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News & Analysis

Can Pakistan Afford Its Army?

Zia Sarhadi

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Most armies exist to protect the country’s borders from invading forces. While the Pakistan army also claims to perform this function, it has demonstrably failed in this fundamental task. Instead, its primary function has become manipulating the political process, installing and dismissing governments without regard to people’s wishes, and interfering in the country’s economic and foreign policies to the detriment of its well-being.

Looked at from any perspective, the Pakistan army’s interference in the political arena has been an unmitigated disaster. The current crisis gripping Pakistan is the direct result of the army high command’s total disregard for the rule of law and their stubborn insistence that they know what is best for the country. They don’t.

The generals have on numerous occasions stated in private that they cannot fight India anymore, the country’s principal enemy. Following from this is the fact that the army is incapable of liberating Kashmir from the clutches of India either. If it cannot and will not perform these tasks, it loses its raison d’etre for its existence. So, it must be asked: what is the point of having a standing army of 680,000 that consumes more than 50 percent of the country’s budget when it cannot perform its primary function?

The military’s massive outlay has stymied the country’s development and deprived such vital sectors as education and health of desperately-needed resources.

Unfortunately, the Pakistanis’ infatuation with the army persists. Some people still argue, including Imran Khan whose ouster from power was engineered by the army in April 2022, that Pakistan needs its army for defence. But the army has made clear that it cannot and will not defend the state. So, what is the rationale for having such an army?

True, some people would argue that without an army India is likely to invade Pakistan. This issue needs proper analysis. Pakistan is a nuclear state. Should India commit the folly of invading Pakistan to threaten its existence, the nuclear option will be used. Delhi knows this.

That explains why India has not had a full-fledged war with Pakistan since 1998 when both countries came out of the nuclear closet (India had carried out its first nuclear test on May 18, 1974 in what the western media called a “peaceful nuclear explosion”!)

India is a target-rich country. Pakistan can inflict a lot more damage on India than the other way round. Reduced to penury by the army and the criminal gang of thieves, rapists and murderers installed in power by the army, there is not much to lose in Pakistan.

Let us look at the army’s performance since the creation of Pakistan. It played no role in Pakistan’s creation; none whatsoever. In his book, Friends not Masters, Ayub Khan proudly mentions that during partition, Muslim officers and soldiers in the British Indian Army maintained their professionalism and remained completely “neutral”! Their neutrality cost the lives of more than a million Muslims.

They shed their ‘neutrality’ as soon as Pakistan came into existence and started demanding a lion’s share of the resources.

When Indian forces invaded Kashmir in October 1947, Pakistan’s Governor General Muhammad Ali Jinnah ordered General Douglas Gracey, then acting commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army, to send troops into Kashmir to defend the Kashmiris. He flatly refused, saying British officers in the Pakistan army would only obey the orders of General Claude Auchinleck, who was the supreme commander of forces of both India and Pakistan.

Gracey should have been fired for such insubordination but Jinnah did not do so. The part of Kashmir territory saved from Indian clutches was the result of Pathan tribesmen rushing to help their Kashmiri brethren. Subsequent attempts in 1965 and 1971 to wrest control of Kashmir from India ended in stalemate.

In fact, a great opportunity was missed in November 1962 when Indian troops fled in the face of advancing Chinese troops along their border in Tibet. China urged Pakistan to move into Kashmir but President Ayub Khan, under pressure from US President John Kennedy, did not do so. The latter promised that once the war between China and India was over, the US would help resolve the Kashmir dispute.

Sixty years later, Pakistan is still waiting, like the two tramps—Vladimir and Estragon—in Samuel Beckett’s novel, Waiting for Godot, that the US or UN might help resolve the Kashmir dispute. There is greater chance of the two tramps meeting the imaginary Godot than the Kashmir dispute being resolved!

In the meantime, Pakistani troops lost strategic territory in Siachen Glacier in 1984, under another military dictator, this time General Zia-ul Haq. Pakistan has suffered four bouts of martial law (Ayub Khan October 1958 - March 1969); Yahya Khan (March 1969 - January 1972); General Zia-ul Haq (July 1977 – August 1988) and General Pervez Musharraf (November 1999 – August 2008).

