111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Spectacular dive of the ghazi general

Our outgoing general on the basis of his record was considered a better commander than most in our water-logged history, taking decisions and risks that others were too afraid or nervous to take.

As a result he rose in popular estimation, hailed as a hero by ordinary people, truck-drivers and the like who put his portrait on the back of their vehicles. Armchair Stalinists such as myself who are good at nursing dreams of change and even revolution from the comfort of their sofas, played with the notion that after the defeat of terrorism the national stables could also somehow be cleaned.

The liberati kept its own counsel. Its votaries didn’t like the way military performance was outshining civilian fumbling. But as Fata was freed from the grip of the Taliban, and Karachi liberated from the clutches of the MQM, there was not much the liberati could do except for its champions to grit their teeth in silence. With the chief’s exit they started finding their voice and took to denigrating what the armed forces had achieved.

But nothing that the denigrators could do comes close to what the chief, expected to perform the labours of Hercules, has managed to do to himself. The word, now more than a rumour, that he is about to take service under the Saudi crown has at a stroke demolished the image built up over the last three years.

The Islamic Military Alliance he is supposed to head is a phantom organisation, certainly non-existent on the ground but, more alarmingly, existing not even on paper. Before Saudi Arabia’s all-powerful chequebook diplomacy needy Muslim nations defer, and as rich experience tells us none is more permanently in need than the Islamic world’s sole nuclear power, proud possessor of missiles with reaches near and far, known also in more heady moments as the Fortress of Islam. But deference is one thing, actual commitment something else.

Even those most ready to incline their heads before the Defenders of the Two Holy Mosques6, the Harmain Sharifain, will demur, and start coughing with fingers on their mouths, when it comes to actually putting troops under Saudi command, even if the troops are headed by Reichsmarschall Raheel Sharif, Nishan-e-Imtiaz, etc.

There are any number of Muslim countries that would not like to let down the Saudis verbally. But no one is rushing in with troops and equipment. So what Afrika Korps, what desert army, will Gen Raheel be commanding?

More to the point, are we so dumb in Pakistan that we don’t understand what’s happening in the Middle East and the nature of the wars raging there? The Saudis say that their phantom defence alliance – comprising 34 nations, which is another surprise – is to fight terrorism. One wishes it were that simple.

Terrorism lies in the eyes of the beholder. It means one thing to the Saudis, the Qataris and the Emiraatis; quite a different thing to Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Russia. Along the battle-lines drawn today in a region that is burning, where societies stand destroyed and millions of refugees have been put on the march, one nation’s terrorists are another nation’s friends.

The Houthis in Yemen are terrorists in Saudi eyes. For Iran they are beleaguered allies deserving of help. In Syria, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are on the side of the anti-Assad forces. Iran and Hezbollah are Assad’s principal backers. Without their help he would not have survived. In Iraq, meanwhile, Iran and the government in Baghdad consider their enemy to be Daesh. For Saudi Arabia the main concern in Iraq is not the presence of Daesh but the dominance of the Shia element and the pro-Iranian tilt of the Baghdad government.

From all of which it becomes clear that far from there being a united Islamic front against terrorism, the Muslim world, as always, is divided from end to end. There are two coalitions in the Middle East today: one led by Saudi Arabia, the other by Iran, and never the twain shall meet.

So let not the Reichsmarscall, the ghazi general, kid himself or fool the Pakistani nation. If he goes on the no doubt extremely profitable but at bottom fool’s errand of commanding a force that does not exist, he will be going not as an emblem of unity, enhancing the honour of Pakistan, but as a partisan in a partisan setting, ending up doing Saudi bidding and serving Saudi interests…and reinforcing the unfortunate impression existing about Pakistan that for the right amount of recompense – let us avoid recourse to such crude terms as dollars – this country’s leading lights, its high and mighty, can be counted upon to do anything.

Still, the general is best judge of his own interest. If he thinks the move to the holy sands serves him best so be it. One more illusion shattered, that is all. And a hard lesson to armchair Stalinists: change doesn’t come just like that, and it certainly doesn’t come through any shortcuts. The way for it is long and we in Pakistan are not prepared to take it. We don’t have the stamina, we don’t have the will. We have just the talk and the empty yearning.

One other thing comes out from the ghazi’s expected move to the Holy Land. Whatever the sacrifices of officers and men in uniform, and their sacrifices have been great         or reactionary militancy in Fata – threatening the foundations of Pakistan – would never have been pushed back, the Pakistan army remains a deeply conservative institution, almost genetically programmed to throw in its lot, when the chips are down, with the most reactionary tendencies in the wider world of Islam. From the Afghan ‘jihad’ to the choices made post-9/11 this defining proclivity has been fully on display.

Thank God we didn’t go into Yemen, as our brothers, warriors of the magical chequebooks, wanted us to. The general now seems to be making up for that lost opportunity.

The Tolstoyan question recurs: how much land does a man require? A three-star general, admiral or air marshal in the normal course of things here acquires – and legitimately enough, it’s all legal – so many plots to his name that should he so wish he could start a housing society of his own. Yet we see senior retired officers restless, itching for more profitable employment.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating,   the army should raise a monument to the Taliban. We sought not this war; the TTP forced it upon us. If the army is battle-hardened it is not out of choice but necessity. The higher echelons, however, have given up none of their old ways. You can see this from their housing colonies, the living style to which they have become accustomed. Do they invite comparisons with the high commands of legend: Prussian, Vietnamese, or even the Turkish under Mustafa Kemal?

Ah, the litmus test: would Mustafa Kemal have taken service under any crown?

Is there something wrong with the soil and water of Pakistan?

Email: bhagwal63@gmail.com

Ayaz Amir, "Spectacular dive of the ghazi general," The News. 2017-01-10.
Keywords: Islamic front