When the army calls

Published: June 18, 2011
The writer served as director-general of the ISI from 1990-92

The writer served as director-general of the ISI from 1990-92 [email protected]

Was glasnost (openness and transparency) the mainstay of the Soviet Reformation in the 1980s, or the main cause of its downfall? All I know is that its military edition was first launched by General Aslam Beg, who became our army chief after Zia. He was acclaimed as the godfather of democratic revival and known for his many proclamations on strategic matters. But none of that would have been possible without some perestroika (restructuring); a refurbished ISPR being an important part of it. With its brilliant new head, the late General Riazullah, the chief went around educating the people on an institution that occasionally rules over them. The new mouthpiece was well equipped to spread his words, and the army, well-versed in communications, made good use of it — often to the discomfiture of its civilian counterparts.

In January 1991, when America was raring to attack the Iraqis occupying Kuwait, General Beg delivered his famous treatise on ‘strategic defiance’. It stole the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s thunder, who found no press to brief on his peace efforts to defuse the crisis. Beg, however, rationalised that he was merely assuaging the public rage against the impending war. Empathising with people’s sentiments, since no one else cared, became the common thread of many a subsequent decree from the military’s pulpit. Even the most restrained of the chiefs, Jehangir Karamat, found this instrument useful. His address in the Naval Staff College — where he propounded the national security council concept to evolve consensus on national security — was, contrary to practice, released to the press. He lost his job but conveyed the message — that he went public with this proposal only after exhausting all other means.

Asif Nawaz, the quintessential soldier, did not believe in subtle messaging. When reminded of the fate of an earlier chief sacked for Bonapartist penchant, he threw the gauntlet to the military brass to face the consequences. He did not live long enough for either side to exercise its option. Pervez Musharraf, too, decided against the ISPR option. Post-Kargil, he protested that the government sponsored campaign was maligning the armed forces, but giving media diplomacy a chance needed more patience than he had. Luckily for him, some unsubtle attempts to defang him provided the chance his team expected and awaited.

The present chief does not lack patience or subtlety, and is getting all the chances to put these qualities to good use. On the Kerry-Lugar bill, the ISPR release reminded one of JK’s desperation. When the in-house sessions failed to raise the necessary alarm, in the belief that involving the civil society in the debate might serve the purpose, the army deployed its PR brigade. Post-Bin Laden, the environment seems ripe for a long drawn public discourse. To kick it off, after the 139th meeting of the military council, we have received a working paper with over a thousand words, some of them highlighted at the source. A bit unusual of course, but then these are not usual times.

Much of what it contains may seem clichéd or platitude: “Need for national unity or army’s continued support for the democratic system”, for example. It still may have been necessary; not only to balance the act but also to soften the ground before bombing it with the harder stuff. When someone starts with a eulogy, buckle up your belts for the real thing.

After Abbottabad and Mehran, the military and the ISI were understandably in the dock. Swift riposte would have been imprudent. Conceding shortcomings and flaws, followed by confessions (in parliament) were expected to provide relief and atonement. In face of the unending onslaught though, an institution that builds its edifice on honour and morale, even though it has at times got them all mixed up, was bound to feel uneasy. It therefore decided to expand the scope of the debate; starting with “voicing concerns over the blowback of the Abbottabad incident that has resulted in the upsurge in terrorism”.

That brings in the American factor, which indeed goes “beyond the military to military ties” and therefore “must be viewed within the larger ambit of bilateral relations”. Reminding the government of Pakistan about the dictates of the Joint Parliamentary Resolution passed on May 14, the communiqué suggests that the “relations with the US must be assessed afresh in the backdrop of the May 2 incident, taking into account the aspirations of the people of Pakistan”. So there we are: don’t blame the army for this jinxed relationship and that the course correction is in the domain of the federal government. It also clarifies its own role: “[T]he army has drastically cut down the number of US troops in Pakistan and has never accepted any training assistance except on the newly inducted weapons and some assistance for the Frontier Corps that has now ceased”.

