Pakistan’s General Problem

  • What is the last thing you say to your best general when ordering him into a do-or-die mission? A prayer maybe, if you are religiously inclined. A short lecture, underlining the importance of the mission, if you want to keep it businesslike. Or maybe you’ll wish him good luck accompanied by a clicking of the heels and a final salute.

    On the night of 5 July 1977 as Operation Fair Play, meant to topple Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s elected government, was about to commence, then Army Chief General Zia ul Haq took aside his right-hand man and Corps Commander of 10th Corps Lieutenant General Faiz Ali Chishti and whispered to him: “Murshid, marwa na daina.” (Guru, don’t get us killed.)

    General Zia was indulging in two of his favourite pastimes: spreading his paranoia amongst those around him and sucking up to a junior officer he needed to do his dirty work. General Zia had a talent for that; he could make his juniors feel as if they were indispensable to the running of this world. And he could make his seniors feel like proper gods, as Bhutto found out to his cost.

    General Faiz Ali Chishti’s troops didn’t face any resistance that night; not a single shot was fired, and like all military coups in Pakistan, this was also dubbed a ‘bloodless coup’. There was a lot of bloodshed, though, in the following years—in military-managed dungeons, as pro-democracy students were butchered at Thori gate in interior Sindh, hundreds of shoppers were blown up in Karachi’s Bohri Bazar, in Rawalpindi people didn’t even have to leave their houses to get killed as the Army’s ammunition depot blew up raining missiles on a whole city, and finally at Basti Laal Kamal near Bahawalpur, where a plane exploded killing General Zia and most of the Pakistan Army’s high command. General Faiz Ali Chishti had nothing to do with this, of course. General Zia had managed to force his murshid into retirement soon after coming to power. Chishti had started to take that term of endearment—murshid—a bit too seriously and dictators can’t stand anyone who thinks of himself as a kingmaker.

    Thirty-four years on, Pakistan is a society divided at many levels. There are those who insist on tracing our history to a certain September day in 2001, and there are those who insist that this country came into being the day the first Muslim landed on the Subcontinent. There are laptop jihadis, liberal fascist and fair-weather revolutionaries. There are Balochi freedom fighters up in the mountains and bullet-riddled bodies of young political activists in obscure Baloch towns. And, of course, there are the members of civil society with a permanent glow around their faces from all the candle-light vigils. All these factions may not agree on anything but there is consensus on one point: General Zia’s coup was a bad idea. When was the last time anyone heard Nawaz Sharif or any of Zia’s numerous protégés thump their chest and say, yes, we need another Zia? When did you see a Pakistan military commander who stood on Zia’s grave and vowed to continue his mission?

    It might have taken Pakistanis 34 years to reach this consensus but we finally agree that General Zia’s domestic and foreign policies didn’t do us any good. It brought us automatic weapons, heroin and sectarianism; it also made fortunes for those who dealt in these commodities. And it turned Pakistan into an international jihadi tourist resort.

    And yet, somehow, without ever publicly owning up to it, the Army has continued Zia’s mission. Successive Army commanders, despite their access to vast libraries and regular strategic reviews, have never actually acknowledged that the multinational, multicultural jihadi project they started during the Zia era was a mistake. Late Dr Eqbal Ahmed, the Pakistani teacher and activist, once said that the Pakistan Army is brilliant at collecting information but its ability to analyse this information is non-existent.

    Looking back at the Zia years, the Pakistan Army seems like one of those mythical monsters that chops off its own head but then grows an identical one and continues on the only course it knows.

    In 1999, two days after the Pakistan Army embarked on its Kargil misadventure, Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed gave a ‘crisp and to the point’ briefing to a group of senior Army and Air Force officers. Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail, who attended the meeting, later wrote that they were told that it was nothing more than a defensive manoeuvre and the Indian Air Force will not get involved at any stage. “Come October, we shall walk into Siachen—to mop up the dead bodies of hundreds of Indians left hungry, out in the cold,” General Mahmud told the meeting. “Perhaps it was the incredulousness of the whole thing that led Air Commodore Abid Rao to famously quip, ‘After this operation, it’s going to be either a Court Martial or Martial Law!’ as we walked out of the briefing room,” Air Commodore Tufail recalled in an essay.

    If Rao Abid even contemplated a court martial, he probably lacked leadership qualities because there was only one way out of this mess—a humiliating military defeat, a world-class diplomatic disaster, followed by yet another martial law. The man who should have faced court martial for Kargil appointed himself Pakistan’s President for the next decade.

