By Dr Subhash Kapila
Pakistan Army’s propensity and effectiveness in toppling civilian governments in Pakistan is well known. Also well known are its strategies to subject Pakistan to military rule for decades at a time are well recorded. But hardly discussed is Pakistan Army’s military effectiveness in coping with the multifaceted challenges that threaten the very existence of Pakistan.
For far too long the Pakistan Army has reveled in exaggerated myths about its exceptional military professional prowess mostly self-propagated and the rest propagated by its strategic patrons, predominantly the United States and then China.
In Pakistan’s political dynamics, for far too long has the Pakistan Army propagated the myth that it is only the Pakistan Army which is the glue that has held Pakistan together by painting an over-dose of India-centric threats? Further it has systematically through its intelligence agency, the ISI, meddled in domestic politics, creating divisions amongst political parties uniting for restoration of democracy with the overall aim of denigrating Pakistan’s polity and inventing its indispensability to provide effective governance.
The Pakistani people have now come to realize that Pakistani Army’s record of governance has been far more corrupt than the civilian governments and that the Pakistan Army siphoning off a major share of the national budget for which there is no accountability, has left Pakistan as an underdeveloped poverty-ridden country which is debt-ridden and cannot exist without American doles.
In terms of external dynamics, the United States has belatedly realized that the Pakistan Army is not a trustworthy entity to serve American strategic interests. On the contrary the Pakistan Army through its terrorist surrogates and the unreliable safety of its nuclear weapons arsenal poses a direct threat to US security and safety.
China too in the not so distant future will realize likewise the United States that Pakistan Army in which it has heavily invested strategically would turn upon China’s security in its far flung Western regions of Xinjiang.
The recent events of Abbottabad and Mehran attacks mark the defining tipping point for the Pakistan Army both in external dynamics and in internal dynamics. Both these events, the first one being the US targeted killing of Osama bin Laden in a Pakistan Army garrison town by US Special Forces and the second one of Pakistani terrorist organizations attacking with impunity the Pakistan Navy hub in Karachi alongside a major Pakistan Air Force Base has blown to bits the myths about Pakistan Army’s professionalism.
For the first time in Pakistani history the Pakistan Army stands lampooned openly and defiantly in the Pakistan media, strategic community and intellectual circles that it has failed to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty and national honor. Pakistani blogs- sites are even more derogatory and abusive in their remarks on the Pakistan Army.
So much so that in the Corps Commanders Conference held last week under the chairmanship of the Pakistan Army Chief, it was loudly complained that it was not good for the people to target the Pakistan Army.
At such a defining stage when the Pakistani nation is calling for the transformation of the Pakistan Army, bringing it under civilian control and imposing accountability, it becomes opportune to analyze the military effectiveness record of the Pakistan Army.
This is done under the following heads, briefly:
- Pakistan Army: The Lost Decade of the 2000s
- Pakistan Army’s Performance in Wars against India
- Pakistan Army’s Poor Professional Record in Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency Operations
- Pakistan Army’s Domestic Image Severely Dented
- Pakistan Army: Can it Forestall Pakistan’s Likely Disintegration?
- Pakistan Army’s Nuclear Weapons Arsenal may Emerge as Major Contributory Factor Leading to Pakistan’s State Disintegration
Pakistan Army: The Lost Decade of the 2000s
The decade of the 2000s can be flagged as the ‘Lost Decade’ for the Pakistan Army as it marked the beginning of the loss of its military professionalism, its military collusiveness with the United States born out of its surrender to political and military coercion and acquiring the hallmarks of a duplicitous Army neither being truthful to the Pakistani people nor to the United States which had started showering military largesse to a rentier Pakistan Army.
In more blunt terms, the Pakistan Army had sold its soul in the 2000s not for any strategic gains for Pakistan but as an escape route for its strategic delinquencies for which the United States gave it the option to either be a Collusive Partner of the United States or else face the consequences for harboring Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda, the installing of the Taliban regime in Kabul and all of this facilitating the horrific 9/11 attacks on Homeland United States.
In fact the Pakistan Army lost its military professionalism and its military ethos a few years earlier when it “ out-sourced its proxy war and state-sponsored terrorism against India” to Islamic Jihadi terrorist organizations created by it. It was an implicit admission by the Pakistan Army and should be perceived as such that it had failed to get the better of the Indian Army on the battlefield and had now to stoop to enlist terrorism as strategy.
