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Geo-political somersault

Despite being a front line State, Pakistan fell from grace in the very hour of the free world’s victory against Soviet communism. The Soviet edifice had started crumbling internally (the fall of the Berlin Wall was only symbolic) in the face of the fierce Afghan freedom movement, aided and actively supported by America’s CIA through Pakistan’s ISI operatives, hundreds of whom lost their lives and lie buried in unmarked graves throughout Afghanistan. The Gulf War was hardly over when President Bush Sr, failed to certify to US Congress Pakistan’s abstinence from seeking nuclear capability, triggering the Pressler Amendment, imposing military and economic sanctions against Pakistan. Pakistan was lucky in 1992-93 to escape being equated with Libya, Iraq, Sudan, North Korea, etc in the US-made “terrorist states” list, the fallout of the Afghan freedom struggle notwithstanding, viz (1) 3 million refugees, of which more than 1 million never did (and will never) go back (2) a massive proliferation of drugs and guns symbolized by heroin and the Kalashnikov, within Pakistan more than 6,000 bomb blasts took place in that decade, many Pakistanis died and/or were maimed (3) a major breakdown in law and order, with lasting damage to the fabric of society with rising ethnicity and sectarianism (4) widening disparity been the desperately poor and new, mostly illegal wealth (5) corruption force-multiplying through the body politic of the country (6) even reaching deep into the Armed Forces (7) a proliferation of terrorist cells with disparate aims, supported by RAW, KGB and KHAD (8) a vibrant economy becoming addicted to easy aid instead of trade, most aid duly siphoned off by bureaucrats and (9) heavy debt acquisitions which became more complex for the country with time. Pakistanis could not be blamed for their 1981-89 fantasy that their future would remain bright as the darlings of the west. An internecine quarrel ensued between the Afghan Mujahideen factions till the Taliban gained ascendancy, not because the masses of Afghanistan wanted them and/or their extremely conservative brand of ideology but because they wanted the others even less. By the time of the Chagai nuclear explosion on May 28, 1999, we had already been on the receiving end of ostracization for many reasons, viz (1) suspected nuclear intentions (2) a haven for drugs manufacturing and smuggling and (3) suspected ISI support for terrorist activity. Things improved internally after the Oct 12, 1999 military coup, internationally they became worse for a short  time, after the cold war military regimes were out of fashion. “Democracy” sanctions were super-imposed on “nuclear” sanctions against Pakistan, the Commonwealth suspending our membership and even the European Union (EU) holding back aid. A depth of integrity and sincere intent more than any grand plan has brought this military regime goodwill (and this far) in the face of adversity, destiny marking the leader of the regime as a man twice blessed. Fortune smiles on the brave, there is no man luckier in this world than Pervez Musharraf. Quite a lot has rubbed off on Pakistan lately.
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The Bugtis and Balochistan

On the evening of 15 Feb 1973, my unit 44 Punjab (now 4 Sindh) pulled out from Nabisar where we were concentrated for training close to our Forward Defended Localities (FDLs) in the southern desert and entrained pell mell the next morning at Mirpurkhas for Sibi enroute to Quetta. We were told that we had to cope with a sudden “internal security” situation arising in Balochistan. At Ibad Railway Station, a few kilometers short of Jacobabad, our troops special ran full speed into a stationary goods train parked on the parallel line. Sabotage? With four dead and over a dozen or so badly injured, we limped into Sibi late on 17 Feb.
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A Guided Missile Kills An Unguided One

At about 9:45 pm on Thursday June 17, 2004, a guided missile killed tribal militant and Al-Qaeda supporter Nek Mohammad in his hideout in village Dhok only 4 kms from Wana, a long way away from Shakai and Baghar, the two places where major military operation had been launched by the Armed Forces a few days earlier to flush out foreign militants. Virtually unknown till a few months ago, Islamic militant Nek Mohammad gained notoriety (or fame, depending on your point of view) by resisting troops engaged in hunting Al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects in South Waziristan adjacent to the borders with Afghanistan.
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The Army Since 1965

Armies usually change their character to keep pace with weapons development. To quote late Brig ZA Khan from his book “Weapons and Tactics”, “Changes in the methods of warfare occur when a better method of using an existing weapon is evolved or a new weapon is introduced”, unquote. In the 20th century the IT revolution has changed this into a three-way equation. Whereas good military knowledge is a must for the upper military hierarchy, knowledge per se about a whole number of disciplines is always must for soldiers of the modern Armed Forces. To quote Sun Tzu in “The Art of War”, “War is a matter of vital importance to the State: the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied”. There is a vast difference between the Army that went into battle on the 6th of September 1965 and the Army of today. Today’s professional soldier is far more educated, the challenge lies in keeping him professional.
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Banning Terrorist Outfits

Most of the country’s image problems stems from the inability of the governments in power to take timely action. When the Mian Nawaz Sharif regime enacted the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 it acquired enough powers to deal with terrorism per se. Notwithstanding all the laws in our statute books, the political will for serious implementation was non-existent till a few months before 9/11, and that too by a subsequent non-political regime. What is still mind-boggling is that the banned religious entities simply changed their name and carried on business as usual, this obviously cut into the credibility of the country’s commitment to root out militancy in religious organizations.
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Crunching Humans With Numbers

The business community says (i.e. if you discount the CVT misstep which led to stock brokers going on a rampage breaking things) the Federal Budget is a good investor-friendly initiative. Nothing innovative about it, mostly an adjustment of statistics giving to each audience what that particular audience wants to hear, viz (1) a populist commitment to the masses for alleviating their miseries and (2) for the benefit of the world at large and (particularly) international aid agencies, maintaining a high economic growth rate by not splurging on the social sector. Good in macro-economics there is no perceptible change for the better in the “misery index” (micro-economics) of the masses despite the Finance Minister’s (FM’s) insistence that the population below the poverty line has reduced by 4.2% overall, the common man’s buying power continues to be eroded by the rise in the price of essentials. The data from which the 4.2% poverty reduction figure was arrived at is a matter of doubt and controversy.
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Neutral Kabul