The portions relating to North Waziristan are merely to reassure people — the real recipients of the message — that the military at least was resisting all that it could. The bluster on the drones was not likely to impress anyone, but that “the Government is making necessary efforts in this direction” might again imply that the ball was in Islamabad’s court. On sharing intelligence “strictly on the basis of reciprocity and complete transparency”, the less said the better (transparent it never is).

Economic aid being more crucial than military aid, may sound rhetorical, but when Kayani recalls the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue of March 2010, in which he recommended that the US funds meant for military assistance be diverted towards economic aid, he is once again reluctantly telling the people that it wasn’t the army alone that was responsible for their economic woes.

By addressing multiple issues, the impact of the message may have dampened, rightly perhaps in keeping with the zeitgeist or the character of the sender; thoughtful, philosophic and with feet on ground. But it essentially remains: The issues are multiple; the solutions all embracing; and we in the khakis have both our flaws and our limits. The good thing about this message service is that whenever the army has sent such signals, it has never followed up with anything more drastic.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (28)

  • RealityCheck
    Jun 18, 2011 - 12:48AM

    better stick to writing about top ten lists which are professionally compiled according to you. No matter which way you and your former institution spin it, reality wont change and that is, generals are as complacent of crimes against people of Pakistan as the politicians.Recommend

  • loose dhoti
    Jun 18, 2011 - 1:36AM

    @reality check ? say wat?Recommend

  • Bangash
    Jun 18, 2011 - 1:41AM

    A fluff piece meant to hide the massive crimes and incompetence of Pakistani generals, including the writer.Recommend

  • Noor Nabi
    Jun 18, 2011 - 1:45AM

    This is a former ISI head trying to put a spin on the current situation to provide relief to his old institution. Today’s world will not put up with the shenanigans of the Pakistani military establishment.Recommend

  • Achtung Achtung
    Jun 18, 2011 - 1:48AM

    Just admit one thing: the weird Wonderland of Alice, aka strategic-depth of Pak Army has miserably collapsed. Thousands of Pakistani troops and civilians died in quest of day-dreamt Quixotic (in)security doctrines of our generals. Alqaida is fast becoming a real danger for our country and defenders have no clue even about themselves.

    Seems like history repeating itself. The last few scions of Mughal dynasty are in charge of our destinies, and are as oblivious to dangers as they can be. Company is approaching well prepared and capturing swiftly. Only this time Company is our co-religionist and far more blood thirsty.Recommend

  • Shade
    Jun 18, 2011 - 1:49AM

    Great stuff-all but but a few words went over me. Better get it published in army’s weekly Hilal rather than ET because little will be understood by general public. The piece is so full of BS that I marvel at how such people can make it to top ranks in the armed forces. 12 graders as they say…. not to mention the air of intellectualism they carry after a few months at the famous national defence university..these generals think they are the knowall. I’m afraid its time for them to understand that they better stay quite..serving or retired. I have seen this one on TV a few times and he is so full of contempt for the civilians. Look at what he is writing. Hardly anyone would understand. He headed and still supports the very institution which kills, abducts. maims and murders the people paying taxes to fund their lavish lifestyles. Duffers.Recommend

  • Aryabhat
    Jun 18, 2011 - 2:08AM

    A few interesting points in the article!

    1) “On the Kerry-Lugar bill, the ISPR release reminded one of JK’s desperation. When the in-house sessions failed to raise the necessary alarm, in the belief that involving the civil society in the debate might serve the purpose, the army deployed its PR brigade.”

    But then as soon as John Kerry landed in Islamabad and met mother institution of of ISPR, what happened? Suddenyl all that bubble was buit up got punctured without any changes in the KLB!!!!! So why all this hupla was created in the first place? Also never understood why the Army had objection to the provisions in KBL insisting civilina oversight on the defence spending? Interesting that author has ignored both these anomalies!

    2) “when Kayani recalls the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue of March 2010, in which he recommended that the US funds meant for military assistance be diverted towards economic aid, he is once again reluctantly telling the people that it wasn’t the army alone that was responsible for their economic woes.”

