Mind is the Ultimate Weapon
The Magazine about Defence & Security related Issues


From the Desk of Managing Editor

Dear Readers,

Many people seem to think that Gen Pervez Musharraf takes decisions instinctively and that he is lucky. That is only partly true, lucky he may be and instinctive definitely, his decision-making process is fairly methodical and the implementation deliberate and thorough as per the teachings of the Armed Forces. However, he does not debate any issue to death and he is a risk-taker. To many people his political move in end-June 2004 to carry out double changeover of PMs was not understandable, within days some knowledgeable observers guessed rightly that he was simply laying the foundation for major initiatives in the future. After a non-controversial and positive change of guards in the Armed Forces in early Oct 2004, he moved on his broad agenda for Pakistan, to name the major ones, viz (1) eliminating terrorism (2) solving the water problem and (3) finding a solution to the intractable Kashmir dispute. All this cannot happen without a system change to make the Parliamentary system more Presidential, maybe even a technical correction to strengthen the Supreme Commander’s authority over the Armed Forces. There is even talk about a Field Marshal’s baton! This would only provide more grist to the mill as the “uniform issue” is becoming increasingly more controversial by the day. With the imminent US Presidential elections on Nov 2, 2004 having a likely influence on Pakistan’s internal and external situations, Pervez Musharraf has cleared the decks just in case US President Bush loses, not very likely given the electoral count (which will allow him to retain the Presidency), as opposed to the popular vote which Bush will probably lose by a million or so to Kerry. However the most significant recent happening is Musharraf’s annunciating of Pakistan’s abandonment of five decades-old demand for plebiscite in Kashmir. In a major speech to the media bigwigs at an Iftari hosted by Shaikh Rashid in Islamabad, the President said that both India and Pakistan have to abandon their stated positions and look at all of Kashmir as an area comprising seven regions identified by their population, and then work out a solution in a de-militarized Kashmir. India has given a cool response, saying such negotiations should be confidential and through diplomatic channels rather than being debated in the media. This major departure of policy, coming from a soldier, is a 180 degree change of direction in the Army’s thinking? Or is it? Is the President doing a solo run? The immediate area of concern is FATA, counter-guerrilla-cum-terrorism operations in WANA have taken a serious turn. I have taken the liberty of re-producing “COUNTER-GUERILLA OPS AGAINST TERRORISM” for the benefit of readers.

According to Comd 11 Corps, Lt Gen Safdar Hussain, 246 militants have been killed during the course of military operations in the last few months in South Waziristan, at least 100 foreigners (Uzbeks and Chechnyans among them). He claimed that 579 militants have been arrested. And then came the shocker, 171 of our Pakistani soldiers (regular and paramilitary) have also died during the operations, 21 because of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). As a company commander of an infantry battalion (44 Punjab now 4 Sindh) which suffered the maximum casualties (some of it in hand-to-hand fighting) during counter-guerilla operations in Balochistan in 1973, for me the high casualty rate is alarming. The Corps Comd estimated several hundred tribal militants are operating against our forces, 100 plus being foreigners. Ruling out the presence of Osama bin Laden in the area, he confirmed indications that Tahir Yuldash, a leader of the Independent Uzbekistan Movement (IUM), could be operating with the hostiles. What this successor of renowned Uzbek Mujhahideen leader Juma Namangani (killed fighting along with the Taliban in Konduz in Oct/Nov 2001) is doing in Pakistan is anyone’s guess!

South Waziristan has always been a very difficult area. During British rule there was a permanent brigade group stationed at Wana and another one in Razmak (North Waziristan). When the Quaid entrusted the defence of our western frontiers to the tribals in what became known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the brigade groups were pulled out. Brig Ingall, the first Commandant of the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) being newly established at Kakul, requested the respective Brigade groups for help. All the furniture, furnishings, crockery, etc of the two Officers Club (including the crests of the two brigades and the regimental crests of the British units which had served in Razmak and Wana) were donated to PMA, enough to furnish the Academy’s cadet messes. For many years two of the cadet ante-rooms were known as the “Razmak Brigade” and “Wana Brigade” Rooms. A larger military presence than the British ever had in Wana and Razmak will be required for the foreseeable future to rid the country of the curse of terrorism.

