For sheer irresponsibility nothing beats President Asif Zardari’s statement, in another avoidable newspaper interview, that the operation in Swat would soon be extended to Waziristan. Whom was he trying to impress? Certainly not the people of Waziristan who have already started thinking of moving to safer places. Nor Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of our domestic insurgents, who stands forewarned. Thank you, Mr President.
Across our embattled Republic it is by now established wisdom that Mr Zardari is an accident of fate, penance for sins committed and some even barely imagined. Even so, why must he prove his incapacity at every turn? Newspaper interviews are not his forte. What will it take to make him realise this? He adds to no one’s knowledge and, if anything, only spreads more doubts about himself.
Sections of the national commentariat and the usual suspects in politics are spreading confusion which is bad enough but still not a culpable offence. Zardari’s aforementioned statement, however, comes close to attracting serious provisions of the penal code. “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence,” said de Gaulle. If only someone could convey this to the president.
This war the army is fighting and in which our officers and soldiers are dying is tough and serious business as it is. The army needs the nation’s total and unequivocal support. If we can’t help the army we can at least try not to make its task more difficult.
We are in a tight spot, no doubt about it, facing domestic enemies and external pressures. But if we emerge from this test successfully — and there is no reason on earth why we should not — we will be a stronger nation, leaving many of our present troubles behind us. Wars are never a good thing but when they become unavoidable, as on this occasion, they test a people’s mettle. Whether we like it or not, great nations, throughout history, have been forged in the fire of conflict.
If I may be forgiven another de Gaulle quote: “The sword is the axis of the world and its power is absolute.” The world as we know it has been shaped by the power of the sword. In the mountains and valleys of Malakand it is our sword against the Taliban’s. We win and the Republic is secured. They win — and I am only presenting this as an argument –Pakistan as we know it is lost. It’s as simple as that.
It is always possible to take exception to the conduct of military operations. If an army botches an operation, if it suffers too many needless casualties, if it is not properly led in battle, if soldiers shirk their duty, if a sledgehammer is used when something lighter could have sufficed, it is perfectly legitimate and even necessary to point out these things. But to be critical about the tactical aspects of any particular operation is quite different from questioning the entire basis of the present war which is what some of our more confused politicos and media people are doing.
In the first two or three years of the Second World War nothing went right for the British. But no one said that Britain should make peace with Hitler. The Soviets suffered catastrophic losses when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. But that did not persuade Stalin to sue for peace.
So it is a bit baffling to hear some of our astute thinkers who, even at this late hour, are mouthing clichés about dialogue and a ‘political settlement’. Dialogue with whom? Maulana Fazlullah, the Reverend Muslim Khan whose aim is not dialogue but the establishment of an Al Qaeda–inspired emirate?
If they were at all interested in a peaceful solution they would have seized upon the Swat accord, which was wholly to their advantage, and made it stick. But peace was not their agenda. Before even the ink on the accord was dry, they set about expanding their sphere of control. That’s when the roof came crashing down on their heads, for which they have only themselves to blame.
Of course the US is also part of the larger equation. But we mustn’t forget that whether we like it or not the US is in Afghanistan and is going to be there for some time. What we have to take to heart is that where our interests may differ in other respects, they converge when it comes to the Taliban.
Mullah Omar and the Americans can fight it out among themselves. That quarrel is none of our business and we should be no part of it. But the Taliban in Pakistan are very much our problem because their ideas and the idea of Pakistan just cannot co–exist. So while the Americans are fighting their Taliban for their reasons, we have our own compelling reasons to fight our home–grown Taliban.
Of course it depends on us how we make use, or how we exploit, this convergence of interests between us and the Americans. If we had strong and wise leaders — which, alas, we don’t — we could have spoken to the Americans in a surer voice and got more out of them in terms of aid, assistance and military hardware. And we could have drawn the lines of engagement more clearly telling the Americans what was acceptable and what was not.
For instance, with better leadership we could have insisted that pronouncements from the US administration about the safety or non–safety of our nuclear weapons were simply unacceptable. Such statements give the impression as if Pakistan was teetering on the brink of meltdown or collapse. We should be doing all in our power to discourage such alarmism.
In fact just as it is ironclad Israeli policy not to say anything about their nuclear weapons, it should be our policy to say not a word about our nukes. Questions about their safety should be greeted with a stony silence — as per the last of my de Gaulle quotes: “Silence is the ultimate weapon of power.”
How long will this war last? We should be under no illusions on this score. It will last as long as the Americans stay in Afghanistan. For the epicentre of this conflict, however hard the Americans try to obscure this circumstance, is Afghanistan, not Pakistan. So we should prepare for the long haul as these dark clouds which encircle us are not going to go away in a hurry.
Of all the conflicts we have fought, the only necessary war was the Kashmir war of 1948–49. If we had not fought it what we call Azad Kashmir would not have been ours. It is another matter that we did not press home our initial advantages more decisively. If we had, and if the political and military leaderships had been on the same wavelength, our gains would have been greater. But that’s another story (for an excellent account of that conflict read Shuja Nawaz’s ‘Crossed Swords’– a must read for a better understanding of the Pakistan army).
But if that was a necessary conflict our other wars have been huge exercises in futility. The 1965 war was an adventure whose purpose even its perpetrators were never fully able to explain. As a nation we were doing reasonably well until then but lost our way, and suffered irretrievable harm, thereafter. In 1971 we dug our own pit, Indira Gandhi only exploiting the ground we ourselves had prepared. Kargil was folly of the highest order, resulting in nothing except wasted deaths and immense loss of national prestige. After 1948 t the present war is the first true war — true in the sense that there is a purpose to it — which we are fighting.
No war was ever won with too many ifs and buts. In this war we can afford neither confusion nor weakness of resolve. What has been started must be finished. The army is in the forefront performing its national duty. The opprobrium it earned during the Musharraf years has been erased by the sacrifices being offered by officers and men. They are taking Taliban bullets on their chests. The least we owe them is our gratitude.
Tailpiece: The families of fallen officers and soldiers are setting an example in fortitude all of us could follow. Whether it is the family of Lieutenant Najam Riaz in Kalhut, Kahuta, or that of Major Abid Majeed Malik in Lahore, they are shedding no tears and instead saying how proud they are of how their sons/husbands died for the country. With such proud fathers, mothers and wives how can Pakistan ever be a lost cause?