No matter what happens in Afghanistan, a most important factor in the region will continue to be the army of Pakistan which has had to move large numbers of troops to the border in order to counter terrorist groups. In the event of civil war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s security will be subject to even more threat from over its western frontier and it is therefore relevant to examine the Pakistan army, which conducts operations to counter terrorism.
On February 1 Russia announced that Moscow is “closely cooperating” with Islamabad in the fight against terrorism and that “Great contribution is being made by all the countries bordering Afghanistan, and Russia is a reliable partner of those countries in every effort to ensure the security of the borders.” But although Russia acknowledges Pakistan’s vital role in the region, most western governments and media outlets claim that much of the shambles in war-torn Afghanistan is the fault of Pakistan. Not only that, but the UK’s Economist claimed in January that “Pakistan’s army is to blame for the poverty of the country’s 208m citizens — it has fostered the paranoia and extremism that hold the country back.”
This is the army which, along with para-military forces, has had 7,057 soldiers killed in operations against paranoid extremists from January 2002 to January 27, 2019. Since the US invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent expansion of Islamic terrorist groups, Pakistan has suffered 468 suicide bombing attacks, in which 7,230 citizens were killed. Before the US offensive in 2001 there was one such attack, in 1995 by a crazy Egyptian who drove a bomb-laden lorry into the Egyptian Embassy’s gates. Last year 369 Pakistani civilians died in terrorist attacks and 165 soldiers were killed in fighting against terrorists, killing 157 of them.
The Pakistan army has mounted countless operations against terrorists, and has been able to restore peace. As the BBC reported, “For over a decade the inaccessible and mountainous tribal area of North Waziristan [on the Afghan border] was home to a swirling array of violent jihadists. The Pakistan and Afghan Taliban movements, al-Qaeda and less well-known militant outfits such as the Haqqani Network used the area to hold hostages, train militants, store weapons and deploy suicide bombers to attack targets in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today the militants have gone. Virtually the whole of North Waziristan is in Pakistani army hands.” At the cost of hundreds of dead and wounded Pakistan army soldiers.
This is the army that The Economist alleges “promotes a doctrine of persecution and paranoia”. The journal states, without any evidence, that “it helped cast out the previous prime minister, Nawaz Sharif” but doesn’t mention that Sharif was totally corrupt. It is not surprising that Sharif resigned in 2017 after the Supreme Court disqualified him from office following revelations of his family’s corruption. As reported by Al Jazeera, “In 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists leaked 11.5 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, dubbed the Panama Papers. Several documents included in the leak showed three of Sharif’s children — Hussain, Hasan and Maryam — owned at least three off-shore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. The documents showed that these companies had engaged in deals worth $25m. Crucially, one of the documents also revealed that the companies had been involved in a $13.2m mortgage involving the London properties as collateral, the first time the Sharif family’s ownership of the apartments was proven on paper.”
The whole thing stank, and it was eventually made public that Nawaz Sharif was corrupt to the eyeballs — as everyone in Pakistan had known for decades.
The Pakistan Army cannot not be held to blame for that, any more than it can be for the majestic corruption of former President Asif Zardari (Mr Ten Percent), the husband of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. In 1998 the Pulitzer Prize winner John Burns wrote in an eight page exposé in the New York Times that “In 1995, a leading French military contractor, Dassault Aviation, agreed to pay Mr. Zardari and a Pakistani partner $200 million for a $4 billion jet fighter deal that fell apart only when Ms. Bhutto’s Government was dismissed. In another deal, a leading Swiss company hired to curb customs fraud in Pakistan paid millions of dollars between 1994 and 1996 to offshore companies controlled by Mr. Zardari and Ms. Bhutto’s widowed mother, Nusrat.”
The Bhutto government was also corrupt to the earlobes. As Burns recounted, “In the largest single payment investigators have discovered, a gold bullion dealer in the Middle East was shown to have deposited at least $10 million into an account controlled by Mr. Zardari after the Bhutto Government gave him a monopoly on gold imports that sustained Pakistan’s jewellery industry. The money was deposited into a Citibank account in the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, one of several Citibank accounts for companies owned by Mr. Zardari. Together, the documents provided an extraordinarily detailed look at high-level corruption in Pakistan, a nation so poor that perhaps 70 percent of its 130 million people are illiterate, and millions have no proper shelter, no schools, no hospitals, not even safe drinking water. During Ms. Bhutto’s five years in power, the economy became so enfeebled that she spent much of her time negotiating new foreign loans to stave off default on $62 billion in public debt.”
So it might be asked of The Economist exactly what the Pakistan army had to do with impoverishment of citizens during the regimes of Benazir Bhutto, then her husband, the crooked Asif Zardari, then the almost equally corrupt Nawaz Sharif. The country has had civilian government since 2008, and might reasonably be expected to have improved its economic situation, but in some weird way, according to The Economist, the fact that it has failed to do so must be the fault of the army, which has been trying to protect the country against the massive terrorist effort to destroy democracy and establish Islamic rule.
The Economist states that the army “at last” moved against the terrorists in 2014 “following an appalling school massacre.” As described above, it did indeed mount a massive operation in Waziristan in 2014, but to assert that this was belated action is totally misleading. The Economist ignores the fact that in May 2009, for example, “Pakistan’s army declared a ‘full-scale’ offensive against Taliban insurgents holed up in the Swat valley… The fighting was concentrated in the main town, Mingora, where the bulk of an estimated 4,000 Taliban fighters across Swat are heavily dug in. Artillery and helicopter gunships battered militant-held buildings, while the Taliban planted mines across the city in expectation of a major ground offensive.” In this army operation 228 officers and men were killed and 757 wounded. Fazlullah, the leader of the insurgent group known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) escaped to Afghanistan, where he was killed by a US drone strike in 2018.
It is all very well for clever commentators who have never experienced a military operation or heard a shot fired in anger to declare that Pakistan’s armed forces “commandeer resources” as if this is a crime. They have no idea of the enormous cost of logistics in anti-terrorist operations in “the inaccessible and mountainous tribal area of North Waziristan.” They have no idea of the human and financial implications of casualty evacuation in such awful terrain, or of the enormous cost of establishing forward bases and transporting ammunition and rations over hundreds of miles of rugged tracks. Yet they say they believe that “the army’s pre-eminence is precisely what lies at the heart of Pakistan’s troubles.”
Tell that to the people of Swat and North Waziristan who suffered from the atrocities of the Taliban who have now been ejected — by the army — from the regions where, for example,
“decapitated bodies were found on the roadside, hung from electric poles and trees.” Now, as the BBC notes, “The army is building infrastructure to tempt people to return. As well as new roads, there are brand new schools with facilities that rival anything on offer elsewhere in Pakistan.” That might seem to most people, if not The Economist, a reasonable use of “resources”.
In preparing for even greater instability in Afghanistan and its likely spill-over to Pakistan, the army will require more resources, and it is likely these will be forthcoming, as will cooperation by at least some other nations, notably Russia whose special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, said in Islamabad on January 29 that Moscow “greatly appreciated Pakistan’s role as a facilitator in the Afghan peace process.” Nobody knows how that process will pan out, but it is certain there will continue to be regional instability, and that in Pakistan it will be essential that the army continues in its role as protector of democracy.