INSIGHT AND FORESIGHT

June 20, 2011

SENSATIONALISM: THE UNKINDEST CUT OF ALL

Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 2:05 pm

In the past two months the armed forces, ISI and law enforcement agencies have been a target of unprecedented bashing and criticism. If one were to believe the twitters and blogs, the entire security apparatus of Pakistan is discredited, disgraced and hanging by tenterhooks. Private TV channels are playing both sides and keeping their bets hedged either way. The informal social media, a revolution of sorts, have become vitriolic. Even positives are being tainted with sarcasm and pun.  A certain responsible journalist spewing venom each day finds Fauji Fault with the rescue of the besieged crew of My Suez. The entire drama is akin to a punching bag. The US stands tall to spar the face; our very own take on the proverbial ‘below the belt’.

 

The US is talking of the much expected withdrawal at the heels of three failing surges from Afghanistan with a new mission statement that replaces Afghanistan with Pakistan. As the events unfold so does my thesis written in 2000 and published in a National Daily in 2007, “Pakistanis need to understand that in the US scheme of things, the degradation of the army is a key plank in the objective to rid Pakistan of its nuclear capability”. What could be a better shaped environment than a collapsed economy (the real GDP excluding inflation a lowly 1.3), energy shortages close to a blackout, discredited political institutions, rising poverty, and an army fighting the militancy and the media bashing.

 

The parallels with the Battle of Plassey (Nation 9 May 2010) where men of elastic conscience abetted the mercantilism victory are beyond symbolic. The puzzled crossword has reached a point where a sane normal Pakistani is bound to ask whom to trust and who not. More than the trust deficit that exists between USA and Pakistan, I am worried at the direction in which the national debate on the credibility of the armed forces is headed. Pakistan’s security apparatus is the worst thing that ever happened to Pakistan is the local informed war cry.

 

So let us begin where it all started.

 

As written by me repeatedly, the Kakul Operation to kill OBL had complicity from within. As events unfold and arrests of fifth columnists become public, there is much more than appears to the public eye. I may not be surprised if sooner or later, this complicity links to high quarters. Indiscriminate visas, container scandals, free movements of US operatives and souring of the Army-State Department relationship in the past year are all indicators of a division within the establishment. Lack of assertiveness on part of the army also links to the extensions. The surprise and consequent paralysis put the armed forces on the defensive An army not knowing how to duck, hook or evade this barrage of short pitched deliveries. It was a script it was never prepared for and a hypothesis it was always shy of discussing.

 

This was followed by the Mehran Base raid. As asserted by me, too little was known to the public. Sensational investigative journalism added to the second barrage. As events are proving, new revelations will become public adding more twists to the theories.

 

The Mehran issue inevitably links to the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, a lone ranger investigative journalist who operated outside the domain of Pakistan’s media czars. The fact that his murder was brutal cannot be ignored and must be investigated to bring the culprits to the book. Having followed his reports on the web for the past fifteen years, I found them sensational and repeatedly falsified by events. He was a young, ambitious and romantic journalist who loved to link a known fact to his inter twined knowledge of the militant groups and Al Qaeda, invariably giving a false sense of reality and inside knowledge. Much of what he reported can also be found on the Indian South Asian Analysis Group website that extensively reports on the terror trails, militant groups and ISI linkages with terrorists. Saleem Shahzad despite his best intentions had a shortcoming that sprang from his romanticism. He had built a cognitive construct of jungles, rugged mountainous HinduKush Range from where the phoenix of Al Qaeda would ultimately rise to defeat USA. It was usually this construct that he fine tuned with bits of authentic information and propaganda in vogue that served both the militancy exaggeration and US propaganda. He was always in quest for a new story with a new angle; sometimes he was also spot-on.

 

As early as 25 March this year, he reported that USA had finally traced the whereabouts and movements of OBL and some operations would follow. Unfortunately amidst the many yarns that he spelled, this accurate information went unnoticed. Who knows what else he knew and what contacts on this subject he was making after the killing of OBL? Now that all intelligence agencies of Pakistan are on the trail of his killers, truth will come out. As an analyst I find the motives of getting rid of him more on the OBL count than the contacts of militants in the security establishment.  The media showed no urge to investigate beyond the obvious.