Mazar-i-Sharif’s fall set off a chain reaction, militarily untenable Provinces, east, west and south of Balkh, fell like dominoes. The speed of a sudden military collapse can always be disconcerting, what had charitably been labelled as a tactical withdrawal turned into a full-fledged self-inflicted rout after the hurried abandoning of Kabul. Except for the drive to Mazar which was led by their best combat commanders, the Alliance’s claim about battlefield “victories” should be taken with skepticism, yet they are now in possession of vital real estate because the Taliban could not (or did not want to) defend them. Afghanistan is effectively divided into areas viz (1) controlled by the Taliban (2) by the Northern Alliance and (3) by “tribal elders”, better known as warlords, acting independently of each other.
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Emancipating South Asia economically and politically

Considered at one time to be the region of the most concentrated misery, on a pro-rata basis the world’s most industrious people come from South Asia, its entrepreneurs an optimistic bunch that tends to see more often than not an half empty glass as a glass half filled with water. With barely adequate education facilities, a very great percentage of doctor and engineers in the world come from South Asia. If 21% of all Microsoft’s engineers are Indians, at least 6% are Pakistani, making 27% from these two countries of South Asia alone. On the other end of the spectrum most cab drivers in New York are from South Asia, the oil-rich Middle East being mostly built on the strength of the sweat of South Asian labourers, mostly Pathans from Pakistan. India and Pakistan having mastered nuclear knowledge, one believes that Bangladesh could easily join the club. South India is well advanced in information technology, Bangalore becoming the second computer software city to Silicon valley. One can take an even bet that in two years Pakistan will play catch up, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will not be far behind. The downside is that 35-40% of the population of South Asia is well below the poverty line. Adding the one billion plus population of India with the 130-140 million each of Pakistan and Bangladesh, with about another 40 million making up the rest of South Asia, percentage-wise a cool 500 million plus are thus living in sub-human conditions. Only about 300 million (give or take 10 million) enjoy more than reasonable comfort, the lower middle class lives on a fail-safe line between poverty and comfort, prone to both human and natural disasters.
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US-Pakistan relations – Cornerstone to pariah?

Two centuries and some after its birth, the United States still follows the dictums of one of its founding fathers, George Washington, to quote, “it is our policy to stay clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world”, unquote. The first US President elaborated on this in his farewell address to the American people, admonishing them as a nation, “never make inveterate friends or inveterate foes”, unquote. Unfortunately our unswerving loyalty to the US against the Soviet brand of communism during the period of the cold war has fallen prey to this long-standing Presidential advice, why it rankles is, that even though that is not the US intention, the nouveau friendship of the US with India is seen in Pakistan, rightly or wrongly, to be at the cost of Pakistan. India gave unstinted support to the Soviets during the cold war and on Afghanistan, it was recipient of more defence material than any Warsaw Pact ally during this period but it has not stopped them from becoming darlings of the west. The US post-cold war strategy in the new millennium is primarily economic, yet the present scheme of things is alien to the individual American character that stands up for the underdog against a bully and never forgets a friend. Policy issues may be cut and dried, may be unemotional in content, what makes a nation great is the humanity its leaders inculcate in the policy making. Make no mistake, the US just happens to be the greatest nation on this earth at this time and not by that token alone.
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A Skyful of Lies

The recent upsurge in the streets of the Arab world has been force-multiplied by the planned (and unplanned) use of both internet and the media, Twitter, Facebook, Al-Jazeera, CNN, etc have all chipped in.  Joining the dominos Tunisia and Egypt that have fallen, Yemen, Algeria and Bahrain are tottering, Libya is now in a state of virtual civil war.  After vicious “remedial” action, the King of Bahrain decided good sense was the better part of bull-headedness in calling off his troops from the streets.  With his Eastern Region in protestor control, Muammar Gaddafi is behaving as the mad man that he is to hang on to his last bastion in Tripoli.  US and EU leaders repeatedly cautioned the authoritarian regimes they were previously not only comfortable (but virtually in bed) with against the naked use of brute force, including fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships in Libya, against largely peaceful demonstrations.   The commentators may be speaking different languages to describe the unprecedented images on TV screens, the content is the same.

How the modern revolution has been conceived, nurtured and implemented is by itself a study.  To win a battle without bloodying swords” (Tsun Tse Tzu), the media (and now the internet) can be used and/or misused. Nik Gowing’s book, “Skyful of Lies and Black Swans” qualifies as a modern day primer for today’s practitioners of political science across the divide from democracy to dictatorship to understand the “new art of war”.  Stephen Stern holds Nik Gowing’s analysis as daunting but completely dispelling, “Information now travels around the world so fast and in such quantities that all kinds of organisations – governments, businesses – are struggling to respond fast enough or effectively enough.  As a result, there is a new vulnerability, fragility and brittleness of power which weakens both the credibility and accountability of governments, the security organs and corporate institutions.  This often occurs at the height of a crisis, just when you need clarity from senior executives.  No matter that the information – noise – which is being spread may be inaccurate, or only partly true. Leaders have to respond, and faster than used to be necessary. The new core challenge is the tyranny of the timeline”.  Awash in money and resources and complacent about the expanse of their power, the Arab regimes were not geared to cope with the blinding speed that information dissemination played in the upheavals.
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