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Pakistan's narcissistic Army

Fascist apologists would notoriously boast that Mussolini made the trains run on time in Italy (itself a dubious claim), and this, in substantial measure, has been the perennial justification for dictatorships, military rule and other authoritarian forms of government. It is an argument that has, in different forms, been advanced in support of General Pervez Musharraf's junta in Pakistan as well; champions - both domestic and foreign - have argued that the General is the only one who 'can deliver' in the country, and hence the only one Western governments can 'do business' with.

But the Musharraf regime's, and the Pakistani Army's 'capacity to deliver' -certainly to its own people - has been found to be entirely lacking in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that has rocked parts of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), killing tens of thousands, and flattening out entire townships and villages at a stroke. As one Pakistani commentator noted, the Army, "the avowed vanguard of Pakistani society - was leaden on its feet and seemed overwhelmed by the catastrophe."

Three weeks after the quake, while hundreds of non-governmental entities - including, prominently, several jihadi groups (which, according to Pakistan's official position, do not, in fact, exist, have been 'banned', and have had their infrastructure 'dismantled') - have made their presence felt in relief efforts in some of the remotest areas of the affected region, the Army and governmental apparatus is still to come to grips with the basics.

Even in Muzzafarabad - the town most easily accessed - heavy machinery for the clearance of the debris of collapsed buildings is still to be delivered, and a large number of bodies remain trapped under rubble, with people using spades and shovels and whatever primitive equipment they can get their hands on to clean up the mess.

The bulk of official efforts, in any event, remain concentrated in the main towns such as Muzzafarabad, Bagh and Rawalkot; but entire villages in wide areas have been flattened by the earthquake, and access and relief to these remains acutely inadequate. Sources in PoK complain bitterly of the 'complete human failure' and fear that it will result in a second tragedy, potentially greater than the earthquake itself, as the bitter Kashmiri winter sets in on a people without shelter.

In the meanwhile, international organisations have criticised government agencies for obstructing relief efforts and for discriminatory and selective distribution of relief material - including, crucially, a large number of tents that have been brought in by many donor agencies. Stories of a black market in tents - run by Army officials - have been doing the rounds in the media, and one prominent observer has noted that the distribution of tents is "being used for power and patronage by military and civilian authorities that control the territory".

These are all matters of detail - and evidence of the Army's incompetence, bias and corruption will continue to pile up as more light is brought to bear upon the course of relief efforts and the utilisation of the millions of dollars for relief and rehabilitation that have poured into the Government's coffer's since the earthquake. What is crucial, however, is an attitude of mind. The Pakistan Army has never regarded PoK or the NWFP as anything more than an area of strategic importance.

The people of these regions have always been of little consequence. Unsurprisingly, in the wake of the earthquake, there was hardly any effort to rush immediate help to the victims - rather, tens of thousands of troops were moved up to reinforce the LoC, with convoys driving through and past devastated towns and villages, indifferent to the enveloping suffering of the people.

This reveals a deep pathology in the Pakistani military mind, and it is fairly certain that, if the scale of devastation and dislocation experience in PoK had rather occurred across the LoC, in J&K, Pakistan would have sent in its Forces - no doubt masquerading as 'irregulars' - to grab as much territory as was possible. It is beyond the capacities of this mindset to imagine that India would not do the same.

The competence of the military regime to bring relief to the victims of the earthquake is undermined further by the chronic inadequacies of institutional development and the state's outreach in the affected regions. When entire areas are held with an exclusive focus on grand strategy, military tactics and political power play, without thinking of the human beings, there is, naturally, no planning for the people.

This, of course, is happening in some measure all over Pakistan - and is characteristic of all dictatorships - but it is a chronic problem in PoK and the NWFP, where institutional development has been systematically crippled in a perverse policy to keep the people in thraldom in the pursuit of Islamabad's inchoate quest for 'strategic depth'. The communities of PoK and NWFP have been entirely dehumanised, and Islamabad has never had much interest in their daily lives; these territories, however, have been integral to the Pakistani (overwhelmingly Punjabi) military leadership's concept of their 'interests of state'.

Pakistan's narcissistic Army has heaped limitless contempt on civilian rule and institutions, and on democratic politics. It is now time to challenge and extinguish this myth. The fact is, the Army itself has a disastrous record of incompetence that goes far beyond the present crisis, and many a Pakistani commentator has noted that each spell of military rule in the country has culminated in a national catastrophe: "Dictators took the country into foolish and unnecessary wars, dictators who sowed the seeds of Pakistan's break-up, dictators and shortsighted intelligence chiefs who danced to America's tune and turned Pakistan into a crossroads of international jihad. The Pakistani dream, if ever there was one, has been betrayed at the altar of this tradition."

Pakistan's Army is, in fact, at the heart of the country's problems; it is no part of their solutions. Claims that the Musharraf regime will bring back democracy to Pakistan and remove corruption now stand totally discredited - the Army has systematically undermined democratic institutions and processes and weakened mainstream political parties, and is itself the country's most corrupt organisation, "and an unchallenged holder of country's resources and wealth". The enormous humanitarian tragedy brought about by the earthquake - and the visible pattern of the Army's response - has simply reiterated these long-standing realities.

As an aside, within this context, it is useful to note that some Pakistani writers are plaintively asking why India is "dragging its feet" on Gen Musharraf's proposal to turn the Line of Control into a soft border. Perhaps they have not noticed the nearly 40,000 killed in J&K by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists over the last 17 years, and the continuing spate of terrorist attacks and assassinations in the State by groups headquartered in Pakistan. And while many in Pakistan are today celebrating the 'humanity', generosity and efficiency of the jihadi groups involved in relief work, they will live to rue the day, when these terrorist entities call their debt, and a grateful and deeply indebted people respond in large numbers by enlisting in the future armies of terror.

(Published in The Pioneer, October 29, 2005)





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