    General Mahmud went on to command ISI, Rao Abid retired as air vice marshal, both went on to find lucrative work in the Army’s vast welfare empire, and Kargil was forgotten as if it was a game of dare between two juveniles who were now beyond caring about who had actually started the game. Nobody remembers that a lot of blood was shed on this pointless Kargil mission. The battles were fierce and some of the men and officers fought so valiantly that two were awarded Pakistan’s highest military honour, Nishan-e-Haidar. There were hundreds of others whose names never made it to any awards list, whose families consoled themselves by saying that their loved ones had been martyred while defending our nation’s borders against our enemy. Nobody pointed out the basic fact that there was no enemy on those mountains before some delusional generals decided that they would like to mop up hundreds of Indian soldiers after starving them to death.

    The architect of this mission, the daring General Pervez Musharraf, who didn’t bother to consult his colleagues before ordering his soldiers to their slaughter, doesn’t even have the wits to face a sessions court judge in Pakistan, let alone a court martial. The only people he feels comfortable with are his Facebook friends and that too from the safety of his London apartment. During the whole episode, the nation was told that it wasn’t the regular army that was fighting in Kargil; it was the mujahideen. But those who received their loved ones’ flag-draped coffins had sent their sons and brothers to serve in a professional army, not a freelance lashkar.

    The Pakistan Army’s biggest folly has been that under Zia it started outsourcing its basic job—soldiering—to these freelance militants. By blurring the line between a professional soldier—who, at least in theory, is always required to obey his officer, who in turn is governed by a set of laws—and a mujahid, who can pick and choose his cause and his commander depending on his mood, the Pakistan Army has caused immense confusion in its own ranks. Our soldiers are taught to shout Allah-o-Akbar when mocking an attack. In real life, they are ambushed by enemies who shout Allah-o-Akbar even louder. Can we blame them if they dither in their response? When the Pakistan Navy’s main aviation base in Karachi, PNS Mehran, was attacked, Navy Chief Admiral Nauman Bashir told us that the attackers were ‘very well trained’. We weren’t sure if he was giving us a lazy excuse or admiring the creation of his institution. When naval officials told journalists that the attackers were ‘as good as our own commandoes’ were they giving themselves a backhanded compliment?

    In the wake of the attacks on PNS Mehran in Karachi, some TV channels have pulled out an old war anthem sung by late Madam Noor Jehan and have started to play it in the backdrop of images of young, hopeful faces of slain officers and men. Written by the legendary teacher and poet Sufi Tabassum, the anthem carries a clear and stark warning: Aiay puttar hatantay nahin wickday, na labhdi phir bazaar kuray (You can’t buy these brave sons from shops, don’t go looking for them in bazaars).

    While Sindhis and Balochis have mostly composed songs of rebellion, Punjabi popular culture has often lionised its karnails and jarnails and even an odd dholsipahi. The Pakistan Army, throughout its history, has refused to take advice from politicians as well as thinking professionals from its own ranks. It has never listened to historians and sometimes ignored even the esteemed religious scholars it frequently uses to whip up public sentiments for its dirty wars. But the biggest strategic mistake it has made is that it has not even taken advice from the late Madam Noor Jehan, one of the Army’s most ardent fans in Pakistan’s history. You can probably ignore Dr Eqbal Ahmed’s advice and survive in this country but you ignore Madam at your own peril.

    Since the Pakistan Army’s high command is dominated by Punjabi-speaking generals, it’s difficult to fathom what it is about this advice that they didn’t understand. Any which way you translate it, the message is loud and clear. And lyrical: soldiers are not to be bought and sold like a commodity. “Na awaian takran maar kuray” (That search is futile, like butting your head against a brick wall), Noor Jehan goes on to rhapsodise.

    For decades, the Army has not only shopped for these private puttars in the bazaars, it also set up factories to manufacture them. It raised whole armies of them. When you raise Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish Mohammed, Sipahe Sahaba, Sipahe Mohammed, Lashker Jhangvi, Al- Badar Mujahideen, others encouraged by the thriving market place will go ahead and start outfits like Anjuman Tahuffuze Khatame Nabuwat and Anjuman Tahuffuze Namoos-e-Aiyasha. It’s not just Kashmir and Afghanistan and Chechnya they will want to liberate, they will also go back in time and seek revenge for a perceived slur that may or may not have been cast by someone more than 1,300 years ago in a country far far away.

