As a matter of principle, when a country loses its writ over a part of its territory, it applies its state power to re-establish the writ. The state power so applied is defined as ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’. The security forces are the hard power, employed first to regain control over the territory. The soft power, i.e., the civil authority then moves in to restore the rule of law and establishes the writ of the government, which means that “the civil administration is fully established, courts of law and the institutions are functioning, and the political process has begun.” This process is necessary for the healing of the wounds.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan, for the last 55 years, only hard power has been used to regain control and soft power has never been enforced to establish the rule of law, thus leaving a big vacuum, which has been filled by anti-state elements. The law and order problem, terrorism and the social disorder that the country is now facing, is mainly due to this failing. Balochistan presents the worst example.
Balochistan: Since 1958, the military has been used five times to regain control over the disturbed areas in Balochistan but not once, the rule of law has been enforced to establish the writ. Ever since, the military has been maintaining a fragile control over the areas and the civil authority remains non-effective. A big vacuum thus exists, providing space to anti-social and anti-state elements, creating very dangerous security problems.
East Pakistan: Starting from March 1971 to August 1971, the military had gained full control over the entire territories of East Pakistan but the civil authority was not established, leaving a very dangerous vacuum, which was filled by India, resulting in the fall of Dhaka — and the ‘revenge of a thousand years’.
Swat, Dir, Bajaur and Waziristan: Military force has been used in these areas several times. However, full-fledged operations have been launched since 2004 and the army remains in full control of these areas, but the rule of law has not been established by the civil authority. The vacuum, thus, created has been filled by anti-state elements, with whom we are now trying to negotiate peace. This malady has been created because of the endemic obsession afflicting both the hard power and the soft power of the state.
And what precisely is this ‘endemic obsession’? When the military gains control over a territory, it starts enjoying power under unbridled authority and doesn’t want to part with it. Since 1958, no chief of army staff has ever asked or made even a feeble request to the government — civil or military — to come forward and establish the rule of law in the territories under their control. There are only two examples, where such requests were made at the lower level of command, but were ignored. In August 1971, when the military had gained control over the entire territories of East Pakistan, our General Officer Commanding (GOC), General Shaukat Reza, pleaded with General Niazi, to request Islamabad to establish the civil authority there, as soon as possible. General Niazi didn’t entertain the idea and exchanged harsh words with the GOC and got so angry that he removed General Shaukat Reza from his command. In 1974-75, I was commanding a brigade in the Marri-Bugti areas. In April 1975, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto visited my brigade. During the briefing I requested the prime minister to order establishing the civil authority in the areas which were then under full control of the army. Mr Bhutto accepted my plea, but we never received orders from Islamabad.
As of today, the civil authority had been lacking in political will to take on the responsibility of establishing the rule of law in the areas of Swat, Dir, Bajaur, Waziristan and Balochistan at present under the control of the army. These areas constitute almost 40 per cent of Pakistan’s territory. It is a situation which defies all logic.
Suffering from such ‘endemic defects’, we are now talking about full-fledged military operations in North Waziristan without the guarantee that the political government will move forward to establish the rule of law once the army gained control over the areas. And those who talk of military operations must also remember that Pakistan is not an island, like Sri Lanka or Great Britain, where rebels could be isolated and defeated. We have a very long, very difficult, very hostile and porous border, which we have not been able to defend against the ingress of the hostile neighbour, using the huge spy network in Afghanistan created by India. Thus, since 2004, Pakistan has been targeted with full support of the allies in Afghanistan, creating very serious security problems for our country.
The main responsibility of the armed forces is to defend our borders in the east against a very formidable enemy. Such are the challenges confronting Pakistan, which demand discretion, which is the better part of valour. By all means, Pakistan may launch the armed forces against the insurgents in North Waziristan, while it remains burdened with the responsibility to defend the country, imposing such operational over-stretch — a situation repugnant to the demands of military strategy.
Dialogue with the insurgents is an option. And remember that, since 2004, due to military operations in the tribal areas of the northwest, hundreds and thousands of our men, women and children from these areas have been rendered homeless and have been living miserable lives. Take pity on them, as Benazir Bhutto in 1989 took pity on our exiles in Afghanistan. As army chief, I requested her to grant amnesty to the Marri tribals and Awami National Party workers and their leader Mr Ajmal Khattak, living in exile in Afghanistan since 1973. Amnesty was granted and all returned to Pakistan and have lived peacefully. Can’t we maintain this tradition for the good of our people?
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2014.