Islamabad diary: Who will teach the army the virtues of the long haul?

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Ayaz Amir

We are as abrupt with our peace deals as with our military operations. Into both we plunge hastily and, more often than not, unthinkingly. We were desperate about the Swat accord and, after barely a fortnight, equally desperate about military action in Buner and Dir.

We are like Faiz’s lover – in his lovely poem “kuch ishq kiya, kuch kaam kiya” – forever torn between the siren calls of love and the demands of work. Both in war and peace our Islamic Republic excels at half-measures.

The failure of the military operation drove all those who mattered into clasping the Swat accord as if it was the only talisman left to save Pakistan. But the adverse western and domestic reaction to the accord has swung the pendulum the other way.

Earlier there was no shortage of Taliban apologists in the ranks of the Pakistani commentariat. Now there is no shortage of armchair hawks, advocating the strictest military action. We have seen how in Waziristan, the other tribal agencies and then Swat, operations were eagerly started and, when the going got tough, as hastily abandoned. It remains to be seen whether the latest resort to arms is going to be any different.

Talibanism is a menace and a threat to our way of life. There’s little room for any dispute on this point. In the eight hundred years that Islam has been around in the sub-continent, Muslims have raised their hands to the Almighty, praised the Holy Prophet and punctiliously recited the Quran. But nothing in their creed or their understanding of it has ever stopped them from enjoying and celebrating life.

Fundamentalism of any kind – Christian, Hindu or Muslim – is an affliction. If someone like Mullah Omar were to rule Pakistan the lights would go out on life as we know it.

But to acknowledge as much doesn’t mean that we take leave of our senses and stop thinking for ourselves. It shouldn’t mean that whatever the latest offering is from Washington and London should become our conventional wisdom. The Americans have very sound reasons to clamour for military action on our part. Stuck in Afghanistan and with no hope of early victory in sight, they would very much like the Pakistan army to emulate the charge of the Light Brigade: “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die”. But there’s no reason for us to embrace the fate of the Light Brigade.

Talibanism is not a surface disease. It is rooted in history, missed opportunities and repeated bouts of folly. It is not going to go away or be defeated by quick-fix military actions – actions which wax and wane as the moon does. This struggle requires nothing less than a revamping of the way we have been running, or rather mismanaging, Pakistan. It requires a change in our basic thinking.

Let us by all means quarantine the Taliban in their mountain fastnesses. But let the army go on the offensive when it is in a position to do so, when it has built up its forces and the odds turn against the Taliban. Half-measures or half-hearted actions should be avoided like the plague. They haven’t worked before and are not likely to succeed now.

To concentrate on the threat we face from within, the time may have come for us to give up on our India fixation. India is a headache. No doubt about it. Indians in an official position can be very trying interlocutors – self-righteous and, since we got caught in our domestic troubles, not a little smug and superior. If there is a Grammy award for shrillness and constant foaming at the mouth much of the Indian media – barring a few exceptions: Karan Thapar, Prannoy Roy, Barkha Dutt, Kuldip Nayar, Javed Naqvi, etc – would be prime candidates to win it.

But a headache is one thing, an existential threat quite another. If anyone in Pakistan still feels threatened by India, or is powered by the belief that India has sinister designs to tear us apart, then not much is to be said of national confidence. India doesn’t need to tear us apart. We are doing a good job of it on our own.

Sure, we have problems with India. Kashmir is a dispute and will remain one as long as the people of Kashmir are denied the right of self-determination. There are signs to suggest Indian designs on our rightful share of the waters of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers. Insisting on our water rights with regard to India must be one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy. The disputes of the future will be about water.

But we are strong enough to stand our ground with India even without having to put all our forces on the eastern frontier. What is our nuclear capability for? If that is not enough of a deterrent, what is? The real threat we face is different and it comes in the form of the Taliban. But for this threat the army, both in terms of training and equipment and orientation and ethos, is not prepared.

Apart from changing its own thinking, the army also needs political direction but is getting none. Government in Islamabad is currently a joke. Forget about intellectual deprivation. Does a federal cabinet of 70-80 members – or is it 85-90? – look like a war cabinet? If we are serious about saving Pakistan we don’t need Rangers’ posts on the Margalla Hills but, as a first step, the immediate resignation of the present cabinet and the installation of a war cabinet of not more than 30 ministers.

To win the battle of ideas the army command must make sacrifices. The farce of senior commanders becoming real estate tycoons while still in service must end if we are to see the army function as a more effective fighting machine. Furthermore, children of officers and men falling in battle should get automatic admission in cadet colleges – Hasanabdal, Petaro, etc. The army should think of separate cadet colleges for girls.

Doctors in military hospitals are allowed private practice. Why are we the world’s leaders in such absurdities? This practice should come to an end. Don’t our military doctors have their hands full with casualties from the Taliban front?

It is not enough for the army and its agencies to see India through different eyes. They also need to think Balochistan afresh. The resort to arms will not work there. The Baloch may still physically be a part of Pakistan but mentally they seem to be out of it. The battle to save Pakistan must therefore begin from Balochistan.

We should not make a bogey of Brahamdagh Bugti. If he is trying to create trouble in Balochistan it is because his grandfather, Nawab Akbar Bugti, was killed on Gen Pervez Musharraf’s orders. Brahamdagh should be given an amnesty and encouraged to return home. Balochistan’s wounds, and its grief, need to be healed not aggravated.

Some other steps to indicate our seriousness: a uniform education system from the northern mountains to the Arabian Sea. Compulsory education for all, English from class one, new books and new syllabi, and no O- and A-levels. The Indians finished with O- and A-levels back in 1964. Why are we still stuck with them? If O- and A-levels were a guarantee of higher educational standards we would be ahead of India in education but are not.

It must be a requirement of the new education system that on the first day of the week the national anthem should be sung in every school; on the second, Iqbal’s timeless poem, “Lab pay aati hai dua bun kay tamana meri”; on the third, something in Pashto by Khushal Khan Khattak; on the fourth, something from Bhitai or Bulleh Shah; on the fifth, a song in pure Balochi and one in Kashmiri; and on the sixth, as a remembrance of times past, a Bengali song by Nazrul Islam.

The Code of Civil Procedure needs urgent and drastic amendment to make the provision of justice easier. This should have been done sixty years ago but can no longer be avoided. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry can take the first steps in this regard. (And, please, an end to the plastic shopping bag which will destroy the Republic sooner than the Taliban).

This may be the opportunity we have dreamt of all these years: of revitalising the Republic and building a prosperous and progressive Pakistan. The difference is that what was before just a dream is now a crying necessity. We either rise to the challenge we face by reinventing Pakistan. Or we remain the way we are, waiting resignedly for whatever awaits us.




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