Originally Published 2004-05-12 10:46:27 Published on May 12, 2004
Pakistan's Papier-Mache Army
had an aura of affected valor around it. The reasons for this mayhave something to do with the origins and the composition of thePakistani Army. The princely state of Punjab was the last to beconquered by the British - in 1849 when British troops finallydefeated the forces of Ranjit Singh. Immediately after the conquestof Punjab, the British began recruiting troops from the region. TheBritish had classified the Punjabis-in particular the MuslimJats-and the Pashtuns as 'martial races' and fed this theory to theregion's populace as part of their "divide and rule" strategy.After the partition of India, the Punjabi Muslims and Pashtunsnaturally formed the backbone of the newly created Pakistan Army.In 1947, Punjabis constituted 77% of the Pakistani army, whilePashtuns made up 19.5% of the troops, while they represented 25%and 8% of the total population respectively. That proportion hasstayed largely the same even today.

Up until the 1965 war and even following it, Pakistanis were fedthe notion that one Pakistani soldier was equal to ten "Hindusoldiers." After the 1971 debacle, the overt propaganda died downbut even a casual perusal of the writings of retired Pakistani armyofficers makes it clear that they still believe in the martial"superiority" of Pakistani Muslim soldiers over "short, dark Hindutroops." For the Pakistani troops to maintain this affectation, itis essential for them to avoid being overtly defeated and insteadcome out of any untoward encounter with their "honor and dignity"preserved. To this end, they have used the idea of portrayingregular troops as "Mujahideen" and deny participating in disasterslike Kargil. 

Unfortunately for the Pakistan army, their recent operation in theWaziristan "tribal agency" has ripped a huge hole in the "martialraces" veneer. In a nutshell, around 10,000 men from Pakistanarmy's XI Corps, supported by artillery and attack helicopters aswell the local Frontier Corps paramilitaries bungled a simple mopup operation in their own tribal zone against a few hundred lightlyarmed tribal fighters. The Pakistani troops lost at least 150troops, gave up many hostages and created a cordon that was morelike a sieve, allowing the fighters to slip away. CNN reported thatsome Pakistani troops switched sides and fought for the enemy. AsiaTimes mentioned that more than 150 soldiers of the army andparamilitary forces refused to fight the rebels, including at leastone colonel and a major. A few other soldiers reportedly desertedtheir units and refused to wear their uniforms for the fear ofbeing targeted by the rebels. 

All in all, the Pakistani army was humiliated and forced to sign apeace treaty with the tribal terrorists without even requiring thesurrender of men or weapons. The Corps Commander Lt. Gen. SafdarHussain, a recent Hilal-i-Imtiaz award recipient, wasembarrassingly forced to garland and hug the men who killed histroops in cold blood. Even though the ISPR spokesman tried to spinthis as a victory, the rest of the world saw it for what it was -the Pakistani army "out-mujahideened" by the Mujahideen.

The rot that was manifested in Waziristan had been spreading for along time. Retired Pakistan Army officer Kamran Shafi recentlyrecounted in a column an encounter he and a colleague had with anArtillery captain in one of the Scouts of the frontier area. Uponpolite questioning by Shafi, the young Captain indicated that heand his colleagues had long stopped going on Gashts (patrols) andinstead spend their time watching satellite television and moviesat the Army's expense! 

While the Waziristan fiasco is recent, there is plenty of evidencefrom past conflicts of the Pakistani Army's bravado hiding aserious rot in its system. In 1971 two Pakistani brigadiers oversawa massive defeat at India's hands in the Rahimyar Khan sector butafterwards both were rewarded; one rose to become a lieutenantgeneral and the other was made a joint secretary in the cabinet. Ina more famous case, Major General M. Rahim Khan, Commander of the39 Division based in Chandpur, sensing that defeat from India wasimminent, quickly left his troops and boarded an emergencyhelicopter ride to Burma, after offloading a group of nurses! Butall was forgotten when Maj.Gen.Rahim made it back to Pakistan andsettled into a cushy retirement. Other senior 1971 defeat artistsin the Pakistani Army were never brought to book for theirfailures. 

More recently, the Kargil episode illustrated this denial aspect ofthe Pakistani army. Even while officially maintaining the ruse that"Kashmir Mujahideen" were responsible for the intrusion, in theearly days of the conflict, Pakistani media was awash with commentsby retired Generals took pride in the success of "their boys". Butthe whole world knew the truth about Pakistan Army's involvement inthe Kargil operation. Indians got a peek into the breakdown ofPakistan Army's discipline when the Pakistanis returned the bodiesof Captain Saurabh Kalia and his men with visual evidence ofunspeakable torture including the piercing of their ear-drums withhot rods, and puncturing of their eyes before removing them andother acts of ante-mortem mutilation. Of course, once the IndianArmy started dislodging the intruders through sheer force andwillpower, Pakistan's "Mujahideen" canard came in handy to save thehonor and dignity of the Pakistan Army. To this day, the PakistanArmy higher ups never claimed the bodies of the few brave troopsthat stayed back and fought the Indians. 

The "Mujahideen" cover is not a new Pakistani trick. In 1989,Pakistan troops led Afghan fighters on a conventional assault onthe Afghan city of Jalalabad. After losing 10,000 men and sufferinga bloody nose, the Pakistanis and the Afghan rebels withdrew inhumiliation. Afterwards, Pakistan denied that its troops took partin the bungled operation. The architect of that epic disaster, Gen.Hameed Gul however, never lost his stature and is still considereda "strategic expert" in Pakistani right wing circles. Going furtherback, the ill-fated "Operation Gibraltar" of 1965 was alsopresented as a Mujahideen operation for a long time.

This behavior of the Pakistani army contrasts with the Indian Army,where the bad apples are routinely punished. The Kargil failureswere investigated and officers as high as Brigadier Generals weremade to pay for their mistakes. Even now, the Siachen troops whomay have faked enemy kills are being charged and their punishmentis under way. This would be unimaginable in Pakistan where badsoldiers only get sent to lead civilian institutions and thevarious commercial interests that the Army controls inPakistan. 

Retired Pakistani officer and defense expert Ikram Sehgal lamentedthat during the time of the recent border crisis with India, theKarachi Corps Commander Lt Gen Tariq Waseem Ghazi was spending moretime promoting Army owned housing projects than leading his men indefense preparedness. Indeed, some Pakistani circles refer to theCorps Commander as the Crore Commander, because the posts providesthe opportunity for the Generals to manage lucrative projects whichhave nothing to do with military matters. Probably because of theactions of people like Gen. Ghazi and others, Pakistan PresidentGen.Musharraf hinted that Pakistan would immediately launch anuclear attack were India to cross the border during the 2002crisis. There was no mention of the "conventional pause" - theperiod during which the Pakistanis would be able to useconventional weapons to defend against an Indian attack. Clearly,even Gen.Musharraf realized that his army's war fighting abilitieshave dropped below the minimum required to put up a decent fight.

In summary, the passing years are bringing about a slow but sureunmasking of the real nature of the Pakistan Army. From 1971 toKargil to the Waziristan debacle, the Pakistani Army has slowlytransformed from a fighting machine to a money minting institutionand a land grabbing mafia only willing to wreak its prowess on theinnocent and the dispossessed. The Disaster-e-Waziristan hasapplied a blowtorch to the shiny tin exterior that has for longcovered the papier-mâché stuffing of the Pakistan Army.

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