The Army isn’t wearing Trousers!

The Army isn’t wearing Trousers!

By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi.

Many have questioned why I haven’t taken the Army to task as I oft do with the other civilian public sector institutions in Pakistan.

Two reasons.

The Pakistan Army, thank God, has not succumbed to the rot of say the Punjab Police. Yet. And this yet is why I’ve penned the perspective which follows. And secondly it’s done a pretty good job this last decade and a half. In fact saved the country! Literally!

But the ISPR announcement of troops to Saudi Arabia and Asma Jehangir’s death have resulted in this commentary. Both promoted several questions.

Why are we sending these troops and what are their terms of reference?

Was this discussed and debated in the National Assembly?

Did the cabinet discuss and approve it?

What are the regional geopolitical implications of such a deal?

And very puzzling!

Why did the ISPR make the announcement? Why didn’t the Minister of Defence or the Minister of Foreign affairs announce it in the Parliament or even through a press conference?

The issue here is not whether we should or should not send troops, which is a subject for another article, but of process, of the power of the army and the whole lot of questions listed above and many more.

While my views on the PMLN government are fairly well-known, even I was taken aback at this seemingly brazen hijacking of due process by the Army via ISPR. This wasn’t a Zarb e Azb, where time was of the essence and the civilian government was dithering and playing footsie with the TTP.

So why did ISPR announce this major defence and foreign policy initiative?

While wrestling with this I was reminded of the overwhelming emotion for Asma Jehangir on her sudden demise, both quite surprising.

While she was a controversial figure and to many even unpatriotic, but what stood out most about her, was her unrelenting, uncompromising and highly bitter vitriolic against the Army, especially its high command and senior officers.

She was willing to truck with anybody and everybody who was against the Army, despite many with highly dubious credentials such as Husain Haqqani, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, to name a few. Their acts and corruption notwithstanding, she still allied with them.

It was then that I realized that part of the outpouring of emotion on her death by many also represented people’s feelings towards the Army.

Why? I asked. Why should people hold such emotions for an institution which has paid in blood and sacrificed so much to save us from anarchy and near ruin?

Why is it that people fail to see how it’s young and old toil day and night for Pakistan? War on Terror. Earthquakes. Floods. Census. Elections. You name it and the Army’s there.

Why is it that despite supporting democracy, the institution is still plagued by its history of military dictators and military rule and Asma who symbolized the “anti army narrative” received such a heroine’s funeral?

While this may not be the only reason but several things stand out.

First and foremost, in my opinion, is the Army’s inability to hold its senior corrupt officers accountable.

While one does hear the oft-repeated refrain that “the Army has a very rigorous process of accountability”, I have not seen a single three star or two star or even a one star being stripped of their rank and titles and sent to jail. Yes we’ve had some minor raps on the knuckles and one Maj. Gen taken to task, but nothing about those who’ve looted and plundered tens if not hundreds of millions or a billion or two, in military procurement deals, in shady housing schemes and the many other ways that they do. Today ask any officer of reasonable mid to senior rank and above, serving or retired, to name at least a score or more of two and three star generals who in the last decades have looted and plundered while in service and taken the bank to the cleaners. And they will!

Yet no Army Chief including the current Chief, Gen. Bajwa has taken any action against these officers. The sad icing on the cake is that several were “honoured” with lucrative post retirement plum jobs.

This is a huge stain on the Army’s character and honour. Those senior officers who loot, steal and plunder are no different from the crooks and robbers who infest and plague our bureaucracy, our politics and other public sector institutions.

So, why aren’t they brought to book, I asked a senior retired officer? It’ll impact the Army’s morale, Sir, he said. I was aghast! Morale affected by not punishing corrupt officers? The logic was mind numbing!

If anything, as one would imagine, morale would be adversely affected when the rank and file see these corrupt looters getting away with murder. Imagine serving under a Div Commander or a Corps Commander or any other senior appointments, knowing that the boss has his hands in the till and yet continues to go unpunished.

