men and their families. (9) modern high-rise compact hospitals with all amenities in place of widely spread over Combined Military Hospitals (CMH) so that recurring expenditures on overheads and maintenance is drastically reduced. By the way why does an OC CMH need a spanking new Toyota 4×4 jeep?

The PAF needs modernization of the existing fleet by upgrading avionics, weapons systems and even the airframe/engines so that our pilots have a better chance against the known enemy and his capabilities. Think of creating a “Poor Man’s Airforce” as part of Army Aviation i.e. armed propeller-driven light aircraft operating from makeshift airstrips under the Army’s battle field commanders (at the Corps level) in giving desperately needed air support for the first few days of the battle when the PAF will have other priorities. Cruise missiles need to be produced in great numbers, electronic counter measures (ECMs) need to be enhanced to ward off the type of electronic attack that paralyzed Iraq’s air defences.

The Navy must shed its “battleship mentality”, its prime mission is to protect Pakistan’s coastline, the secondary mission being to keep open the sea lanes and thirdly, to deny India’s naval facilities and operations in the Indian Ocean. This can be accomplished by a combination of submarines and fast missile boats instead of relying on the cumbersome destroyers and frigates that make excellent targets for today’s missiles. We need many more fast missile boats and two more naval ports in addition to Karachi and Ormara. Coastline defence must be Navy’s responsibility, the Army and PAF contingents in support of the Navy’s primary mission must be directly under command of the Fleet Commander.

Above all we must reverse the “civilianization” of the Armed Forces. No one should serve in civvy street while in uniform. Because Armed Forces offices tend to retire early, mostly by age 48 after completion 25 years service, they have almost 10-12 more years to go, before the normal civilian retirement age. The government can identify areas in which retired armed forces officers can be inducted viz (1) law enforcement agencies (2) lower judiciary/magistracy (3) revenue collection (4) administrative posts, etc throughout bureaucracy, etc. Applicants should pass an aptitude test for the reserved posts they seek and for which they be recommended by their immediate superiors. The government will get trained and mature manpower, the individuals will get an honourable decent means of livelihood till they reach normal retirement age.

Retirement benefits due to an individual are shameful. The present pension system is not only unfair, it is most inhuman. A Lt Col who has retired in 1960 gets a pittance compared to what a Lt Col would draw today (in 2003) if he retires. There should be one retirement pay for one rank. This pension rationalisation is a “must” decision for the President to take, if it does not happen now it never will.

We are touching only the tip of the iceberg in suggestions for re-forming the Armed Forces and make them fit for 21st century wars. The President set out courageously to re-form the country’s system four year ago, Pervez Musharraf needs to spend his future time wisely, he has many miles to go to make the Pakistan Armed Forces a lean, mean fighting machine that it should be!

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