Ever since its independence, Pakistan has faced enormous and multifaceted challenges. These challenges ranged from natural disasters to manmade or self-created ones. Irrespective of the nature of a disaster, the Armed Forces of Pakistan (AFP) have always formed the bedrock of the nation as it dealt with them!
The audacious occupation of a turbulent Afghanistan by the overbearing US-Isaf-Nato forces has made the whole region volatile and prone to outbreaks of violence across borders. This makes the Russians and Chinese extremely nervous and puts Pakistan firmly in the centre of the regional geopolitical/strategic calculus. The uncertain future of Afghanistan and Indian shenanigans therein remain worrisome strategic invariables for Pakistan. The AFP will as usual form the most potent foreign policy tool of the nation to deal with all such emerging geopolitical challenges.
At the geostrategic plane, the AFP had to face unprecedented challenges. By default, they have always had to fight uneven battles against all odds. Be it the ubiquitous Kashmir and India problem, the excesses of the US-Isaf-Nato combine on the Western borders, the Taliban/Al-Qaeda-led and inspired insurgency within the country or the potential conflict brewing in Iran, the nation will always continue to look up to the AFP to stand up and be counted in the defence of the motherland. Even in cases of natural disasters, political upheavals, law and order situations, floods, earthquakes, famines, development of inaccessible regions etc, it will still be the AFP that will provide the essential leadership, stability and expertise to deal with all such situations.
Of late, at the national political level, the AFP - the literal centre of gravity of the nation - has come under enormous pressures through an inspired and well crafted smear campaign. Some elements of the government, media, liberal and political elite, acting as virtual fifth columnists, relentlessly attacked them. They were so obviously inspired by factors other than their love for the country and its armed forces. Then there was a series of events one after the other that questioned the professional acumen of the AFP and their intelligence services. The Raymond Davis episode would have never happened had some of our diplomats and government bigwigs not allowed a freehand to the US intelligence agencies/ contractors like Blackwater, DyanCrop, Xe etc, to play havoc with our national security, including threats to our nuclear assets/programme. The OBL saga will be revealed in detail once the Commission’s report sees daylight. However, his presence on our soil, if proved beyond reasonable doubt, will remain a black mark against the AFP and intelligence services. The attack on the Mehran Base was a simple case of intelligence and security failure. The Salala massacre was a classic case of the US playing Brutus - stabbing Pakistan in the back - ripping to smithereens its trust and confidence in its ally! In all cases, the nation, except for a few inspired and obvious exceptions, stood by its armed forces. The people have always acknowledged the sacrifices that the AFP has made and still holds them in high esteem.
The AFP is currently overstretched. It looks after the glacial frontiers in the north, the vast eastern borders with India, the semi-mountainous badlands of the western frontier with Afghanistan (and by default the US-Isaf-Nato), the simmering (Jundullah) border areas with Iran and the ever-increasing threats from the sea.
In addition, they deal with the domestic militancy of various sectarian and political hues. In aid of civil power, the AFP deals with all natural and manmade disasters that befall Pakistan. These issues are generating powerful multidirectional pulls on the AFP, which would have caused a lesser force to collapse on itself long ago.
A paradigm shift, however, is in the offing. The AFP is slowly moving into the background in the scheme of domestic, political and international affairs. The democratic civilian government appears to be taking the lead in these matters now. Policy formulation and decision making at the national and government levels is slowly and solely being taken over by the civil government. The recent assault on the credentials of the armed forces by certain inspired sections of the media, society and the government, plus the army’s multiple operational commitments, may have combined to cause this state of affairs to come about. By default, the civil authorities may be acquiring ascendancy over the military, as it ought to be. Nevertheless, one feels that it is but a temporary phase. The centrality of our relations with India are all strategic issues like Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, the rivers and their waters in Kashmir, the strategic and nuclear balance in the subcontinent and so on. These issues will continue to influence all aspects of our bilateral ties.
Similarly, the issues with Afghanistan like the Durand Line, drugs and narcotics, terrorism, militancy et al, all deal with strategic issues. A major part of our relations with China, and the US and other major countries deals with the armed forces. Thus, whenever we resort to policy formulation or decision making in any aspect with these countries, the centrality of these strategic issues will force the government of the day to give credence to AFP’s point of view. And thus by default, it will continue to influence the essential national policy formulation and decision making!
Irrespective of our relations with regional and global powers, there will be no discernible effect on the centrality of the AFP in Pakistan’s affairs and its role as the nation’s bedrock!
The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand.