The Pakistani Spectator

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Steadfast in the storm

By Guest Blogger • Sep 15th, 2012 • Category: Lead Story • 4 Comments

Haseeb Ahmed

Azure skies and crisp air herald the onset of yet another September. Notable in history is the 11th of this month. On this date in 1773, Benjamin Franklin wrote ‘there never was agood war or a bad peace.’

And yet we fight. The mark of Cain forever affixed upon the human condition. It is always the nefarious other providing casus belli. After a while all that remains is the continuing hostility, causes and missions fading into weak shadows of original resolve, shiny armor transforming into rusted and weary veneers imputed old glory.

Promise of a global community with shared ideals within the comity of nations had been the rising hope at the turn of the millennium. Ideas proliferating through the spread of the internet along with advances in telecommunications and attendant reach of media, brought visions of advancement of societies. Eliciting excitement about an end to history itself, the zeitgeist seemed anticipatory of an era of unbridled progress.

Not to be, the start of the millennium brought international strife spawned on a September morning, fast morphing into a conflict fueled ideologically through shibboleths of a self- perpetuating clash of civilizations. Flawed statesmanship informed by prejudice and personal failings allowed what should have been a police action to degenerate into global conflict. Aftershocks reverberate, as unleashed dogs of war exact their toll on national economies, infrastructure and security – affecting the very souls of the citizens of the world as bloodshed brings ever-increasing rounds of recrimination and forebodings of apocalypse.

As international relations continue to refract through prisms of national security, driven by illusory concepts of defense through pre-emptive offense, these Yeats’ verses appear eerily prescient: ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere, the ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’.

The fallout has been greater nowhere than in Pakistan, paying the price for sins of omission and commission and now routinely assigned blame for the inevitable instability in Southwest Asia. Placed under a critical scope appearing to belittle the tribulations of its people, the country as seen by the international community can do nothing right. Beset by corruption and ineptitude within the ranks of the few lording it over the many, the country lurches from crisis to crisis, as opprobrium continues to get heaped on its people.

Inexorably deemed a war zone itself now, Pakistan exhibits within its socio-economic classes the fissures and disarray set loose by hostilities. Most perplexing, therein, is the adoption of inaccurate narratives borrowed from unsympathetic external sources. Nationhood is often forged in the crucible of war, the people of the state coalescing around a central narrative of shared values and goals. Internal wars are far messier affairs, tearing at the very fabric of social cohesion. Symbols of national unity become paramount. Foremost among the last vestiges of possible unity, amidst a tattered ethos ascribed a floundering ship buffeted by sheer winds of circumstance, are the armed forces of the country navigating the perilous straits. Yet they are referred to within a lexicon of derision through the euphemism of ‘deep state’.

The institutions tasked with the country’s security face relentless assault, kinetically from misguided zealots with boundless motivation and ideologically from jaundiced mutations of liberal frameworks. Failures in governance and policy routinely get laid at the doorstep of the military declared omnipotent, omniscient and, dissonance unrealized, inept. Fending off blame for interference in everything, as well as for not doing enough, the beleaguered armed forces draw upon ever-scarcer reserves of resilience in countering challenges from within the polity, a stress potentially beyond their tensile capacity.

Sectarian strife besetting the nation cannot be decried a failing of a military which has long had religious minorities reaching senior ranks within. Parochialism, the bane of the country’s existence, is barely curtailed by the military within its own ranks through meticulous placement of personnel in career channels and systems of advancement. Xenophobia, the unmistakable characteristic accompanying pretensions towards patriotism of those daunted by intellectual challenge, may not be declared the raison d’etre of military institutions regularly exchanging programs, personnel, tactics and ideas with foreign forces, shaping doctrine and order of battle through study of parallels in different times and different places. The Directors General of Military Operations of Pakistan and India have a direct hotline. Senior Pakistani military personnel remain embedded within allied forces’ command centers. There are thin lines tread, a fine balance impossible to appreciate in ill-informed depictions of all things military.

Psychological operations constitute a significant tactical component feeding into war strategy. These focus on perceptions of stakeholders, whether through presentation of facts or fables. The narrative of war may be controlled tightly by the State, the fourth estate going along in providing cover and support under the rubric of the public good.
That Pakistan is in the midst of hostilities qualifying as low intensity conflict appears beyond the pale of reasonable challenge. And that no external entity should want a disintegration of the Pakistan Armed Forces, yielding space to wild-eyed hordes descending into the country’s population centers and breaching its security infrastructure, appears an equally reasonable proffer.

