Tactical wins; strategic losses

Published: October 25, 2010

The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at UIUC (1997) and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution's Foreign Policy Studies Program

An 8-member team of the 35th Battalion of Pakistan Army’s Frontier Force Regiment has won the gold at the Cambrian Patrol Competition 2010. I feel proud of these determined, courageous and professional men. Well done 35 FF!

Not easy this competition. Carrying 55-kilos of Field Service Marching Order, excluding the personal weapon, across some of the toughest terrain in Cambria in the Wales the competition tests teams from militaries across the world for multiple tactical skills: map reading, patrol techniques, obstacle crossing, firing of personal weapons, first aid and casevac (casualty evacuation), artillery target indication, helicopter drills etc.

The competition’s slogan: “It’s arduous, it’s physically and mentally demanding, it’s viewed internationally as one of the toughest patrolling tests facing the modern soldier, it’s the Cambrian patrol.”

So, winning it is no mean feat. But, and this must be borne in mind, this competition tests the tactical skills, not strategic thought. And while Pakistan Army personnel, officers and men, require no certificate for valour, having proved their mettle repeatedly in wars and also during peacekeeping missions abroad, the army high command has, with few exceptions, not covered itself in glory when it comes to strategic thinking.

Reason: lopsided civil-military relations that have done two major harms to Pakistan. The foreign policy has become subservient to the security policy and the military and operational strategies have come to define the higher goal of national security strategy.

Consequence: tactical brilliance has generally failed to add to the strategic mosaic. Indeed, tactical boldness, while testing men in the field, has quite often been a function of strategic idiocy. Kargil is a prime example. The four generals, one of whom now wants to serve Pakistan as a political leader, would have made good lieutenant colonels. The Peter Principle kicked in the moment they went above that rank. Their thinking remained limited to a battalion’s AOR (area of responsibility).

As I once wrote elsewhere, the Prussian soldier and war theoretician, Carl von Clausewitz, argued that the grammar of war is grounded in war’s “triple nature”. The first level is the “primitive violence of people”: ‘the ability to take risks and the willingness to kill’; the second level relates to managing violence and harnessing it to an aim. This is done by the military commander(s); the third level is political where the government determines the ultimate objective of war.

Clausewitz determined – and subsequent studies and experience proves it – that there would be tension between the first level and second and also between the second and third levels. But all the three levels have to be taken together since that is what constitutes the triple nature of war as well as its grammar.

Clausewitz used the terms Zweck und Ziel, the first referring to “purpose”, the second to “aim”. The Zweck denotes the political objective for which a war is being fought; the Ziel relates to the actual conduct and aim of battles, of which many may be fought to achieve the political end. The Ziel must then add up to the Zweck or as Philip Windsor put it: “Clausewitz argues that the Ziel must always be defined in the context of the Zweck and be subordinate to it.”

In our case, the aim has come to define the purpose rather than the other way round. This has resulted in misadventures of whose cumulative costs we are paying now and are likely to continue to pay in the foreseeable future.

Which is why, while we must honour the men who have won this tactical competition, we must also recall the brave men we have lost in several battles and wars over the last 63 years, many of whom would have lived to a ripe old age but for the follies of military decision-makers who seemed to have convinced themselves of two idiocies: that strategic insight is a function of tactical boldness; and, two, that our strategic aims are holier than the enemy’s and hence he will display a closed-ended commitment to his interests.

The plain fact is, tactical boldness is of no use, unless it is applied under an operational strategy defined by a military strategy which itself operates under the overhang of a national purpose determined by the political leadership. By placing tactical boldness before strategic thought we put the cart before the horse.

We have brave men; we are lucky to have them. Now we only need to get rid of the stupidity under which they are made to operate. We can’t afford to waste more of them.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 25, 2010.

Reader Comments (20)

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 1:29AM

    A scholarly piece of writing and they won’t be able to understand it again………..LOL. Ejaz- why don’t you explain it in a simple “jattka” way for them to understand. Wish you all the very best.Recommend

  • faraz
    Oct 25, 2010 - 3:22AM

    Clauswitz’s trinity amounts to zero in case of Pakistan. People haven’t seen real wars; the wars of 1948, 65, 71 or 99 are petty skirmishes compared to European standards. British suffered more casualties on the first day of Somme, than Pakistan and India did in their entire history of war. Our generals simply lack the intellect and mindset needed to win wars. Just read some of our articles by our ex-chief of staff; even Zaid Hamid looks a genius compared to him. Whatelse should we expect from generals who are the chairman of Defence Housing Authorities. Recommend

  • M. Naim Shaikh
    Oct 25, 2010 - 4:20AM

    A rather fundamental principle of organised violence which eludes our military strategists or our drill sergeants! In the writings of Dr. AQ Khan our military Generals are all FAs and and no further education. Recommend

  • Bangash
    Oct 25, 2010 - 5:09AM

    Fully agree with this article, Pakistani army has suffered from severely bad leadership for most of its history. The average fauji is the one who fights but its the generals who always get the benefits and take adventures and break laws.Recommend