Morality, ethics, integrity are the hallmarks on which we were trained to become officers right from our Military Academy days. Moral integrity and Moral courage, were and hopefully still are, values that mean something in this institution. But not to see a single senior corrupt looter sent to jail is a testimony to this institution’s failure to hold its senior leaders accountable.

The second factor, I think, is the manner in which the Army brazenly exercises it’s power and influence. By doing do it further alienates itself and opens itself to severe criticism.

The Saudi troops announcement by ISPR being one. In this case Gen. Bajwa should have sat in a press conference chaired by the Minister of Defence. The Minister should have announced the despatch of troops to Saudi Arabia, explaining the rationale and everything with any questions on their tactical role being answered by the Chief. This I say despite my genetic aversion to anything associated with Nawaz Sharif!

Others are examples of how State land has been continuously misappropriated on one pretext or the other for uses other than what it was given to the Army for. For instance land for military units converted to residential colonies!

The power, privileges and perks acquired by senior officers. General’s should not be travelling in BMW’s but in Toyota Jeeps. Their offices should not put the offices of Corporate CEO’s to shame! They should live in austere environments befitting their profession. The corrupt within the Army must be punished. The brazen display of brute force curbed.

Let’s not forget our Armed Forces are paid for by the poor people of Pakistan. The hundreds of millions who are indirectly taxed every time they load their phones or buy bread or switch on a fan or a lightbulb. It is incumbent upon the Army to spend this tax money from the blood, sweat and tears of its people, with care!

I know many of my fellow brothers in khaki will take great offence to this perspective. But while it is also painful for me, I must say so, because the Pakistan Army is one of the only two institutions in this country, the other being the Supreme Court, on which the very future of Pakistan depends.

The Army cannot go the route of other public sector institutions. They cannot allow their corrupt to go free or continue to misuse its strength and misappropriate authority which is not theirs. The institution must self correct, otherwise it will eventually succumb to the rot within!

And the sooner someone tells the General that the Army isnt wearing trousers, the better it is for Pakistan and the Army!

-Haider Mehdi

The General’s Visit to the Senate!

The General’s Visit to the Senate!

By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi.

The General came, presented, answered questions and left. The questions were petty. As petty as the people who asked them.

The General’s briefings were detailed and deeply insightful with a message. Kindly get your act together.

His briefing to the Senate is being termed as a triumph for democracy and elevates its Chairman Raza Rabbani to the status of a near god and as the “true conscience” of Parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. Here’s my view about this so called great democratic pretender and conscience keeper.

 How can we call this elitist, egotistical, pretentious, hypocritical person the “conscience” of parliamentary democracy?
A man, who smilingly and obsequiously,  twiddles his thumb, standing slavishly behind a twenty something idiotic twit, and calls him his party leader?
A man who will condone the corruption, rape, loot and plunder of Asif Zardari and his sister and his cronies and continue to accept him as his party leader?
A man who will allow dynastic rule in the PPP and not oppose it so he can conveniently enjoy the perks and privileges and power of office?
A man who has had it good cannot be what people say he is. This is not being a conscience keeper of Parliamentary democracy. It is being a gravy train beneficiary and a boot licker, leeching off a corrupt system and enjoying it’s power, perks and privileges.
Either we need to redefine parliamentary democracy or conscience to justify these accolades to the Senate Chairman.
Raza Rabbani and  people like him are even more dangerous because they enrobe themselves in the holy garb of democratic pretenders and many good and well meaning people fall for these wolves in sheep clothing.
He and all those like him are hypocrites who have supported a putrid, decayed, morally and financially corrupt order and system.
If this is our definition of a representative  democratic order, then may we be saved from this stinking system and from painting these crooks as honourable people.
The quicker these people are dead and buried along with this terrible system they represent and perpetuate, the better for Pakistan.
-Haider Mehdi

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Trumpistan! The Trumpeter’s policy on Afghanistan is really their Policy on China.

Trumpistan! The Trumpeter’s policy on Afghanistan is really their Policy on China.

By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi

My late father, Col S.G. Mehdi M.C, would oft say. “Understanding a country’s history, especially events in the recent past and a Map is all one needs to understand their national interests, strategies and tactics.