    As if the Army’s sprawling shopping mall of private puttars in Pakistan wasn’t enough, it actively encouraged import and export of these commodities, even branched out into providing rest and recreation facilities for the ones who wanted a break. The outsourcing of Pakistan’s military strategy has reached a point where mujahids have their own mujahids to do their job, and inevitably at the end of the supply chain are those faceless and poor teenagers with explosives strapped to their torsos regularly marched out to blow up other poor kids.

    Two days before the Americans killed Osama bin Laden and took away his bullet-riddled body, General Kiyani addressed Army cadets at Kakul. After declaring a victory of sorts over the militants, he gave our nation a stark choice. And before the nation could even begin to weigh its pros and cons, he went ahead and decided for them: we shall never bargain our honour for prosperity. As things stand, most people in Pakistan have neither honour nor prosperity and will easily settle for their little world not blowing up every day.

    The question people really want to ask General Kiyani is that if he and his Army officer colleagues can have both honour and prosperity, why can’t we the people have a tiny bit of both?

    The Army and its advocates in the media often worry about Pakistan’s image, as if we are not suffering from a long-term serious illness but a seasonal bout of acne that just needs better skin care. The Pakistan Army, over the years, has cultivated this image of 180 million people with nuclear devices strapped to their collective body threatening to take the world down with it. We may not be able to take the world down with us; the world might defang us or try to calm us down by appealing to our imagined Sufi side. But the fact remains that Pakistan as a nation is paying the price for our generals’ insistence on acting, in Asma Jahangir’s frank but accurate description, like duffers.

    And demanding medals and golf resorts for being such duffers consistently for such a long time.

    What people really want to do at this point is put an arm around our military commanders’ shoulders, take them aside and whisper in their ears: “Murshid, marwa na daina.”


    Mohammed Hanif is the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes (2008), his first novel, a satire on the death of General Zia ul Haq

  • Murshid nay toh lagta hai marwa hi deya hai


  • Pakistan has leadership problem exploited by army.

  • Problems is with Pakistan's voters who do not appreciate the value of their vote and do not cast it wisely!!

  • "Problems is with Pakistan's voters who do not appreciate the value of their vote and do not cast it wisely!!"

    Please identify a leader in Pakistan, a vote for whom could be considered wise?

  • I will attempt to answer a fair question.

    If the voters reject the candidates presented to them by the tried and tested untrustworthy and dishonest leaders, the process will produce leaders (may be from voters own neighbourhood)who can be trusted.

    By keep voting for the same corrupt leaders, the voters help the status quo and therefore in my opinion the voters should use their votes wisely by abstaining from voting.

  • "By keep voting for the same corrupt leaders, the voters help the status quo and therefore in my opinion the voters should use their votes wisely by abstaining from voting."

    Even to achieve this, leadership is needed!!

  • "Even to achieve this, leadership is needed!!"

    Whilst I concede that some kind of leadership/guidance is needed but one should not rule out that a substantial minority of the voters are intelligent enough to realise that and then they can form a "pressure group" to guide the silent majority.

    Once upon a time Imran Khan played the role of a Pressure group from the fringe and all the politicians listened and paid attention to him.

  • It's all Madam's fault. Had she sung this in Arabic too instead of just Punjabi a message could have gone to KSA loud and clear ....

  • "It's all Madam's fault. Had she sung this in Arabic too instead of just Punjabi a message could have gone to KSA loud and clear ...."

    Nothing can work, KSA role models are the ones who ran away in the battle of Ohd.

  • Bottom Line:

    Pakistan is child who got infected with Polio at early age, as parents rejected the Polio vaccine.

  • It seems that once again we tend to blame someone else for our problems.

    I tend to agree with Anjaan sahib.Unless we as voters dont use the power we have due to our voting right, we will not be able to bring improvement.

    As far as leadership is concerned, it is a product of the society. Leadership is often shaped by society.

    We have created the problem and we have the solution.

  • Leave a vacuum or a void and it will be occupied. We leave a void by miscasting our votes and in many cases not even casting votes. The void is filled by those who are able to seize the opportunity.

    Blaming internal powers like army or blaming outside sources like KSA or USA is just an excuse. No one can do anything to anyone until one allows it to happen. What we sow, so we reap.

