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Category: Articles, Ayaz Amir

What Are Our Soldiers Dying For?

By Ayaz Amir

All power to the people and an end to all unconscionable privileges for an already pampered elite: this is the only way to make sense of the war against the Taliban.

If the present fight against the Taliban leads to a new Pakistan, it is worth fighting and winning. But if our ways don’t change, if our ruling elites remain as corrupt and self-centred as they have always been, then doubts will arise whether the blood being shed was worth anything.

The Taliban are a threat to our way of life. But the Taliban, it bears remembering, were the product of our folly, the general staff and our military intelligence agencies (ISI and MI) chasing shadows and fantasies at the altar of muddled strategic theories.

American folly and narrow self-interest was also an ingredient in this witches’ brew. But there was no divine command that we had to follow American orders.

That we did ourselves, our ruling generals — from Zia to Musharraf — all too willing instruments of American policy. No one forced Zia to become an American surrogate. No one compelled Musharraf to become an American puppet. They followed this path out of pure self-interest.

Blaming the US for all our ills has become a national industry. We must look more closely at our own doings. Yes, the Americans will do what they perceive to be in their self-interest.

But what stops us from looking out for ourselves? So unless the nation goes through a process of re-education, unless the military mind purges itself of the follies embraced in the name of ‘jihad’, Pakistan’s soul will remain troubled and the fight against the Taliban will remain unfinished business.

The intelligence services need over-hauling. The ISI and the Military Intelligence (MI) must revert to being spy agencies, not exercises in self-aggrandisement. The quality of their analysis doesn’t seem to be very high. If it were we wouldn’t be in the mess that we are in. The ISI depends heavily on the regular rotation of army officers moving in and out of its ranks.

It should be able to attract the best university minds, which will not happen unless it becomes an agency like the CIA, the erstwhile KGB or even India’s RAW, instead of being an extension of GHQ and the army. The Intelligence Bureau too can do with a bit of reform. At present it is no better than a dumping ground for discarded ideas and sidelined officers.

Parts of the army have begun to look too much like commercial enterprises. What business has the army to run bakeries and food outlets? Lahore’s army-owned Fortress Stadium has nothing of any fortress about it. It is now an ugly shopping mall. What business do army doctors have to conduct private practice in military hospitals? Shouldn’t army doctors have their hands full treating the wounded and maimed of Swat and Waziristan? This is commercialism run wild.

If the army-and also the air force and navy for that matter-are so convinced of their commercial skills they should become self-supporting enterprises instead of being a drain on the national budget. The nation pays-through its nose, it may be added-for a professional fighting force. It has never been inclined to the idea of supporting a commercial circus, which is what parts of the military now look like.

If fighting the Taliban is to have any meaning, the military must return to its comparatively frugal and austere roots, reforming if not completely eschewing the real estate culture which is now the bane of senior ranks, generals, admirals and air marshals less symbols of martial valour than icons of the real estate trade. If the real estate mania is really beyond cure it may be an idea worth pursuing to make Malik Riaz of Bahria Town-Pakistan’s leading real estate enterprise with a bevy of retired senior ranks on its payroll-an honorary field marshal.

That should serve everyone right. To be fair to the military, it has only followed where the civil services have led. The original freebooters of Pakistan were members of the higher civil service. The one good thing Musharraf did was destroy their power, if not their privileges. The demise of the deputy commissioner was an event un-mourned throughout the country.

The bad thing which Musharraf did was that the cure he found for the deputy commissioner, in the form of the district nazim, was worse than the disease. The deputy commissioner was a nuisance. The district nazim became a raging menace. Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s idea of administrative reform is to try to revert to the nuisance. He hasn’t succeeded but he remains possessed with the idea, somehow convinced that if the deputy commissioner returns peace and nirvana will automatically follow.

It is a funny thing hearing chief secretaries and other civil servants speak. They will talk of setting aright the problems of the universe but one thing they will never mention is corruption in the revenue department which is their primary responsibility. The police are corrupt and inefficient. Wapda is corrupt. Other line departments are beehives of corruption. The money-making of the highway department is legendary. But if anything beats all of these it is the revenue department-the kingdom of the patwari, the girdawar, the tehsildar, the DDOR, DOR, EDOR, etc, etc.

You will never catch a higher civil servant overly agitated about their loot and plunder. If the people of Pakistan were ever to be empowered in the Bolshevik sense, the first person to be lynched or soundly thrashed would be the patwari and the local tehsildar, followed by the leading lights of the local police station (followed, I have no doubt in my mind, by the local politician-MNA, MPA). The inspector general of the Punjab Police sits atop a force which comes to more than five or six divisions of the army. But to see this force in action is to give up on any concept of law and order.

The higher ranks of this force constitute a privilegentsia more concerned about promotions and postings than the investigation and prevention of crime. Armchair or sofa warriors is a description which fits them perfectly. The terror threat of the Taliban demands a new approach to policing but police stations are still mired in the old culture of lining their pockets to the exclusion of almost every thing else.

The army at least has been woken out of its dream-sleep by the Taliban and for this we owe the Taliban leadership our thanks. But the civil and police services haven’t changed at all. They are still prisoners of their old ways. Yet, and this is the funny thing, my friend Mian Shahbaz Sharif thinks that the DMG (civil service) and PSP (police service) are descended directly from the angels.

He trusts their advice while tending to look with suspicion at politicos, virtually convinced that scratch a politician and out comes a confirmed criminal. He may have a point but it doesn’t capture the whole truth. The corruption of politicians-unless they are in the very highest of leagues-is often crude and stupid.

Local politicos are great ones, say, for land-grabbing which immediately puts them in the public eye. But civil servants and police officials do things in more clever and sophisticated ways.

On a slightly different subject, why is the desecration and despoiling of GOR-1 (originally a residential estate for the paladins of the higher services) continuing at such an alarming rate? This is no one’s private land but almost a national heritage. For the sake of those who are to come after us we have a duty to preserve what’s left of our green spaces. Pervaiz Elahi, no one’s idea of a culture czar, went to great lengths to destroy the natural beauty of GOR-1 but if the same process is to continue now, then what’s the difference between him and the new order?

I am mentioning these things only to point out that if nothing is to change in the way we conduct our national affairs then there is very little point in fighting the Taliban. This war will make sense only if it becomes an opportunity to change some of our ingrained habits and restructure Pakistan, change our priorities and orient national policies towards the welfare of the vast mass of our people rather than a privileged elite.

Two things must happen at once if Pakistan is to even approximate to the republic of our dreams: the first steps towards a common education policy-one syllabus, one set of books, one medium of instruction, one examination for all Pakistani boys and girls, from the highest mountains to the shores of the Arabian Sea; and a heavy emphasis on public transport-a revitalisation of our railways, the discouragement of the automobile industry and more and better buses for the general public.

And if Pakistan is to become a modern republic we will have to revisit the morality tales of that prince of hypocrites, General Ziaul Haq, whose preaching and enforced piety, added to his Afghan follies, gave us first the ‘mujahideen’ and then the Taliban. America tried prohibition and what did it get? Secret drinking and organised crime centred on the alcohol trade. It is common knowledge that many of our leading doctors of the faith are closet imbibers. Whom do we deceive?

All power to the people and an end to all unconscionable privileges for an already pampered elite: this is the only way to make sense of the war against the Taliban.

Email: [email protected]

Source: The News

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