The USA has no intentions of leaving Afghanistan ever unless it’s like the last soldier clinging onto a helicopter lifting off from the rooftop of the USA embassy in Saigon. This is a bold assessment based on what drives their national interests.

Picture this.  In the last 30 years the USA, both Democrat and Republican administrations, have  waged 13 wars, intervened in over 100 countries, spent over $14 Trillion, of this $1 Trillion alone in Afghanistan and caused 3 million deaths.  2 million in Afghanistan and 1 million in Iraq. Their own casualties. Barely 7000 of their own.  A ratio of 1 to 400. Does this look like a country which will leave Afghanistan?

Why does the USA do this? Why do they wage war all over the world? To answer this in detail is a subject for another time, but for the time being, sufficeth to say that global economic domination is the overriding national interest driven by its most dominant sector, the defense establishment. Annually, the USA spends more money on military spending than next 10 countries combined.  Their current 2018 defense budget is $652 billion. The combined military budgets of the next 10 countries ($660 Billion).

Here are the current defence spending bills for the top 11 countries.
1. USA – $652 Billion ($885 billion if veterans, civil defence and military aid included).
2. China – $215 Billion.
3. Russia – $69 Billion
4. Saudi Arabia $64 Billion.
5. India – $56 Billion.
6. France – $56 Billion.
7. UK – $48 Billion.
8. Japan – $46 Billion.
9. Germany – $41 Billion.
10. South Korea – $37 Billion.
11. Italy – $28 Billion

For context, Pakistan’s defence budget for 2017 is about $9 Billion.

The total current annual global military expenditure is nearly $1.7 trillion ($1,7000,000,000,000) and the USA has a whopping 50% share of global defence expenditure.  America has been in an uninterrupted cycle of war for nearly 80 years since the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. Today, inarguably, it is the biggest, the most powerful, and the most violent war mongering nation on the planet.  And this is the country Pakistan faces as an adversary in Afghanistan and the Region.

But and it’s a happy but. They have suffered defeats in Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq. Because even if you’re the world’s mightiest military machine on ground, air and sea with the most sophisticated munitions, you still cannot defeat a determined population defending their homelands. You can blow up the whole country but you can’t blow up their ideologies and passion to defend themselves and so it is with the Afghans. And this the USA understands.

So then why will the USA not work towards a peaceful resolution to Afghanistan’s seemingly intractable problem, knowing that they cannot be defeated into submission?

Why should Trump say that the US objective in Afghanistan is not “nation building again but killing terrorists”? Knowing that in 16 years of war and with a 130,000 US troops they could not do it.

The answer – China’s race towards Global economic leadership.

According to Steve Bannon, the former Chief White House Strategist, a role especially created for him and even today considered by many Washington insiders to be Trump’s closest political advisor, China is the biggest threat to USA’ world domination.

He believes China, if not checked by the USA, will become in the next 10 to 15 years the world’s pre-eminent and dominant economic power, ahead of the USA.  And this is what the USA fears most!

Also militarily, while USA defence expenditures have remained fairly constant in the $600 billion to $650 billion range in the last 10 years, with increases above $700 Billion from 2009 to 2012, China more than doubled its military budget from about $100 Billion to $215 billion today.  And if China continues to increase its military budget at the same rate, not only will they gallop ahead of the USA economically, but be very close to matching the US military might.
So stopping China’s economic outreach is the overriding USA strategic objective and thereby its military prowess as well.

The question is how will the USA attempt to do that and the answer lies in OBOR – China’s One Belt, One Road program, Its most ambitious economic initiative to date. An estimated spend of $5 Trillion across 64 countries in Asia, Middle East, Africa and Europe, is what keeps the USA awake at night. And OBOR’s three major flagship projects are the $46 billion CPEC, China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a 3,000km high-speed railway connecting China and Singapore, and gas pipelines across central Asia.

USA military presence in Afghanistan provides them the perfect staging ground and opportunity to attempt to disrupt, scuttle and eventually destroy CPEC and thereby significantly dent China’s OBOR strategy.  It’s really as simple as that.