There is a clear nexus between guerilla warfare and terrorism in Wana. Guerillas operating in their own territory are usually careful not to alienate the local population, that being their major source for their sustenance and support. On the other hand, their main weapon being to cause mayhem and fear among “soft targets”, terrorists have no qualms about causing maximum casualties among civilians as they are doing in Wana, contrary to normal tribal customs about the rules of engagement A recent example was the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers working on the Gomal Dam by five militants under control of Abdullah Mahsud. When it became clear from communication intercepts that the hostage would be killed, Pakistan’s elite SSG went into action. Unfortunately one of the Chinese engineers was badly wounded and later died. The army had no choice, it was unfortunate but one cannot give into the demands of kidnappers, it would have led to many more kidnappings. A largely rocky and barren country with walled tribal villages, each with one or more watchtowers, South Waziristan has poor soil, with only small patches of cultivation around the villages. The main source of survival for the locals has been banditry and smuggling i.e. till the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Both North and South Waziristan thereafter became staging areas for the Afghan Mujhahideen, this spurred some economic activity, and even sparse affluence. Over the years some of the foreign Mujahideen settled down permanently with the Mahsuds and the Waziris. With the advent of US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and the rout of their Taliban mentors, there was an fresh influx of foreign fighters as elements of al-Qaeda found a safe haven in this no-go (self-imposed by the government) territory, operating at will on both sides of the Durand Line. With plenty of cash from the foreigners, with religious sentiments decrying the occupation of Afghanistan by western powers and with a heritage of spurning laws that are not essentially tribal in nature, besides being a safe haven Wana became an ideal recruiting ground from among the youth of the area. Before the Afghan War reliance was on generally obsolete weapons. Their weapons and equipment are now at par with the modern armed forces, on-the-job “training” has made them sometimes even tougher. While modern communications and intelligent exploitation of the media are major force-multipliers to their potency, the use of IEDs as a terror weapon adds a new dimension. The Soviets booby trapping of toys and other articles of daily use to kill and maim during counter-guerilla operations in an alien land is understandable if unacceptable, that such vicious means are being resorted to by the hostiles in utter disregard of innocent local casualties among their own kith and kin is appalling. Only foreigners without any stake locally can have such venom!

Wars are nowadays not fought in only the classical sense of combat, the newest version of warfare is how to successfully exploit the media to (1) create a favourable image of oneself while (2) creating an adverse image of one’s opponent. We must be careful that in persisting with “glasnost” we do not compromise national security, Comd 11 Corp’s giving away our casualty figures has only added credibility to the rumour mills, this will be multiplied many times over. Despite its claim of being the world’s largest functioning democracy, India for over 50 years permitted outsiders (foreigners and nationals included) on a strictly restricted basis, if at all, into the areas of conflict. India has thus been able to keep its many insurrections under wraps. The media is absolutely barred from the long running internal conflicts in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Bodoland, etc, the bloody freedom movement in Kashmir gets almost no international attention because of this media quarantine. The Pakistani media has recently been permitted into Kashmir on a very “controlled” basis. What to talk about Kashmir, let any foreign media person report adversely about any issue, if the Indians decide this to be out of line, he or she will be out of India on the next flight. The domestic Indian media treats national security with kid gloves, catch them talking about the atrocities in Kashmir, or for that matter, elsewhere in India.

The US learnt many media lessons from Vietnam where the war was lost mainly because of the bloody images on TV in the drawing rooms of mainline USA, “embedded journalists” with their troops were only allowed in Iraq once they knew the invasion was a walk-over. Why don’t the US now “embed” journalists in Falluja or Baghdad i.e. except on selective basis? In our context such an idea is absolute nonsense. One should certainly “embed” journalists with units in peacetime and (maybe) during conventional war, to allow the media access to the area of operations during a counter-guerilla warfare campaign is nothing less than madness, if not outright propaganda hara-kiri! Pakistan Army is engaged in a bloody cross between classic guerilla warfare and pure terrorism, excesses, can be complicated by misreporting. The political and geo-political merits and demerits (and sensitivities) of indulging in counter-guerilla operations against the wishes and feelings of the Pakistani masses notwithstanding, briefings should only be like the one given recently in Peshawar, even then why talk about our own casualty figures?

The Catch-22 is that rumours can take over in an information vacuum, containing such rumours effectively is essentially the job of PR. “Damage control” is hardly possible by disclosing sensitive details to the media. The Armed Forces have to cope with horrendous factors in very difficult terrain, and would never be happy about fighting their own countrymen. In such a complex situation and in such adverse conditions, the least we can do to support our Armed Forces is not to romanticize terrorists but to shun them. The Armed Forces are on sound moral ground conducting an extremely difficult campaign to rid this country of the terrorist menace, it is our duty to recognize their effort and sacrifice!

M. Ikram Sehgal

 


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