Yet the fog of war and the breakdown of reason and planning can have misguided interlocutors focused only on retribution and not the consequences. How mindful are we of this possibility? Freedom of speech is the hallmark of advanced societies, a cherished ideal. It comes with responsibility. Do salvos on defenders serve the public good; of anybody; anywhere?

There is no more a self-entitled praetorian order in Pakistan responsible for failures in governance than a defending force drawn from all socio-economic strata of society, perhaps the best microcosm of the nation’s polity, now tasked with managing hostilities within the borders as well as from beyond. Fighting imminent threats and incurring irreplaceable losses of personnel, with an inordinately high ratio of officers falling in battle, the nation’s armed forces serve as the last bastion against real and immediate threat to the lives, liberty and property of its citizens.

Wars seldom go as planned. The best outcome after a breakout is a quick end with minimal bloodshed and relatively low levels of compromise of objectives. Given space and support, Pakistan’s Armed Forces can well restore the writ of the state in spaces where its lack has brought the country trouble beyond its capacity to endure.

Societies honor their war dead and impute stature to those thrust into battle to carry out their will. As September brings about in Pakistan solemn official commemorations of those fallen in defense of the country, the people might gain courage in the sacrifices rendered by families whose stars have laid down their lives so others may live better ones. This is the rallying point for a country needing to stand steadfast in the storm.

(The writer is a Strategy, Management and Technology Consultant based in Washington. Email:

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4 Responses »

  1. A poetry in prose, no less no more. This is but obvious from a writer (whosoever they are) sitting in cold cosy room in West. Where is and what is the message, what is the remedy, nary any one. The maladies we are in upto our necks, we know them well, but the writer could only draw a same old picture with his own chosen colors without any solution or hope. If you don’t like my apples don’t shake my tree.

    Wrong pickup by

  2. Imtiaz- Quite a short sited comment, regardless of how eloquent you attempted to be.

    “The best outcome after a breakout is a quick end with minimal bloodshed and relatively low levels of compromise of objectives. Given space and support, Pakistan’s Armed Forces can well restore the writ of the state in spaces where its lack has brought the country trouble beyond its capacity to endure.”

    Did you miss that section? Were you too busy attempting to draft your poorly formulated, grammatically deficient, and incredibly incoherent response?

    I apologize that the author did not spoon feed you the direct solution to the problems of a country so deeply plagued by issues coagulated over generations of mismanagement. News flash - if the solution could be described that directly - it would already have been done.

    Nobody is shaking your tree- but someone may have stepped on your twig.

  3. Haseeb, an excellent insight into a country that has great potential, but simply lacks proper guidance.

    One must bear in mind that critiques are conducive to any effective piece of writing. For that, I applaud Imtiaz. The unfortunate situation, however, is that the critic misinterpreted the entire article and failed to identify the heart of the piece:

    “The people might gain courage in the sacrifices rendered by families whose stars have laid down their lives so others may live better ones. This is the rallying point for a country needing to stand steadfast in the storm.”

    Imtiaz, your conviction that the writer failed to devise a solution to the woes of Pakistan is, therefore, unwarranted. You say you “know your maladies well.” If you truly did, you would realize the brilliance in the writer’s article. The first step of the solution is right in front of you; in fact, it begins with you. The point is to boost the morale of the hoi polloi in an effort to encourage them to remain strong in the midst of turbulence. To honor the sacrifices of those who have passed by taking ownership of their nation- to prevent the corrupt few from plundering the liberties of the many.

    Further, the fact that the writer lives in the West does not hinder his argument, as you so put it. He does not currently reside in the nation, yes, but how is that to say that he does not identify with the tree? Or that he does not fully understand or relate to the apples that hang from it? If anything, his location allows him to have a much more objective point of view. The limbs on a tree are not able to view the tree as a whole.

    Eloquently written with prose that truly speak. Great selection, pkhope.

  4. First of all, I think that Haroun Ahmed’s reproach to Imtiaz Amed was the opposite of peaceful discussion. Yes, I agree, that imtiaz’s words were hasty, but the solution was not to act intolerant. Intolerance and hot headedness. These two cursed things start all the violence, the jalsas and the chaos in Pakistan. During the ishk-e-Rasool day people were killed, properties were burnt, damaged and numerous people were injured. That did not show the love all Pakistani Muslims have for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It showed the same thing Haroun Ahmed displayed right here : actions before thinking them over. I agree with ‘Bee’ that critcism is healthy, but not to the point where it starts mocking other peoples’ intellects.Haroun Ahmed, instead of proving his point seems to be doing the same with imtiaz ahmed. Imtiaz was, however also very harsh. I agree with that, but there really was no need to fight fire with fire. Instead, water could have been poured over the whole issue to calm things down.

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