If under Ayub Khan, Pakistan lost any chance of liberating Kashmir, under Yahya, East Pakistan was lost completely. That reflects Pakistani failures at multiple levels. It not only reflected the bloody-mindedness of the West Pakistani elite and their racism toward the Bengalis (the people of East Pakistan/Bangladesh) but the military’s resort to brute force to resolve every crisis.

While December 16, 1971 will go down in Pakistan’s history as a day of infamy when 90,000 troops surrendered to the invading Indian army, more crucially it was a collective failure of the Pakistanis to condemn the military operation launched against the people of East Pakistan in March 1971. The horrors that the Pakistan army perpetrated against innocent people is a blot on the name of Pakistan whose shame can never be erased. By remaining silent while Pakistani troops raped and killed Bengali women is now being repeated in what is left of Pakistan.

General Ziaul Haq’s military rule sucked Pakistan deeper into the American orbit bringing the drugs and gun culture to Pakistan. Billions of dollars were showered on Pakistan to be sent to the Afghan mujahideen to fight the Soviet army. Pakistani generals helped themselves to the largesse and became billionaires in the process. Their children are now enjoying the fruits of that stolen loot.

While General Zia’s rule ended in a fiery air crash along with a number of his fellow generals in August 1988, it was not long before the generals were back in power in November 1999.

General Musharraf’s military rule was marked by more disasters. He readily joined America’s war on terror causing immense damage to the social and political fabric of Pakistan. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis lost their lives in this so-called war on terror.

Pakistani troops attacked their own people in the former tribal areas of Aurakzai agency and North Waziristan at the behest of the Americans. Military operations in Swat also gave rise to immense hatred and led directly to the creation of the group called the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The ISI acted as bounty hunters for the Americans. Completely innocent people were grabbed from the streets of Pakistan and handed over to the Americans in return for money. Several shameful episodes can be recounted.

The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdus Salam Zaeef was grabbed, in violation of all diplomatic norms, and handed over to the Americans who shipped him to Guantanamo Bay, the torture chamber on illegally occupied Cuban island. He was stripped naked while Pakistani military officers looked on.

In his 2006 book, In the Line of Fire, General Musharraf writes on p.237: “We have capture 689 [‘terrorists’] and handed over 369 to the United States. We have earned bounties totaling millions of dollars.” Such shamelessness would be hard to find anywhere else.

Among Musharraf’s prize catches was one Abu Zubaydah accused by George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld as being the “most high valued al-Qaeda operative”.

Abu Zubaydah was mercilessly tortured—waterboarded 83 times in a single month, slammed against a concrete wall and subjected to other forms of torture first at various black sites and then at Guantanamo Bay.

But as Rebecca Gordon revealed in her brilliant piece in Counterpunch, “none of it was true.”

American officials lied through their teeth to justify their crimes against Abu Zubaydah and many other innocent people.

The other shameful case is that of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a highly qualified neuroscientist, who was kidnapped from Karachi, together with her three children in April 2003. She was mercilessly tortured and even raped by American soldiers in the Bagram torture chamber. This frail 5-foot 3-inches tall woman was accused of grabbing a gun from a 6-foot-tall US marine brute, and shooting him in the stomach.

For this ‘crime’ and for being an ‘al-Qaeda member’, she was sentenced to 86 years in jail where she has suffered continuous torture. Her front teeth have been knocked out and she was also assaulted in prison by another prisoner who threw hot coffee on her face, almost blinding here.

Incredibly, when the British journalist Yvonne Ridley struck a deal in 2013 with the Taliban and the American military for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui in exchange for Robert “Bowe” Bergdahl, an American soldier held captive by the Taliban, the ISI scuppered it. Yet, the ISI chief at the time, General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, was over-anxious and involved in securing the release of the American terrorist Raymond Davis. He had shot and killed two Pakistanis in broad daylight in Lahore in January 2011.

Pasha forced the victims’ families to receive financial compensation in return for dropping the charges. He threatened them with dire consequences if they did not comply with his demand.

Today, the Pakistan army continues to indulge in equally criminal activity by kidnapping leaders and workers of Pakistan Tehreek-i Insaf (PTI) headed by Imran Khan. They are threatened that their daughters, sisters, wives or mothers would be raped if they refuse to abandon the party. Such degrading conduct has seldom been witnessed even by foreign occupation armies.

The Pakistan army is acting even worse than a foreign occupation army. What’s the purpose of having such an army?

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 5

Dhu al-Hijjah 13, 14442023-07-01

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