    But with defence spending being the second largest spendign item in budget after debt servicing, and Army receiving most of defence spending (as compared to PAF and PN), well, if Army is not responsible for making Govt spend far beyond its means, even by borrowing from market and in turn generating inflation that makes civilian govt. unpopular, then who is responsible for the economic woes? What business Army has in making Cement? Things like that only create uneven playing field in the economy and divert Army’s attention from its core duties.

    3) Biggest fiasco ISPR created in recent times was Raymond Davis affair. After creating all the hoopla in the media, we all know what happened.

    Sorry Sir, respect your love for Army and ISPR but it is high time they get down from the high pulpit and stop blaming everyone else for the blunders. Recommend

  • Saif M
    Jun 18, 2011 - 5:56AM

    The message that the ISPR conveyed to me, an average Pakistani, through this press release, was that like our politicians and bureaucrats, the army, too, needs people who can write better English. This was a poorly written and confused message, convoluted, cliched and rhetorical.Recommend

  • Sanjith Menon
    Jun 18, 2011 - 7:08AM

    Startegic Defiance? Or the dogs bark? i still remember, Aslam Beg saying, that if USA or NATO invades Pakistan, India will be nuked. With mad generals like that, you do not need us as enemies.Recommend

  • Arindom
    Jun 18, 2011 - 7:15AM

    What business does the Army have of addressing the citizens of Pakistan directly? If they have to say something, they should only talk to their Boss, the Defence Minister, who will decide what to do.Recommend

  • R
    Jun 18, 2011 - 8:03AM

    Well it did not take much for another military man to convey the threat.

    “The solutions all embracing” – meaning the army is not going to take the blame for the problems that Pakistan faces. Specially the serious problems it creates and fosters.

    “Khakis have both our flaws and limits” – hmm… to look fair the military will spin crimes and disasters as ‘flaws’ and you civilians will sing along. Otherwise, the instiution has its
    ‘limits.’ You may hang like ZAB, be exiled like NS and BB or just disappear like Salim Shahzad.

    Very magnanimous indeed! Thank you. Much obliged and shaking with fear – no more!Recommend

  • Saad Warraich
    Jun 18, 2011 - 8:26AM

    Brings to fore certain points that indeed need dilation. Army it seems is being made the scapegoat by the current government!

    Open the mind and think in a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 represents best, where our legislative and executive pillars land?Recommend

  • Mirza
    Jun 18, 2011 - 8:30AM

    @RealityCheck: I agree with what you say but I do have to add this:
    The army has ruled Pakistan for the better part of its existence. If the generals were so good and patriotic then why is Pakistan rotten to the core and bad to the bone?
    The politicians may be bad and corrupt but no politician has committed multiple acts of high treason. No politician has thrown 60 plus judges and their families in detention. No politician has murdered the first elected PM of the country. No politician has spread the culture of Islamic terrorism and provided sanctuary to the worst terrorists in the country. No politician has lost more than half of the country. No politician has surrendered to India multiple times. No politician moved the capital from Karachi to a far away from East Pakistan and in an earthquake zone. Quaid was not intelligent but Ayub was? What army general did with Quaid’s sister and mother of nation? Army generals committed multiple acts of high treason by mutilating the constitution and got away with that, no politician did that. It is about time that the army behaves like paid public servants and not colonial masters. Recommend

  • Nadeem
    Jun 18, 2011 - 9:58AM

    In no civilized country does the army directly address the people as if it were an entity outside the government. Armies there use media either for psyops against the enemy or to release non-classified ops information – and whatever is released is pre-approved by civilians in the defence ministry. In our great army’s case “the people” may very well be the “enemy” deserving of psyops operations. “Swift riposte would have been imprudent” says the ex-general. Maybe that’s why Saleem Shahzad was tortured to death so swiftly. In any case, ISPR, ISI, MI, Army, Air Force, Navy, and all the paramilitiary organizations need to visibly and unambiguously come under civilian control – as required by the Constitution of Pakistan. If the current civilian gevernment is incompetent, who put it there? Was it not the Army that met the Americans and PPP leadership in UAE throughout 2007 to hammer out that great betrayal to the Pakistani People – aka NRO?Recommend

