Justifying for the sake of it

We were told that the Shamsi base is not in use of American forces. But then the army dropped a bombshell on Nov 27, when it ordered the US to vacate the base by December 11 (will we soon hear the same about Shahbaz, Dalbandin, Pasni and Khalid bases?) Much before this, the military had often snubbed reports about the presence of foreign military trainers, but soon after the raid on bin Laden’s last abode, we were told that 129 American and 18 British military trainers had been asked to leave the country.

For years, we were repeatedly told that no American military trainers were present on Pakistani soil. But General Ashfaq Kayani told us on May 29 that all of the American trainers, as well as 18 British military trainers had been sent back. In the latest tryst, we are being told that the US-Nato attack on the Salala checkpost in Mohmand, was an ‘unprovoked aggression’ that lasted for over two hours. The director-general military operations told journalists that Pakistan did not fire back in order to prevent deadly escalation with the potential of a high number of casualties on both sides. But doesn’t it sound strange that an intermittent ‘enemy aggression’ went on for more than two hours without any response from the Pakistan army, the FC, the air force, or the rapid reaction force? The air force might take up to one hour to scramble jets, but the rapid reaction force is supposed to move within minutes. A surprise attack for a few minutes might go unchallenged but not an activity that inflicts heavy human and material losses for 130 intermittent minutes. That is why, we are being told that the chain of command system has been abolished. Area commanders are being empowered to take action on their own, whenever challenged, and all border posts are being equipped to repel not only foreign aggression, but also fight militancy. This is perhaps why the communication broke down.

Strange indeed; despite several border violations by the US-Nato troops in the last decade, the border posts were still equipped only to fight militants. This is, at least, the logic being peddled right now. But the entire logic, and the incident itself, raises crucial questions. If the ‘aggressors’ knocked down the communications system, where and what was the back up? If we accept the official explanation, we can safely imply there was no back up. Does this mean that any enemy wanting to occupy a piece of land might easily do so by first taking out the communications facilities at a key installation? In such circumstance, can an enemy, equipped with sophisticated technology, not do the same to our strategic installations — the nuclear warhead storage locations?

The May 2 raid on the bin Laden hideout most probably should have removed any doubts whatsoever and made the military leadership realise that attack from all sides was possible and thus required comprehensive preparedness including multiple back up options.

For decades, romance with phrases such as ‘Pakistan’s unignorable strategic location’ or ‘the need to ensure strategic depth to the west’ has shaped our foreign policy responses. This obsession has also led to a certain complacency that has blinded and obstructed our ‘strategic thinkers’ from charting a strategic policy framework that takes on external factors with a long-term strategic view, rather than with a tactical mindset that is given more to the immediate benefit than the long-term implications.

Demonstrations by banned outfits like Jamaatud Dawa, Jaish-e-Muhammad and their social apologists — Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam — both in the aftermath of bin Laden’s elimination and the Mohmand attack must also be viewed in the same context. So does the cable operators action against the BBC merit mention here; why should all these actors, particularly the outlawed groups, have the courage to take to the streets and agitate on an issue that relates to Pak-US or Pak-India relations. The very groups constitute the core of contention between these countries, and activating them to underscore ‘our national interest’ clearly flies in the face of official claims that the state has nothing to do with these banned organisations. Nobody — either in or outside the country — takes official denials seriously and rightfully accuse the state of being duplicitous. Unless this duplicity ends, acrimony and mistrust will mark Pakistan’s relations with India and the US.

The Express Tribune