At the outset of the decade of the 2000s, the Pakistan Army was rightly being perceived as “Rogue Nuclear Proliferators” and a “Rogue Terrorists Army”. The US military intervention facilitated its redemption from a more inglorious end.
Pakistan Army’s Performance in Wars against India
Pakistan Army has not fought wars against any other country but India. So its professionalism in terms of military effectiveness in wars can only be gauged from its unprovoked wars against India.
In all the four wars that the Pakistan Army launched against India, it failed to achieve any decisive results or to attain its major obsessive objective of wresting control over Kashmir from India.
The Pakistan Army likes to claim that even if it failed to achieve its major objective, as a much smaller Army it had forced the ending of all these wars in a stalemate. Some in the Pakistan Army claimed that it was not that the Indian Army was professionally superior but that the Pakistan Army had been let down by its Generals.
The reality is that in all these four wars the Indian Army was held back from a successful closure of the war and complete victory by India’s political leadership deficit in strategic culture and the will to use power. Also, the propensity of Indian political leadership to give in to coercive pressures mostly from the United States interceding on Pakistan Army’s behalf contributed to the perception of a stalemate.
Pakistan Army’s other instrument of war against India, that is proxy war and state-sponsored terrorism against India to bleed India by asymmetric warfare has signally failed. Pakistan Army’s strategy of converting its Islamic Jihad in Kashmir to inflict a Vietnam on India could not take off.
Has the Pakistan Army learnt the requisite lessons from such failures? The answer is a big No. Pakistan Army Chief even now continues to assert that the Pakistan Army is India-centric and that the operational training of the Pakistan Army would continue to be India-centric.
And therein exist the reasons for Pakistan Army’s current problems and challenges. A visible disconnect is beginning to be visible between the Pakistan Army and the Pakistani public.
People in Pakistan have slowly begun to see through the Pakistan Army’s myth of the India Threat and correctly perceive that the greatest threat to the Pakistan Army is from within, from the terrorist surrogates it created for state-sponsored terrorism against India.
Pakistan Amy’s Poor Professional Record in Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency Operations
Pakistan Army’s greatest threat and military challenge lies within Pakistan, in its frontier regions and that threat has started seeping into Pakistan’s heartland of Punjab which is the center of gravity of Pakistan’s governance and political and military preponderance.
In the decade past when Pakistan’s terrorism and insurgency problems came to the fore, the two significant indicators of fighting shy of combating terrorism and insurgency were as follows (1) Buying peace at any cost with the ‘maliks ‘ and ‘jirga’heads’ by bribing them, dividing them or simply ignoring them as if the problem did not exist. (2) When forced to undertake military operations against such groups in South Waziristan, Swat and Buner under United States pressures, there was a marked reluctance to get engaged in close-quarter battle with these groups. On the other hand in what can be termed as military timidity the Pakistan Army opted for air attacks and massive artillery bombardments to subdue such groups.
Such a propensity of the Pakistan Army has two major implications. Domestically it is a morale-booster for groups battling the Pakistan Army that when it comes to battling them the Pakistan Army does not have the military guts for a physical showdown and fears them.
Externally, this tendency affects the image of the Pakistan Army as a professional military force.
This tendency was also visible in the Mehran attacks recently when for 12-14 hours the Pakistan Army despite a whole Army Corps sitting in Karachi, it was not visible in any military operations against the attackers. It was the Pakistani Rangers who were battling in the Mehran attacks.
Pakistan Army’s Domestic Image Severely Dented
Pakistan Army’s domestic image is at an all-time low and moreso brought into sharper focus after the Abbottabad and Mehran incidents. A nation that was so proud of the Pakistan Army is no longer so.
Pakistan Army’s domestic image has been whittled down by the following factors (1) Loss of public trust in the Pakistan Army which feels that despite its public posturing the Pakistan Army has been collusive with the United States in fighting America’s war against the Pakistani people (2) Pakistan Army was both collusive and complicit in facilitating the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden within a major Pakistan Army garrison (3) Pakistan Army has lost its coercive and deterrence powers against groups battling the Pakistan Army (4) Pakistan Army has failed to protect Pakistan’s national sovereignty both against the Americans and also against groups battling the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan Amy’s vast financial empire in virtually every sector of Pakistan’s economy has been exposed in a book by noted author Ayesha Siddiqa sometime back. Appropriating big tracts of rich cultivable land for allotment to Generals on retirement have dented Pakistan Army’s image of being corruption free and with integrity beyond reproach.