 

The rangers shooting is another case in point of unjustified military bashing. Rangers are a federal and civilian law enforcement agency under the Ministry of Interior. All military officials posted in Rangers are deputed to the Ministry of Interior and paid by them. Their services under the prevailing law can only be requisitioned by the Nazims/Administrators/DCOs functioning under the Chief Secretary and Provincial Home Departments.  Their deployments are to be covered by administrative representatives and the judiciary. They fire only on orders of the civilian representatives. The chain of military command never comes in except where these forces are put in the operational control of the army like in FATA. However, in this case, without resort to the legal and functional positions, the media chose to single out the military leadership on a gory incident for which it was never responsible.

 

This entire gossip is a start up to the vicious anti military campaign. Readers must beware that many more stories, more sensationalism and events will take place with fingers apparently pointing towards the army and ISI. Many Pakistanis considering themselves moderates will join the mill. The military will be demoralised. It will question its missions. A dissent that never existed could set in. At the same time the US Psychological Warfare and Propaganda machinery will keep providing new leaks to its media. The objective will be to discredit the army and plummet it to its lowest morale levels. Combat stress and fatigue will set it. The final objective is to bring the organisation to its knees to achieve the ultimate objective; rid Pakistan of nukes.

To avoid this, the military has to be more transparent. It has to become more proactive through the ISPR. It also has to become more assertive with USA and make the government realise that it cannot fight a war in isolation. The Politicians and Civil Society have to realise that a lopsided National Power equation is doomed to fail. As poverty rises so will the crime and militancy. Economic emergency has to be declared; and renewed effort launched to jump-start the economy. If this not happen in a few months it is they themselves to blame for the ugly turn of events that may ensue.

 

Amidst all this confusion we must not ignore some good news. Another in a series of endemic attacks from Kunar has been beaten back. Pakistan Navy, over ruling the orders of the International Task Force in the Aden Corridor has rescued the besieged crew of My Suez. The resilient Pakistani Captain of the ship Syed Wasi is proudly bringing his flock home. Can our leaders learn something from him?

 

Amidst all the disinformation, Pakistan has once again done it.

 

Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist.

Email: samson.sharaf@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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June 6, 2011

OF NARRATIVE, STRANDS AND STRINGS

Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 5:15 pm

Recent events in and around Pakistan have widened the fissures within a fragmenting Pakistani society. Sensationalism combined with opaqueness in policy has contributed to speculation and rumours mill tearing at the seams. If tweets, blogs and views of an educated liberal class of Pakistanis are a measure, the events are certainly taking Pakistan to the gallows with testimonies from our very own.

Nothing more highlights the absence of an informed internal debate on the calculus of the National Power/National Interests or the pressing issues of national well being and nationism. At the governmental level, nothing positive and redeeming is happening. The war cabinet has never been commissioned. Defence Committee of Cabinet is ineffective and marred by divisions. The leadership environment in crises is nonexistent. Ruing such initiatives, I had written in ‘Rising Pakistan: A New Narrative’ that the media would soon relish an opportunity of sensationalism never witnessed before. It happened earlier than I expected.

As regards Kakul, it is yet to be ascertained if there was complicity from within. As a combater it is impossible for me to believe that Strategic Military Surprise had the nation confused for 24 hours. Refuelling arrangements at Kala Dhaka lend credence to my complicity theory.

The attack on Mehran Base was a bombshell with insufficient explanations. How was it possible that the terrorists achieved surprise? Did the local security in its rush cut off the route of withdrawal and trapped some militants while many others firing rockets into the aircrafts managed to escape undetected? Have the crossing points on the stream used by the militants been examined for any signs leading to a rendezvous? And have all the empties of rockets fired at aircrafts been collected? Why were the terrorists allowed to pin down security forces for 17 hours and why ground combat troops held back?  Where was the Joint Staff Headquarters with all its coordination? Unless these facts are known, the nation will continue to speculate and divide within.

The murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, the one man team of investigative journalism needs to be investigated to meet the ends of justice and punish those who killed him most brutally. The incidence has provided the much needed impetus to the propaganda and media tirades of a certain segment who see the military and intelligence establishments of Pakistan as enemies and use the propaganda unleashed by the western media against its own establishment as gun powder.

Lack of ‘need to know transparency’ at the ends of the armed forces and intelligence are providing space to both well meaning and ulterior motivated criticism of the armed forces. Why is it that suddenly the western media, White House critics, Pentagon, segments of political parties and some Pakistani media also join the same chorus?

A national army cannot remain divorced from the events that take place around it. Inasmuch as the nation, the events narrated above must have definitely dented military morale crucial for a battlefield. They realise that unlike Swat, the entire nation is not behind them. Amidst this mist of events, half truths, rhetoric and disinformation, they need a cause worth fighting for. In the backdrop of over 7000 casualties, many would be questioning if it was ever worth it and to what purpose. This is a most unsuitable environment to throw an army into large scale counter insurgency operations when other pre requisites emanating from the civil sector are totally missing. In any army, soldiers fight through motivation and that is just what the army needs.

Barawal Valley in Dir has been under constant conventional attacks launched from Kunar Afghanistan in the past few days. Earlier too, this sector had witnessed large scale organised attacks. Why is this pressure being brought on the Northern Flank of Mohmand Agency again facing Kunar? What have the NATO Forces and Afghan Military done so far to stop such incursions and who keeps supplying these insurgents with reinforcements and logistics. It is no coincidence, that when the security forces carried out search and clearing operations in the past, the NATO Forces failed to provide the much needed anvil. The militants were able to escape from one side and enter from another. The same is also true of the South Waziristan Operations followed by the usual accusations from CENTCOM that Pakistani security forces lack the holding capacities in areas that they secure. Will future operations in FATA and PATA witness the same levels of coordination? If they do, it means nothing.

Both USA and the Pentagon need to realise that in the military strategy the credibility of intent, clarity in mission and professionalism in execution cannot be over ruled by intelligence intrigues. All operations executed by Pakistan to first set its own house in order are to be supported through intelligence and the military anvil.

It appears that none of the Politicians in Pakistan realise that the country is fighting a war against its own attrition. Grateful to an NRO that puts each one of them in power in some capacity, they are content to play their familiar politics and wait for the time when the security apparatus is decimated enough to give them absolute power. The President and the Prime Minister neither seem to share the security concerns of the establishment nor willing to visit the embattled field formations. The economic and other policies being implemented do not indicate that Pakistan is passing through its worse crises, nor enough to arrest the momentum of constant attrition. With the economy effectively rolled back, factionalism proliferating, growing urban terrorism and the defence establishment constantly embarrassed, the scene will inevitably shift to the heartland Punjab and expanses of simmering Balochistan. To stop this we all have to become Pakistan’s Pakistanis.

It appears that the military leadership too has run out of ideas, primarily because its security narrative based on a two front war was deficient in addressing the issues arising out of militancy and US cooperation. The narrative lacked vital sociological inputs for a long drawn conflict. The assumptions that formed the important plank of the counter insurgency strategy were faulty. Having ceded initiative early on, it was never in a position to seize initiative crucial to a conflict. Its tactical military successes were never backed by viable and credible socio-political initiatives. In a faulty socio-politico-military calculus, there never was that civil backup to take over from where the military left.

Given that the same dispensations are likely to continue, so will the attrition.  Much will depend on how USA treats Pakistan and how Pakistan’s leaders react.

On its part, Pakistan must insist that it first needs to put its own house in order by defeating the militants within. This will take the form of selective operations based on accurate intelligence. The cost will be urban terrorism and heavy loss of life and infrastructure. At the same time it must prevail upon Afghan groups amenable to it to negotiate peace. However, this part can only be ensured if the entire nation is united under a new national narrative.

The recent budget has indicated that there is none.

Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist.

Email: samson.sharaf@gmail.com

 

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