Zahid Malik

Monday, May 24, 2010 – Like every Pakistani, I personally have full faith in the capability and commitment of Pakistan Army to the preservation of country’s integrity and security – both geographical and ideological. Pak Army is recognized the world over as one of the finest fighting force and the only institution which has an in-built system to ensure professional competence, merit, accountability and capacity to meet emergencies of all sorts. It is a misfortune that other institutions of the State lack the required imagination and will to fulfil their mandated functions for intelligible reasons and when things go out of their control, the Government and the people start looking towards Army that distracts its attention, at least to some extent from professional matters. Army is used to restore law and order as para-military forces or police fails to contain or control a particular situation or help in natural calamities like floods, earthquakes, etc because we do not have a vast set-up to meet emergencies. What is the worst is that Army is invited, after regular intervals, to intervene and according to some assessments such an invitation may again be extended in the not distant future.

However, the main purpose of my comments today is to invite my readers to focus their attention on a deep rooted conspiracy to engage Pakistan Army in domestic imbroglio day in, day out and this fatigue could suck in its inherent capacity so that it could no longer be in a position to confront the situations that are a threat to our national interests.

In my much-read comments on December 7, 2009, I pointed out that the US was hell-bent on getting the Pak Army sucked in the domestic turmoil and to rein in what the US calls “rogue elements” in the ISI as these two institutions have the courage to take a stand and show the mirror to the party on the other side of the table about its real intents and how that will go against country’s interests.

Now it is coming to the open. The CIA has already widened its areas of operation in Pakistan giving a new dimension to itsdrone attacks. This time it launched attacks in Khyber Agency and in the coming weeks and months we would see such attacks in other Agencies as well under the pretext of presence of militants and foreign terrorists. A report in the New York Times published on May 16, 2010 should be an eye-opener, in which the newspaper reported that private US spy network was active in Pakistan. The whole purpose appears to be making the Pakistani leadership believe that militants are in every nook and corner of the country and they must be killed or apprehended for the sake of security of American people, otherwise Pakistan should be ready to face severe consequences. For this, the US would continue its pressure to deploy more Army in the so-called troubled spots which are the creation of either militants or the CIA.

There is no doubt that with the US invasion of Afghanistan, some Taliban fighters and their supporters including Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks and locals took refuge in Tribal Agencies. They first challenged the Frontier Corps and the writ of Political Administration and ultimately gained so much influence and power that no alternative was left to deploy Pakistan Army there to restore some semblance of normalcy.

The militants did not stop there and encouraged by their foreign handlers emerged in Swat, Malakand and Buner and took the entire population hostage, killed political leaders and workers and indulged in explosions and suicide bombings to terrorize the population to an extent that it succumbed to their dictates. When the situation went out of control, theGovernment was left with no alternative but to order the Army to launch operation Rah-i-Rast to rid the area of militants. That objective was achieved with meticulous and perfect planning and execution by the Pakistan Army. Civilian Departments should have exclusively handled the problem of three million IDPs, but due to their lack of capacity, the Army was tasked to provide them necessary relief and also to arrange their return and rehabilitation.

In order to ensure security for the people of Swat, Buner and Malakand, the Army was ordered to stay back so that the militants may not resurface and it is still engaged in the clean-up operation as stray incidents of terrorism are still taking place.

Then came the operation Rah-e-Nijat under pressure from the United States to contain the crossing of Pak-Afghan border by the militants and to destroy their hideouts in South Waziristan. For this purpose about one hundred thousand troops were moved from eastern border or cantonments and the Army again completed this operation successfully. But according to reports the militants first had a safe passage into Afghanistan due to deliberate abolition of the posts on the other side of theDurand Line by the US troops. Now there are demands and a lot of pressure for launching another operation in North Waziristan.

The purpose of the above narration, which is not new to those who are keen observers, is to emphasize that the Pakistan Army is being over- stretched and this fatigue would cost the country very dearly. I am deeply concerned over it because it is a part of the conspiracy to suck up the Army systematically into an unending war and there are quite visible indicators which testify my viewpoint.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s threat of severe consequences if another terrorist attack takes place on American soil having traces in Pakistan, is a pointer to my apprehensions that Washington wants the maximum deployment of Pak Army in the border areas with Afghanistan, rather than the eastern border where the real threat to our existence lies. Since the botched Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad has been reported as telling his investigators that he received training in Waziristan, the threat of Clinton and other US officials’ demands for launching of operation in North Waziristan are aimed at ensuring more deployment of troops in the troubled areas.

It was in this perspective that President Obama’s National Security Adviser General James L. Jones and CIA Director Leon Panetta rushed to Pakistan late last week and had an unusual combined meeting with the entire civilian and military leadership of the country where the CIA briefed them about the failed terror attack. Though the joint statement issued after the meeting on Wednesday last was couched in diplomatic jargons yet the insiders say the American officials urged Pakistani leaders to move swiftly towards launching a full-fledged operation in North Waziristan and obviously this may not be the last demand and the last operation.

This is because it is being propagated by the United States and its coteries in Pakistan that Pakistani Taliban fighters have dispersed to other areas of the FATA and that there is a growing threat from, what are being called, Punjabi Taliban as well. Pakistan has already begun targeted operations in North Waziristan but it is against opening up of the entire front as its forces are stretched too thin for an all-out offensive.

The anxiety of the United States for early launch of the operation was reflected in the statement of the National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer. He remarked after the New York incident “In the light of the failed Times Square terrorist attack and other terrorist attacks that trace to the border region, we believe that it is time to redouble our efforts with our allies in Pakistan to close this safe haven and create an environment where we and the Pakistani people can lead safe and productive lives,”

Also there are demands from the American military for deployment of troops to prevent crossing of border by Afghan Taliban when the US-led NATO troops launch the summer operation in Kandahar. The way things are moving, the Government would certainly oblige NATO forces as a “responsible member” of the international community in the war on terror which will further ignite unrest and agitation, extremism and terrorism in the length and breadth of Pakistan.

Also think for a while that if the Government is forced to go after “Punjabi Taliban”, a phenomenon which was unheard of in the past and is now being established, I may sound pessimistic but that would be the final act of the ongoing suicidal drama. That would mean deployment of a big chunk of the Army and allocation of meagre resources to the campaign against the militant group.

People have short memory and we often forget the events of the recent past, but with over-stretching of Army in operation after operation and then retaining the troops to ensure peace and stability, we are in fact fulfilling the demand to withdraw troops from borders with India and deploy the whole force against militants for an indefinite period. For how long the troops would be able to live in an inhospitable environment and bear the fatigue. A time will come when they would feel exhausted and that would be the opportune time for our enemy to stage a Mumbai-like terrorist attack drama somewhere in India to give it a justification to launch ‘lightning strikes’ or a full-fledged war.

One cannot forecast in such a scenario how a tired force will be able to thwart the aggression by an Army more than double of its size and having huge and varied armament at its disposal.

I would, therefore, in conclusion make a humble submission to the decision makers that time has come to say “NO” to demands that are counter-productive to Pakistan’s interests. There should be a red line that should not be allowed to be crossed by anyone. Our politicians and particularly the Parliamentarians have a heavy responsibility on their shoulders. They should pay attention to the rising tide and give serious thinking to the future of the country and its 17 million people whom they represent.

According to my calculations the country has already suffered a loss of $ 60 billion in financial terms, leaving aside the loss of thousands of innocent lives, and nothing has been paid in return. Even dues of Coalition Support Fund, for expenditure and use of our bases by the US and NATO forces are being unnecessarily delayed thus putting an uncalled-for pressure on our budget. Can we afford more devastating blows?

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