Tactical wins; strategic losses

The army high command has, with few exceptions, not covered itself in glory when it comes to strategic thinking.

Ejaz Haider October 24, 2010

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.


User | 12 years ago | Reply charging bulls once again made a history.cheers for colonel jamal
Subedar Sb | 12 years ago | Reply Hey! I am a subedar busy fighting militants. But this reads just like an ISPR PR.
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ

Most Read