  • Noor Nabi
    Oct 25, 2010 - 6:38AM

    If a good army is pushed into bad politics, as in 1971 when the butchery in East Pakistan took place at the behest of the state, the result is always disastrous. No need for a long-winded theory.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 8:04AM

    ayaz?

    colonels?

    you are being charitable…how about subedar-majors?Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 10:08AM

    In terms of men and jawans, our soldiers are as good or even better than any soldier in any part of the world. It is scoundrels who have damaged the army and its prestige. Let us hope that no further damage is done to this vital institution. It is men like Maj Aziz Bhatti, Major Shabbir Sharif etc who make us proud and to whom we owe a lot for saving this country from foreign enemies.Recommend

  • Haris Masood Zuberi
    Oct 25, 2010 - 11:37AM

    -Typos Corrected-pls delete earlier post

    Very well written Mr Ejaz. Fully agree with the analysis.

    While field officers are put through a rigorous process of exercises, courses and even real action, they gain great depth and understanding as well as the boldness required at their level. As they rise in rank and cross over to the world of stars, strategic grooming and practical experience gets minimal, the courses at prestigious war colleges across the world done at Brig level are apparently not enough. But then again, perhaps there’s no way to solve this. Maybe a General is destined to learn to think strategically straight only after actually blundering for experience. Because there’s no school for generals to nurture their strategic expertise at a General’s level. Most generals have done their theoretical and practical training by the time they are Colonels of Brigadiers. By the time they wear the stars, they are in a totally different realm, and in that realm there is apparently no further grooming procedure.
    Maybe that’s why many general’s who found success by the end of WWII had blundered earlier on.Recommend

  • Khalid Munir
    Oct 25, 2010 - 12:16PM

    @ Khalid Aziz…..Those who have gone through Clausewitz will understand this. Every top brass has.
    A very well written article.Recommend

  • Oct 25, 2010 - 1:21PM

    @Khalid Munir———- there is a difference between “gone through” and “understood”. Had they actually made any sense out of Clausewitz ———-Pakistan would have been in a better shape. “intellectually bankrupt” mediocres shouldn’t be doing the strategy thing but unfortunately we have been ruled by this lot.Recommend

  • faraz
    Oct 25, 2010 - 2:55PM

    @Khalid Munir

    If Clauswitz is taught at our institutions, then Clauswitz would be turning in his grave. How did our strategists come to the conclusion that we should indoctrinate civilians to wage proxy wars? Clauswitz’s trinity consists of people, military and government, where government formulates the national policy and military is one tool of that policy. While in Pakistan, the military has taken over the role of government and people are doing the fighting! Recommend

  • parvez
    Oct 25, 2010 - 3:50PM

    Congratulations to the 8 members of the 35th FF Regiment. – they have made us proud.
    If one notices on an individual level, almost in any descipline we excell or at least stand out,
    Yet when it comes to pulling together as a team (read nation) we fail. Recommend

  • peccavi
    Oct 25, 2010 - 8:27PM

    Karl von Clausewitz! Pakistani military officers above the rank of colonels, leading into the realm of flag officers, are selected for their political views and not their military professionalism. The job of a Pakistani general, for which he is trained, is to administer Pakistan and not to plan wars according to the ideas of Clausewitz. David Frost was absolutely correct when he mentioned that the Pakistani army is the only army in the world that has successfully conquered Pakistan! Recommend

  • Khalid bin Walid
    Oct 25, 2010 - 10:25PM

    It may be more appropriate to pend the criticism for some other time, however “well meaning” it may be and just say ‘Well done Pak Army’.
    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” — Theodore RooseveltRecommend

  • Mrs. Shafqat
    Oct 26, 2010 - 1:37PM

    Oh for crying out loud. Can we atleast laud them when they do brilliantly at what they’re supposed to do and put our super intellectual hats aside for a second. Army won a Military competition Hurray, well done, we’re proud of you – fullstop. Is any of our esteemed commentators son on front line as we speak? no? probably not. In which case please cut it out and just support them when they’re doing what they’re supposed to do… enough of the ‘general’ complex already!Recommend

  • Haris Masood Zuberi
    Oct 26, 2010 - 6:07PM

    ^Of Course Mrs. Shafqat, no denying how proud we all are and must always be of our young officers and men protecting us 24/7 as we lead comfortable lives.
    They face hardships so we may live in peace. The soldier’s glory is undoubted. Recommend

  • Subedar Sb
    Oct 26, 2010 - 6:11PM

    Sounds like an ISPR PR!!!Recommend

  • Mrs. Shafqat
    Oct 27, 2010 - 6:28PM

    It should sound to you like a mother who’s son is fighting to protect your liberty. Recommend

  • Subedar Sb
    Oct 29, 2010 - 10:19AM

    Hey! I am a subedar busy fighting militants. But this reads just like an ISPR PR. Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Oct 29, 2010 - 1:05PM

    charging bulls once again made a history.cheers for colonel jamalRecommend

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