Back to the barracks

The attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi has shaken the people of Pakistan. When the country’s most powerful institution, the armed forces, is not safe from such a brutal attack, how can the common man feel safe? Unfortunately, the armed forces do not seem to be ready to take stock of the deteriorating security situation. It was with incredulity that we heard Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Noman Bashir assert that the 16-hour long attack on our naval airbase was not due to any security breach. If losing 10 soldiers, two Orion aircraft and being under siege for 16 hours does not constitute a security failure, then our guardians must share their ‘wisdom’ with the rest of the nation and let us know what they consider ‘failure’. Admiral Bashir’s response is typical of all high officials in this land of the pure. They never accept their mistakes. But this culture of impunity, particularly where the armed forces are concerned, must be changed. Instead of opaque and unaccountable impunity, all investigations should be transparent and no one should be above the law. Heads must roll and the terrorists who got away should be found and prosecuted. Interestingly, while Interior Minister Rehman Malik claimed that two terrorists managed to escape from the naval base, according to an FIR registered under the Explosives and Terrorism Act in Shahrah-e-Faisal Police Station, six to eight terrorists escaped.

It is still not clear why it took almost 16 hours to clear the naval airbase when a possible hostage situation has been denied. Granted that a frontal assault in the presence of sophisticated aircraft, fuel and ammunition in the base might have meant more destruction, but there remain unanswered questions about how the terrorists managed to enter the base so easily. Or is this an indication of how ‘watchful’ our security agencies really are? This is not just a security breach but also an intelligence failure of the highest order. We lost our soldiers, we lost millions of dollars worth of aircraft and we also lost our trust in the hitherto unquestioned competence of our armed forces. All this is a result of the decline in professionalism in the military.

Pakistan’s military is busy meddling in politics, keeping tabs on civilians and making money. Instead of wasting time on things that are not central to their concerns, the military should go back to the barracks in letter and spirit. The defence budget being given to them is not to keep snooping on the citizens of Pakistan or entertaining terrorists; it is given to them so that they can guarantee that our lives are safe and we are protected both from internal and external threats. This distraction of the armed forces has led to the institution’s deterioration. And this is telling in the struggle against terrorism. The terrorists are involved in asymmetrical warfare, which is not easy to combat. For that we need a highly professional force. Pakistan has suffered immense damage because of the military’s decline in professionalism. In these trying times when the terrorists make it seem so easy to attack any place at will, we need our soldiers to concentrate on the fight against the scourge of terrorism. It is time the military confines itself to the tasks assigned to it, as they are crucial for the country’s future.

On another note, the WikiLeaks exposé about the involvement of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in financially supporting Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith madrassas in south Punjab should serve as a wake-up call. Nearly $ 100 million is given to such madrassas annually, “ostensibly with the direct support of those governments”. We should not tolerate this even if we consider the two Arab states our ‘friends’. With friends like these, who needs enemies? These petro-dollars are feeding the ‘production factories’ of terrorists and extremists. This must come to an end once and for all.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


Rajeev Suri said…
Would anyone in Pakistan, dared to have even suggest such a thing, as the Army going back to the barracks, say, just six months back?? That would have been considered heresy, and the writer labeled perhaps, as a traitor. It really augers well for the degree of freedom of expression, that today, you write such an article, and others echo similar views. Your views are the views of sanity, as armies in the democratic world report to duly elected democratic governments, and are not a law unto themselves as in Pakistan.

A step further would also be to separate the ISI from the army and place that too, under civilian rule.

However, the military, having enjoyed unbridled power since the inception of power, is not meekly going to hand over control. Any attempt to strip them of their extra constitutional powers would results in a backlash against that government, and an imposition of martial rule. Here is where the peoples power will come into play, and a concerted movement will deter the army from trying to remain wedded to the seat of power.

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