Most Pakistanis have been aware since Agra that Pervez Musharraf’s boots were meant for walking on the world stage. The man who leads the country and the moment have come together seamlessly in a crisis, comfortable with his destiny and having the inherent ability to seize opportunity whenever and in whichever form it comes. Given Hobson’s Choice, damned if he will, damned if he won’t, the Pakistani leader went with his gut instinct, proving the description of leader who appears once in a blue moon, to quote Lord Wavell’s, ” having the unerring tenth instinct, like a kingfisher flashing across the surface of a pond”. Pervez Musharraf, General of the Army, President by default, but on merit Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), did not vacillate, did not drag his feet as he followed Richard Nixon’s advice in not “debating a point to death”. With the country facing its gravest crisis since 1971, Musharraf took the hard but unpopular road in doing what is morally right. The recent terrorist attack in the US cannot be justified by any civilized society. Anybody who does so qualifies for being stark, raving mad.
The sound of a bullet is a great equalizer, it separates the men from the boys. The crisis of the magnitude that Pakistan is facing is the acid test of the character of our leadership. Faced with the rank injustices of the Radcliffe Award in 1947, the lawyer within our Quaid urged a legal battle, Choosing the race against time (now or never!) he went against the thrust of his personality and training to accept a “truncated, moth-eaten Pakistan” rather than no Pakistan at all. Musharraf put at stake his person, his reputation and credibility rather than put the nation to unlimited risk.
The media propaganda has been so intense, any indecision or delay would have had long term adverse consequences for our very existence as a nation, (very quickly) Musharraf decided that notwithstanding the emotional display in the streets, overwhelming logic demanded that Pakistan came first. Going against terrorism is contrary to vocal public perception, not only in the streets but in some of the drawing rooms of the elite and educated (who should know better), Musharaf has taken a calculated risk with raw courage. An uncompromising fighter against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, wealthy Osama Bin Laden may have captivated the public imagination but what manner of man is ready to bring misery to millions so that he himself can survive? Even now hundreds of thousands of apprehensive Afghans, mainly women and children, are walking in many columns towards safety in Pakistan.
The Talibaan are being very loyal to him, is he being loyal to the hapless Afghans? Circumstantial evidence seems to be building into a solid case against Bin Laden. While there is no “smoking gun” making the case watertight, Osama is a self-confessed terrorist who has to be brought to justice. The long years of war have denuded Afghanistan virtually of all its assets and a fair amount of its population. Callous though it may seem, the Afghans are conditioned to it. Our people have no idea of the privations such international isolation would bring. Pakistan has everything to lose in all senses of the word, why should we render this sacrifice?
The demands the US Govt. made of Pakistan were unambiguous, viz (1) are you with the USA or not? If the answer is “yes” than (2) share intelligence information about Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden (3) allow free use of airspace (4) block fuel supplies to Afghanistan and (5) provide such logistics support for any impending military operation an “as required basis”. An outright “no” would have meant that we were aligned with Afghanistan against the US, that would have been not only illogical but catastrophic. While the great silent majority of Pakistanis are fond of Americans, they have been extremely disappointed with the US; acclaiming Pakistan at one time as the cornerstone of US policy in the region, the US had abandoned Pakistan. Technically, that is true! To add insult to assumed injury, the US turned to India, long opposed to the US on all counts till lately, as its principal ally and partner in the region, militarily and politically, not in any anti-Pakistan alliance but more to contain China. A “no” answer would have been to Pakistan’s eternal detriment, the very first assault (cruise missiles, air attacks) targeting our strategic nuclear assets, India would have loved to be the instrument of our destruction. Diplomatically Afghanistan is isolated; physically it will be when Pakistan’s borders with it are closed.
Militarily the US can, viz (1) repeat the 1998 attack by cruise missiles on known Talibaan concentrations and rest areas (2) declare Afghanistan a no-fly zone a la Iraq and interdict any air or surface movement by the use of airpower from aircraft carriers in the Gulf and from Pakistan, Tajikistan, etc. (3) establish forward staging bases in Pakistan, Tajikistan, etc to carry out airmobile operations (4) support with airpower a Northern Alliance grand alliance offensive against Kabul (5) attempt a full-fledged ground invasion of Afghanistan with a multi-lateral force, and lastly (6) carry out tactical nuclear strikes. A history of sorry invaders, viz British, Russian, etc compels military planners to exorcise from their minds any thoughts of a major ground invasion in Afghanistan but a Northern Alliance offensive is definitely on the cards, imminent in the next few weeks so as to expel the Taliban from Kabul before winter. The Us does not need tactical nuclear strikes, that is out. A combination of the first three options is possible i.e. cruise missiles to knock out any Talibaan military potential, combat air patrols night and day over Afghanistan to restrict all movement within the country, using cluster bombs and fuel air explosives at Talebaan concentrations, and lastly, to conduct airmobile “hit and snatch” raids inside Afghanistan using forward logistics bases. Ormara would certainly be the major naval staging port, at least two (or even three) logistic bases being established in Balochistan Province a 100 – 150 miles or so from the Afghan Border, most probably well south of Quetta (Jacobabad and Sibi) or south west of Quetta (between Kharan and Kalat). Area north of Quetta will be well within Talibaan reach as well as being die-hard Jamiat – i – Ulema Islam country, JUI (F) and JUI (S) being the country cousins of the Talibaan. The good news is that both the spirtual leaders with maximum nuisance value, Maulana Fazal ur Rehman, JUI (F) and Maulana Samiul Haq, JUI (S) seem to be aligning themselves to the government bandwagon.
Pakistan has categorically said that it will not commit its forces beyond its borders. In any case, we will have to provide troops for the outer defensive perimeter for the forward bases as well as mobile covering troops between the border and those bases. Peshawar must be ruled out as a possible base, it has no “stand – off” distance from populated areas but Quetta can be used.
The hard flat ground in many areas of South – west Balochistan can be easily and quickly prepared for operations of transport aircraft bringing in troops to marry up helicopters already in position. Damage control internally is needed to keep militant pro-Afghan elements in check. The President’s speech has gone down well, even though he speaks far better extempore than from a prepared text, he made some very telling points by giving examples of our Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) patience in making peace with Jews. One of the reasons for deterioration of law and order is the economic deprivation born mainly out of western sanctions. Economic revival is the key to domestically being able to cope with our local problems; quick pragmatic decisions have to be taken by the US, European Union countries and Japan. Time is of the essence! Musharraf has risked everything for doing the right thing without delay, how fast will the western nations respond by shoring up his position diplomatically, militarily and economically? And while at it, the Bush Administration could also analyze the root cause of fundementation in this very vital area; Kashmir is something that needs their priority attention for an amicable and lasting solution.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.