  • "As far as leadership is concerned, it is a product of the society. Leadership is often shaped by society."

    Show me an example where good leadership was shaped by a society.

    I can give you numerous examples where leadership shaped a good society.

    P.S. A corrupt society can produce a corrupt leader, e.g. a gang leader can evolve from a group of gangsters. This is true because to grow an orchard of fruit trees is much harder than to burn a forest.

  • @wazirabadi Jee,

    Just a suggestion that instead of thrashing irrelevant threads, why don't you start a thread with view.

  • I like your idea.

  • @hypocrite Saab

    It seems that once again we tend to blame someone else for our problems.

    I tend to agree with Anjaan sahib.Unless we as voters dont use the power we have due to our voting right, we will not be able to bring improvement.

    As far as leadership is concerned, it is a product of the society. Leadership is often shaped by society.

    We have created the problem and we have the solution.

    Easier said than done.

    People voted for ZAB military hanged him. People voted for Nawaz Sharif with 2/3rd majority military kicked him out. People voted for Morsi Military jailed him. People voted for Soniya lead congress-I twice and then hard liner like Modi military stayed in barracks. People elected Bush and Obama not once but twice and military stayed in barracks.

    Are you trying to say the intellect of Indians is better than Pakistanis that's why their military stays in barracks and let Politicians rule? Americans are tolerating Democrats and Republicans for 225 years and we are loosing patience after 2-3 half terms of PMLN and PPP and are absolving Generals of mess.

    Frankly Anjaan bhai I can understand but I was expecting better and little bit specific analysis from you. Barrel of the gun can easily overturn ballot - that's why 30% of the globe is governed by ballot and 70% by barrel of the gun. Are you saying Chinese, Russians, ME, Africans are stupid like us that's why gun rules there and US, India, Japan and Western Europe are smarter people that's why ballot rules there? Please elaborate how exactly do you blame majority where ballot fails and give clean slip to majority where it works.

    Same 55-65% people voted in Pakistan, Egypt, India and US. There is no military threat in later two but in former two it's omni present. Do you think in later two people send better Politicians to legislatures? Two third of Indian elected MPs are known criminals far worse than Egypt and Pakistan. It's beyond me how you guys absolve military leadership and turn your focus on masses for ballot failures.

    The political system and stability is determined by haves of the society not have-nots. I agree with Curiousity bhai

    Show me an example where good leadership was shaped by a society.

    I can give you numerous examples where leadership shaped a good society.

  • Show me an example where good leadership was shaped by a society.

    I can give you numerous examples where leadership shaped a good society

    Curiosity sahib,

    I guess I did put myself in a tight spot. I would like to mention that my comment was in the context of political leaders and not reformists. Secondly i missed addin gone word in the sentence "behaviour". My sentence should have been "Leadership behaviour is often shaped by society".

    Now coming to examples.

    The society which tolerates corruption, which dances to the tunes of rhetoric and which turns a blind eye towards injustice shapes arrogant and corrupt behaviour of its political leaders. In our country we have examples of political leaders who were able to survive for so long because the society tolerated them. The same society starts distributing sweets when army takes over and yer complains that army is the root cause of our problems. The same society which throngs to the senseless processions and gatherings of these political leaders who dont have anything common with the general public. These political leaders live in palaces, travel in luxury, go to western countries for their medical check-ups, eat food which many from general public cannot eat even in their dreams. Does our society holds them accountable. No. So what these political leaders do next? They further exploit.

    In Western countries the political leaders behaviour is kept in check and balance by the society. The society holds them accountable and hence these political leaders (majority of them) behave in the manner the society wants them to.

    This is my opinion

  • Easier said than done.

    Shirazi sahib

    Thanks for your comment. I guess the above sums up what I have failed to communicate. It is easy to blame others than blame our own selves.

    How many times someone has tried to seize your house or authority? God forbid if it happens, I am sure you will resist and your neighbours will stand beside you.

    If you dont resist and your neighbours remain silent spectators than one day your neigbhours will also loose their houses.

    I dont know if Chinese or Russians are dumb and or Japanese or Indians are smarter. But I know that general public of each country helps determine what kind of rulers they will have.

    The system of Japan or China has not been developed by an outside force. It is their own people who have shaped the system and their destinies. I am not arguing about whether one is good or bad. All I am trying to say is that people have power. They can either exercise it or use it to rein their own desires.