The Pakistan Army has only two options to react to the developing loss of sheen and that is another military coup or to introspect and go in for self-reformation. The former is more likely but that in itself carries dangerous portents in that the Pakistani nation may not stomach another military coup and stifling of Pakistan’s fledgling democracy.
Pakistan Army’s dented domestic image is likely to create morale and self-esteem problems which directly impinge on the military efficiency of the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan Army: Can it Forestall Pakistan’s Likely Disintegration?
Pakistan’s likely disintegration due to internal implosion is the subject of intense analysis in strategic circles worldwide. As far back as the mid-2000s the United States National Intelligence Estimates were projecting that by 2015 Pakistan may cease to be a nation-state.
Obviously such estimates conclusions would have factored-in the capabilities or otherwise of the Pakistan Army being capable of holding the Pakistan nation-state together. The conclusion drawn suggests that Pakistan Army would prove inadequate to the task.
The Western frontier regions of Pakistan are outside the domain of effective political control and administration of Pakistan Government. The Pakistan Army has failed to enforce the Government’s writ in these areas.
Balochistan which is Pakistan’s biggest province and with a sparse population is virtually a ‘No Go” area for the Pakistan Army. Sindh is restive and torn both by sectarian conflicts and ethnic conflicts afflicting Karachi a city of 18 million people. Northern Areas of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir are restive and could prove a tinder box.
Pakistan’s impending disintegration is not likely to arise from the above factors alone. More importantly, Pakistan’s disintegration is likely to arise from the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan Army’s ham-handedness to control the above separatist tendencies which like in 1971 could involve ethnic genocides to be perpetrated by the Pakistan Army.
All available indicators currently indicate that Pakistan Army would not only be inadequate for the task but may emerge as the root cause of Pakistan’s disintegration.
Pakistan Army’s Nuclear Arsenal may Emerge as the Major Contributory Factor Leading to Pakistan State Disintegration
Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal is India-centric despite India not posing any military threat to Pakistan. But the Pakistan Army needs a strategic rationale of India as a military threat to retain its salience in Pakistan’s national affairs.
In the pursuit of such a strategic rationale the Pakistan Army has sought and is achieving a nuclear weapons parity with India both in terms of nuclear warheads and delivery means and ranges.
In this irrational ‘nuclear madness’ of the Pakistan Army lie the seeds of Pakistan’s disintegration because Pakistan Army’s growing nuclear weapons arsenal and its dangers of falling into the hands of the terrorists surrogates of the Pakistan Army has raised serious international security concerns.
Calls are being made in international circles that the United Nations action may be required for liquidation of Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal or failing which the United States in some form of coalition militarily take out this destabilizing nuclear weapons arsenal of the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan Army’s acquisition of nuclear weapons arsenal was an irrational response in the absence of a credible military threat from India. Pakistan Army’s resistance to take out its nuclear weapons arsenal by any of the above mentioned options would evoke even more irrational responses from the Pakistan Army Generals.
The Pakistan Army is likely to destroy itself and in the process the Pakistani nation-state should it choose to oppose United States and international action to take out its nuclear weapons arsenal.
China may have deterred the United States from taking out North Korea’s nuclear weapons but it is highly unlikely that China could seriously obstruct or prevent the United States from taking out Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
The Pakistan Army Chief has himself alluded publicly to the fears that the United States on some pretext or the other would take out the nuclear weapons arsenal of the Pakistan Army.
The Pakistan Army today is faced with a grim scenario where its self-created myths and those created about it by the United States and China are exploding in its face. The Pakistan Army’s image stands diminished both domestically and internationally.
The Pakistan Army stands besieged today on all fronts both within and without. In such a complicated and challenging situation the old threats of the Pakistan Army to militarily intervene and take over governance may no longer be a workable option.
The Pakistan Army today stands exposed on its duplicities both to the Pakistani people and to Pakistan’s chief benefactor, the United States.
It is not only a trying and difficult time for the Pakistani people to rein-in a military adventurist Pakistan Army but also for regional stability in South Asia. As in the past, a cornered Pakistan Army has compulsively resorted to launch aggressive conflicts against India to divert Pakistan people’s attention. India needs to be on the utmost vigilance.
(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email: [email protected])