  • Bilafond
    Jun 18, 2011 - 10:50AM

    Which Defence Minister ????Recommend

  • babar akhtar
    Jun 18, 2011 - 10:54AM

    The armed forces have to purge their ranks of the islamic fascists hiding amongst them.We’ve seen in most of the terrorist attacks on our military bases that the religious terrorists had inside help.a major operation cleanup needs to be undertaken to weed out the radical muslims within our armed forces.Zia has corrupted the mentality of our soldiers through his infamous islamization campaign.it’s time a de-islamization programmed is carried out to reverse zia’s damage.Recommend

  • Zargun Khan
    Jun 18, 2011 - 10:57AM

    There is nothing in the column which the readers dont know already. What is the point then? Recommend

  • Bambayyyaa
    Jun 18, 2011 - 11:56AM

    When its a blunder by Army’s ie on the part of foriegn ploicy or in any other matters such as wars …. its the mistake of the serving Govenment also .. ….. that last 67 years army has been meddeling in all democratically elected governments and its only and only the Armys fault … what pakistan is today ??… Recommend

  • Feroz
    Jun 18, 2011 - 12:10PM

    Army is behaving like a Political party with a constituency to address. It is spending too much time in trying to build an image with emphasis on Public Relations. However its performance on all counts in battle as well as in counter insurgency operations against the Al Qaeda / Taliban is disappointing if not pathetic. The ISI seems to be more interested in snooping on Politicians, Bureaucrats and Journalists rather than collecting intelligence on Militants who are wreaking havoc. If they were doing the job they were paid for 30000 lives would not have been lost, OBL would not have been hiding in Abbotabad and Al Qaeda links within Naval Headquarters would have been neutralised thereby preventing the PNS Mehran fiasco. Now there effectiveness and efficiency must be measured by solely one yardstick – reduction in civilian body count and number of militant leaders killed and militant groups disbanded. Accountability is a must, hubris will no longer work. Recommend

  • Zaki Khalid
    Jun 18, 2011 - 3:28PM

    Almost all commenters have have expressed their personal hatred and grudges for a person who was once a part of Pakistan’s noble military. What a mindset this has become. On one side we have extreme jingoists, and on the other we have these outcast citizens commenting so blatantly and rudely as if their views are the Law of the Land. Have some decency to reply to an elder former official’s article. What you all are doing can easily be classified as “badtameezi”. Can you all not talk while maintaing your posture and not super-beaming your ego?Recommend

  • Billu
    Jun 18, 2011 - 3:53PM

    The writer is not defending the military in any way; he is merely telling us how the army uses public relations to its advantage. Therefore, criticism should not be directed on the person of the writer or on his former institution, rather on the military’s use of public relations.Recommend

  • omar yusaf
    Jun 18, 2011 - 7:18PM

    I personally think it was an intelligent piece that was well written.Recommend

  • Nadeem Ahmed
    Jun 18, 2011 - 9:43PM

    If all Generals are angels and all civilians are devils then why why top brass is running between garisons and messes to cool young officers temper? Whom they are defending in their explanatory addresses? Civilian Leadership or themselves?Recommend

  • Babloo
    Jun 18, 2011 - 10:15PM

    Its the people, throught their elected representatives and the parliament that inform the army what the people’s ‘aspirations’ are.
    Its not the job of the army to define the ‘deology’ of the state.
    Its the function of the elected representatives.
    Its obvious that army thinks its superior to parliament and is brazen about it.Recommend

  • Jun 18, 2011 - 11:10PM

    Thanks for the last sentence, General Sahib.Recommend

  • Waqas Ahmed
    Jun 19, 2011 - 12:58AM

    Too many Indians comment on Express Tribune’s blogs. Recommend

  • Ani
    Jun 19, 2011 - 8:00AM

    when the army calls…………….

    raise your finger and push Delete!

  • amoghavarsha.ii
    Jun 20, 2011 - 4:22PM

    @zaki Khalid, what is YOUR view on this article? and on the Pakistan army.
    majority here don’t like army men messing up there country and hiding behind words?
    I mean Majority view is taken in a democracy?Recommend

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