So we come to the time of the year when we celebrate our proud soldiers, even if the feel-good hangover from the 1965 war tends to cloud judgment somewhat regarding the army’s fortunes in its present commitments.
Indeed, the September war of 47 years ago must be relived every year, and rightly so, not the least because Pakistan’s armed forces presented contemporary military history with one of the finest defences on record, leaving the enemy with the proverbial red nose even as the status quo was reverted to after slightly more than a fortnight of intense fighting. It was also a classic case of determined, iron-willed soldiers protecting the motherland above and beyond the call of duty, that too in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. That their bravery and sense of sacrifice stimulated unprecedented love and admiration for the armed forces, and how they were garlanded far and wide, is now the stuff of legend, again rightly so.
There were, however, numerous behind-the-scenes glitches that incrementally disfigured this particular narrative with time. And if it had not been for the epic resistance put up by our brave jawans (soldiers) and accomplished officer corps, particularly on the Lahore front, much of their most senior commanders’ ineffectiveness and miscalculations would have come to the fore a lot sooner, perhaps confounding the entire defence effort. Investigations into the military response exposed serious concerns about generalship, a failing that would only six years later result in the amputation of the eastern wing. Yet sadly, even the severest setbacks failed to stimulate the necessary soul-searching within the army high command, and it remains convinced of its centrality in Pakistan’s political, foreign policy and security setup.
Ideally, Defence Day ought to prompt a serious annual performance and policy review of the armed forces. Our history of conflicts seems to make a good case for the argument that war is too serious a business to be left to the generals alone. The fact that traditional war always exposes chinks in our generals’ strategic armour ought to sober minds intelligent enough to understand the changing nature of the army’s prime duty, the new enemy being a near-invisible, shadowy guerilla force, one without a coherent army.
We will need all segments of society to unite — the government, armed forces, polity and citizens — if the menace of extremism is to be eliminated. The modern Muslim world, itself in a state of violent, far reaching change, is only too familiar with its fallout and makes for a good lesson for Pakistan, even though we are not without a thorough understanding of the blowbacks of Islamic fundamentalism ourselves. Significantly, while it needs little reminding that the new fight requires substantial changes in approach, there still remains the need, it seems, of reminding the relevant quarters that this fight too must not be left to the generals alone.
They can do their reputation no bigger favour than withdrawing from the position of directing this particular theatre of war, and settling at their constitutional place in the chain of command. It is an encouraging sign that both Islamabad and GHQ have come clean about the deep existential threat facing us if we do not succeed, even if both largely missed out on how sectarianism can split us from within far sooner than militants will take to regroup, grow stronger, and come down the mountains for a decisive fight. But it still remains to be seen whose place is where in the new calculus, even as everybody concerned understands only too well the correct order of things. – dailytimes