Limited Guns and Loaded Rhetoric | Ayaz Amir


Islamabad diary

There is more than one centre of power and this muddles our responses and complicates our situation. There should have been one hand on the tiller. Unfortunately, Nawaz Sharif who should have been the pilot steering the ship looks blank and helpless. You can read this from his face.

Assisting him on foreign policy and security matters is a list of eminent empties (I almost said dummies but knew my editors would cross it out): the national security adviser, a retired general who may have been good in Balochistan but is twiddling his thumbs in Islamabad; respected elder Sartaj Aziz who would be doing everyone a favour if he were to take up higher teaching again; and my friend Tariq Fatemi who should seriously consider doing what he would be good at, private adviser to Her Excellency Maryam Nawaz.

Where’s that faux Falstaff with his finger in every bureaucratic pie? What tips is he giving his worried-looking man of the mandate?

No marks for guessing who is running the show and pulling most of the strings – our Ghazi Gen, Raheel Sharif, and his army command. Alas, they are not doing too good a job of it…because they have allowed things to spin out of control. The initiative should have remained with us and we should have been calling the shots. After all it was India which was messing up in Occupied Kashmir. Then how come the initiative is passing to India and we are being painted into a corner?

We have to ask ourselves some basic questions. Are we going to war with India over Kashmir? The obvious answer is no. There is unrest in Occupied Kashmir. No question about that. There is hatred for India in the valley. No dispute on this. But digging into our hearts we have to ask ourselves: is there a Viet Cong-style liberation movement raging in Occupied Kashmir and are we the North Vietnam, led by a Ho Chi Minh and our forces commanded by a Gen Giap, sworn to fight the war of Kashmir’s liberation to the point of death and destruction?

If the answer to the above is no, then it becomes our duty to temper our rhetoric – not allow it to run ahead of us – and ensure that our response to arguably serious issues is measured. Our resolve should flow from our actions. The Fata operation, Zarb-e-Azb, and the turnaround in the Karachi situation are enough testimonials of our resolve and resilience. Given these solid achievements we shouldn’t always feel the need to mount the housetops and proclaim our strength and invulnerability.

Israel seldom proclaims its military superiority. Its actions speak louder than its words. Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, the most effective fighting force in the entire Arab world, avoids loud boasts and empty declarations. Hezbollah fought Israel to a draw in the Lebanon war of 2006.That’s how good it is.

When Israel has a leading Hezbollah figure in its sights it doesn’t hesitate for a second to kill him. When Hezbollah exacts revenge, which it always does, it acts first, after meticulous planning, leaving the words for later.

India and Pakistan, by contrast, specialise in shouting. It has something to do with the Subcontinent. We have always been great ones for empty rhetoric – comes from our love for flowery images and extravagant poetry.

Our general staff could do worse than listen collectively to Stalin’s speech in Red Square on November 7, 1941, when the German panzer divisions were at the very gates of Moscow, their farthest point of penetration just 16-18 miles from the Russian capital. And as the tanks and the troops rolled into the Square in commemoration of the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalin standing atop the Lenin Mausoleum addressed the massed soldiers, speaking just for seven minutes…that is all.

He mentioned the Russian heroes of the past…Suvorov, Kutuzov, Alexander Nevsky, etc; invoked Lenin’s name twice and said they would defeat the German aggressors as well. His tone was flat and matter-of-fact, no rhetorical flourishes, no fist-raising, no foam at the mouth. And when he finished, the troops sweeping past the mausoleum headed straight for the front.

The Germans’ siege of Leningrad lasted for over 900 days and food became so scarce that all the dogs and cats in the city were eaten and there were even reports of cannibalism, humans feeding on whatever they could find. But when in that city of death and starvation, with no heating and no electricity, the question arose whether a) the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra should keep on playing, and b) whether school examinations should be held, it was decided that the orchestra performances would go on and student examinations would be held.

We can’t put a stop to the craze for defence housing authorities and other housing schemes for the well-heeled and yet talk of liberating Kashmir. Let us at least straighten out some of our hypocrisy before letting fly our rhetoric. And, yes, Stalin was a tyrant, one of the cruellest in world history. But he raised his country to greatness, turning it into a superpower (that the Soviet Union came to a sticky end under the likes of Gorbachev is another story). Mao was a tyrant as well. But he too put his country on the path to greatness. Today’s China would not be the country it is without Mao and the Chinese Revolution.

The army has done a wonderful job in Fata and the Rangers have done splendidly in Karachi. But the gains of Zarb-e-Arb are being imperilled in the stoking of tension with India. Our live front where the army and PAF are heavily engaged is the western front. We can’t afford tension on two fronts.

Hitler had no love for Stalin…we all know that. But when he was preparing to attack Poland he made peace with Stalin. And his foreign minister, Ribbentrop, was all smiles in the Kremlin as they raised their glasses to their false friendship. Placating Stalin was Hitler’s foremost need at that hour and he went about doing it.

Of course we must speak out against Indian brutality in Occupied Kashmir. That’s the least we can do. But we have to be honest with ourselves – between speaking out and events like Pathankot and Uri the distance is vast. We had the initiative as long as India was making innocent Kashmiris the target of its brutality. What has pushed us into a corner is the attack on the Uri base. Our UN permanent rep, the very able Maleeha Lodhi, says the Uri attack has all the hallmarks of a staged operation. That may be so. But would there be a single member-state of the UN, just one, ready to believe this?

We are over-extending ourselves and that in love and war is the cardinal sin. Our existential battle is on the western front, where we are fighting not Hindu extremists but Islamist radicals of the same faith as ours, worshipping the same God and bowing in the same direction of Makkah.

Narendra Modi is hostile to Pakistan. He subscribes to a Hindutva ideology alien to our way of thinking. But Modi who may have acquiesced in not one but a dozen Gujarat massacres is not Pakistan’s number one problem. Our foremost problem is the Muslim warriors of the TTP and the very Muslim gangs of Karachi…that and shoddy governance and unsustainable debt.

Let’s first put our house in order. Modi can wait.