Grave challenges after ‘May’ debacles

Farooq Hameed Khan

Asma Jahangir’s recent venomous outburst on a television channel against the Army and its senior leadership was unfortunate and uncalled for. Given her stature as a human rights activist, lawyer and President Supreme Court Bar Association, she was expected to conduct herself in a more dignified and responsible manner. While her performance surely shocked the domestic audience, she played well to galleries across the borders.

The timing of the malicious propaganda unleashed against the Armed forces as well as misperceptions created about safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in aftermath of Abbottabad and PNS Mehran debacles, by a few so called Pakistani liberal intellectuals , is indeed noteworthy. It appears to be part of a coordinated strategy to demoralize the Armed forces , lower the confidence of the people in their security institutions and create a civil- military divide. While criticism is every body’s democratic right, it should be constructive and be done with grace without undermining national unity and morale.

Pakistanis are alarmed at the degree of inspiration and penetration of external forces in some segments of our society. The willing support by certain quarters of our intelligentsia/media and the resultant despair so created country wide should bring limitless joy and satisfaction to elements inimical to Pakistan’s security and integrity.

Who all benefited from Abottabad and PNS MEHRAN attacks? President Obama in particular desperately needed a ‘success’ story to pull up his crashing domestic popularity as well as create justification to pull out US troops from Afghanistan. The Osama operation provided him just that, though many in the USA and west continue to question the authenticity of Bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad.

Operation Geronimo ( Abbottabad) enabled CIA to partially avenge its humiliation at the hands of ISI in post Raymond Davis that busted the CIA covert network and led to exit of many of its operatives from Pakistan . The visas issue further intensified ISI- CIA distrust. With Army and ISI on the defensive in the parliament, and international media attempting to specially tarnish the image of ISI as an undefeatable spy organization, the Pakistani leadership found itself negotiating with Senator Kerry and Hillary Clinton from a position of weakness rather than one of strength.

The Indians should be satisfied over the loss of Pak Navy’s two P-3C Orions , that partially degraded the Navy’s strategic anti submarine warfare and maritime surveillance capability. The fact that the raiders only targeted the Orions and left the Navy’s Fokkers or the PAF C-130s that were also parked on the tarmac hints at an Indian involvement in some form that would surely be investigated. The Interior Minister, Rehman Malik was as usual too quick to directly blame the taliban/ zaliman , in his press briefing at PNS Mehran, and avoided reference to the Indian factor .

The political ruling elite in particular has good reason to be delighted with the national hue and cry in the wake of Abbottabad and PNS Mehran . It was a welcome respite for those on Islamabad hilltop, that media’s focus suddenly shifted from governance , corruption, price hike and load shedding issues to security related aspects, with guns turned towards the armed forces and ISI.

With the Army/ISI put on the back foot, at least temporarily, coupled with a divided and impotent opposition, President Zardari finds himself and his party in a comfortable situation . The dangling sword of a technocrats government that the President himself mentioned some time ago, seems removed for the time being and the present dispensation looks all set to survive till 2013. However, given Pakistan’s most unpredictable and complex internal dynamics, an early morning ‘breaking news’ can never be ruled out..

The 14 May parliamentary resolution called for review of terms of Pak- US engagement . But the nation has yet to be told about the contours of a new Pak- US relationship, about the ‘good times’ that Hillary Clinton promised for Pakistan, the ‘list of actions’ and ‘expectations’ on which Pakistan must deliver and the ‘give and take’ agreed upon during Hillary’s whirlwind visit. The nation expects that all aspects of the new relationship including ISI – CIA intelligence cooperation, NATO logistic supply, grant of visas to US personnel, winding up drone attacks and the ‘un-crossable’ red lines would be redefined in black and white.

Pakistanis found it objectionable and insulting that Hillary Clinton and Admiral Mike Mullen chose to brief the media in the US Embassy and not in our Government’s premises alongwith their Pakistani hosts. Does this indicate that the visiting US leadership was clearly on the offensive and calling the shots with our top bosses unable to face the media that day?

If media reports of an impending military operation in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) and the preparations for over fifty thousand IDPs are true, then one is led to assume that Pakistan my have finally given in to US pressure to launch a limited offensive in this highly volatile, militancy infested region. While the Peshawar Corps Commander clarified that this operation was not imminent , but reiterated that Pak Army would take the decision itself and will not be dictated by any outside power.

The Corps Commander’s rejection of joint operations with US military does indicate that despite the Abbottabad setback, Pak Army is determined to retain the initiative in dealings with US and will not allow US boots on ground in any circumstances. If going into NWA is inescapable, then like Operations Rah-e-Rast in Swat and Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan, the parliament must authorize and own any military move into North Waziristan.

The days ahead will require herculean efforts by the Armed forces and ISI to counter internal and external security threats with support of people of Pakistan. But beware! Mir Jaffars and Mir Sadiqs may pose the most formidable challenge to our existence.

The writer is a retired Brigadier


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