‘The 33 Strategies of War’ by Robert Greene is a must-read for anyone indulging in the art of understanding the dynamics of civil-military relations. Whether it was the defeat of the Danish fleet by the English fleet in the famous naval battle of Copenhagen under Admiral Lord Nelson, who was demoted and not appointed commander-in-chief by the British civilian authorities (yet secured one of the finest naval battle victories) under the less accomplished command of Admiral Hyde Parker, or the Mongols whirlwind onslaught in Eurasia in the 13th century that introduced the world to warfare mobility and adaptability smashing the “order in the battle concept” — it is all there.
It is in the same book that Robert Green reminds us about “death ground” as the strategy of warfare. In the Art of War, Sun Tzu called it “desperate ground” and defined it as “when you have the enemy’s strongholds on your rear, and narrow passes in the front, it is hemmed-in ground. When there is no place for refuge at all, it is desperate ground.”
Today our former prime minister also stands on a desperate ground and the death ground strategy that he is employing is a consequence of the realisation that “there is left no escape route now” and in this battle of the zero-sum outcome it is the choice of killing or being killed. The most appropriate question raised on his latest comments is of timing. Had he spoken on the subject of lack of progress and delay in completion of the Mumbai trial while he was still in the Prime Minister’s Office it would have sounded more reasonable. But being not only out of the office but also thoroughly discredited on many accounts and looking at the possibility of being convicted and jailed soon — the experienced politician and the thrice-elected prime minister is now definitely taking positions on the death ground.
When Nawaz Sharif says today that “militant organisations are active in this country,” he should also explain what measures his government took to deactivate them? His own political party is renowned in giving political patronage to the right-wing parties in the country. Even his government’s inability to introduce Fata reforms has got everything to do with not annoying a right-wing party that favours referendum on the question of the merger of Fata with the K-P province.
Being unable to differentiate between “duty and advantage” Nawaz’s standing on death ground takes a position which in the current time frame suits only him and condemns his country for doing little or nothing to “prevent the non-state actors from crossing the border and killing 150 people in Mumbai.” But did he make any endeavours to harmonise with other state institutions? Did he show concern on the intelligence reports that indicated to him as prime minister how India was utilising covert operations and financing and supporting terrorists to cross our borders and kill hundreds and thousands of Pakistanis in terror-related operations?
Today he says “our narrative is not being accepted.” Does he think that the new twist that he has given to the Mumbai terrorist attack with his irresponsible statement will help the state of Pakistan to promote its narrative? In fact it promotes only danger, political inconvenience and mischief by merely engaging in a political theatre. Presidents and prime ministers are guardians of the state secrets at the highest level. Non-state actors carrying out transnational attacks is not state secret but if a leader’s need of political survival trumps the need to guard state secrets then he will no more be seen as a leader but a “bean spiller” that never had it in him to occupy the honourable position of the highest office.
Even a blind man can see that Nawaz is fighting a losing battle — the end of which is not even clear to him. No irregular war, covert war or the proxy wars between two states can end on clear and finite terms. Mumbai or APS Peshawar like incidents can never win wars but they can become starting points of lasting peace if the idea is not political point-scoring but determining the peaceful objectives and assigning the ways and means to obtain them.
The achievement of peace between India and Pakistan is a noble policy goal but it cannot be conceived unilaterally by a deposed prime minister who in an effort to divert the attention of the people of this country and to attract the attention of the disinterested international community in the wake of his corruption cases speaks of a new “self-awakening” and the “birth of a new ideology” that drives him to blackmail his own state with threats of disclosures of state secrets.
As it is, the news is coming in that the National Security Council has distanced itself and rejected the statement of the former prime minister of Pakistan. To say the least — a national security challenge has been well met and negotiated in the end. The very fact that the NSC is composed of important office-holders representing the PML-N shows that the individual politician can surely attempt to twist the national narrative by abusing his authority, power and position but in the end it will always be the institutions of the state that will rise up, defend and hotly contest the primacy of the national narrative. And in this is good news for Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2018.