Never Again?

Never Again
By Javed Hussain; Dawn, April 15, 2008

SINCE the founding of Pakistan 60 years ago, army chiefs have ruled over the country for 33 years, while for 11 years after the crash of the C-130, they remained the real power behind the throne.

They had a golden opportunity to modernise Pakistan and earn for it an enviable position in the world. Their names would then have been carved with pride in the hallowed earth of their country. Instead, they throttled democracy, mutilated the constitutions, destroyed the institutions of the state, blundered into two major wars and a minor one, destroyed the basis on which Pakistan was founded, and put the country back in time and space.

They are reviled by the people, for all the money invested in their institution has given the people nothing in return except tinpot dictators, a truncated country, national humiliation and wasted years.

Yet for all their transgressions against the state, the people would still have forgiven the first two dictators if they had won victories on the battlefield in the two major wars that they had provoked and lost. It is not that the opportunities did not come their way. It is that they were not seized.

In 1965, the field marshal set out to conquer Kashmir. His plan was to send 5,000 infiltrators into Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) to incite the Muslim population to rise in rebellion (Operation Gibraltar), and then deliver the knockout blow by cutting India�s road link with IHK at Akhnur on River Chenab (Operation Grand Slam). In the event, both failed.

That these two moves would precipitate a general war was naively ruled out by him. But when the Indians responded by atta-

cking across the international frontier to threaten Lahore and Sialkot, he panic-ked and hastily transferred most Grand

Slam forces to the Ravi-Chenab corridor (Sialkot sector).

The Ravi-Chenab corridor is of great strategic importance for India as it connects the Indian mainland to Jammu & Kashmir at the headworks on River Ravi over which pass the road and rail communications, not too far from the border. The field marshal and his planners thought that by cutting the road link at Akhnur, they would force India to surrender Kashmir. They overlooked the fact that the door would remain open for the Indians to induct forces into this corridor unless it was sealed off at the headworks. Another offensive, concurrent with Grand Slam, would have ensured this.

The odds were stacked heavily in the field marshal�s favour as this offensive would have achieved a complete surprise in the same way as Grand Slam had done. With control of the Ravi lost, the option of launching a counter-offensive across the river into the corridor would not be available to the Indians.

The 1965 war was characterised by the ineptitude of the two high commands. In spite of this failure, the field marshal stayed on until forced out in disgrace, but not before giving a parting kick to the nation in the form of another general.

When this general launched the army against its own people in East Pakistan, everyone, including junior officers, knew that this was the end of Quaid-i-Azam�s Pakistan as India would exploit the opportunity to the hilt.

Since East Pakistan could not be defended against the Indian army�s main offensive effort, more so when the people had risen in rebellion against the state, the only way to salvage the forces in the east and to recompense for the eventual loss of East Pakistan was to sever Kashmir from India. This could best be done by launching pre-emptive strikes in the Ravi-Chenab corridor, which from the geo-strategic, operational and logistics standpoint, was the most suitable area. The time for this was mid-September when the build-up of Indian forces in the east had commenced and defences in the west had not been fully energised. At this point in time, the Indian army�s strike formation 1 Corps (three infantry divisions and two armoured brigades), which was earmarked for operations in this corridor, was at least three weeks away.

In mid-Oct, Lt Gen K.K.Singh, Commander 1 Corps, commented, �Our weakest hour is now. Another four days and Yahya would have missed the opportunity.� He did precisely that, since he remained in a state of dither until Dec 3, by which time, events had already overtaken him. The result was that Pakistan army�s strategic reserves in the west remained unutilised, which in a war of short duration can be construed as a crime against the state.

The reign of the third army chief was characterised by religious bigotry and regressive thought. Twenty years on, the people of Pakistan are still paying a heavy price for these. His tyrannical regime was matched only by that of the fourth dictator.

The fourth dictator, prior to his coup, thought that he would be hailed as a hero if he took the Kargil heights and forced India to surrender Siachen and negotiate on Kashmir from a position of weakness. But his dreams were shattered when the Indians started recapturing height after height until the remaining Pakistani positions became untenable. Scores of Pakistani soldiers had been sacrificed for one man�s quest for glory.

Next he took on the people of Balochistan and the tribal areas. Instead of redressing their grievances, he dubbed them as terrorists and sent the army to crush them. The result was an insurgency. The people of the tribal areas and regions have been influenced by the narrow interpretation of Islam by religious pseuds, who continue to hold sway over millions of students in thousands of madressahs and mosques across the country.

More than anything else, it is this dimension of the problem that has to be addressed through an imaginatively constructed and conducted education programme, failing which, thousands of misinformed and brainwashed youth would keep getting churned out every year. But the dictator, instead of getting to the root of the problem, chose to fight ideas with guns, forgetting that in the end it is the gun that loses.

His predilection for the gun and obsequiousness to the White House was again displayed when he ordered the SSG assault on the Jamia Hafsa-Lal Masjid complex, after an agreement was said to have been reached. The result was that all the inmates, mostly boys and girls, were killed. While the government claims there were 100 inmates, according to the grapevine, each coffin buried had four bodies in it. The sound of that gunfire has reverberated around the country.

Having remained the dominant element of national power for 44 years, the time has come for the army to redeem itself by apologising to the people of Pakistan and saying, never again.

The writer is a former brigadier of the Pakistan Army.

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