The USA are not there to kill the Taliban as said the Trumpeter, but will be happy to, wherever and whenever they can find them. And simultaneously trying to negotiate mineral mining rights for the estimated $3 Trillion in precious metals and minerals in Afghanistan.

They have no desire to turn Afghanistan into a peaceful country at peace with its neighbours, because then Afghanistan will become an essential extension of OBOR and CPEC.

They have no desire to talk peace with the Taliban and to form an inclusive government of all warring groups, because then it will mean a China and Pakistan friendly Afghanistan.

They know that no “safe havens” exist in Pakistan anymore, given that nearly 50% of Afghanistan is under Taliban control and that, today, they have not been able to find a single Taliban training camp inside Pakistan.  A challenge the Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Bajwa threw to Gen. Nicholson and all visiting US military and civilian leaders who trooped in recently, to find such a camp, using all their sophisticated wizardry and drones.

They are not here to ensure that terrorists do not attack America because that is now near nigh impossible.  They know that the Taliban have agreed to all conditions to participate in Afghan reconciliation, including accepting the Ghani government, laying down arms, participating in free and fair elections, except one proviso.  The USA must leave Afghanistan.  And this they cannot.

They know that Pakistan has played an extremely constructive and positive role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, but that is not their intent. They know that Pakistan and its Army are no longer playing a “double game” if one can call looking after one’s own interest, that.  And admittedly this part of our strategy and policy was handled extremely ham handedly in the past.  But then hindsight is always 20/20.

But for the USA to acknowledge that the Taliban want peace.  To acknowledge that Pakistan also wants a peaceful Afghanistan. To acknowledge that all countries in the region, China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran, except India, want a stable Afghanistan is totally contrary to their goals of defeating China.

To accept this means giving China a free hand in the Region and its march towards global domination.

To accept it means that they can no longer feed US and Global public opinion with the narrative that Pakistan is fermenting trouble in Afghanistan and hence the need for US troops to keep Afghanistan “stable and safe”.

To acknowledge full Taliban participation in a peaceful reconciliation of Afghanistan means that a future Afghan government will look east towards Pakistan and China and not west towards the USA. Hence whenever there are serious moves forward to bring the Taliban to the table their leader is bumped off.

And it serves President Ghani of Afghanistan to echo the USA narrative of a Pakistan attempting to destabilize Afghanistan, so they can remain in power and not admit the abject failures to reconcile the warring elements

It is in this context that we must evaluate and analyse Trumpistan as a USA strategy, laden with horrifying consequences to defeat China.  Pakistan is thus in their cross hairs because of CPEC.  The tragedy is that the USA will not succeed in this attempt but in trying to achieve their goals they will wreak havoc on Pakistan.

And this where they are currently out Trumped! How do they get back Pakistan into their sphere and out of China’s grasp? How do they scuttle the CPEC project? And lurking as a close second is their other strategic objective which is totally Pakistan centric. How do they de-nuclearize Pakistan, seen as a potential and catastrophic threat to them, India and Israel?  So good old Pakistan has a handful to deal with and is likely in for a period of serious turmoil and instability.

It is then we understand the prime reason behind the very close USA and India partnership with common and aligned objectives.  Defeat China and de-nuclearize Pakistan.

It is then easy to see why Baluchistan is in turmoil, with India using its Afghan and Iran ingress to attack CPEC.

Iran’s geo-political interests are today closely aligned to China, Pakistan, Russia and for a peaceful Afghanistan.  Iran must realise that allowing India any further ingress into Iran will only be counter productive. Their interests lie in de-linking their relationship with India and reaching out to Pakistan and becoming close friends as they had been in the past.  But the sectarian regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia has been a major factor in stopping this re-conciliation. But now with the Saudi influence in Pakistan fading, the time is opportune for Pakistan and Iran to reconcile and adopt a common strategy to counter the USA threat.

In my view the Saudi Arabia as we know it now, is more a question of when and not if. As are the other Gulf states, especially the UAE.  As is now fairly common knowledge that the UAE has been actively attempting to sabotage the Gwadar port because it directly impacts their trade lifeline and free ports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The USA actively supported by India and with help from the Afghan government, will take full advantage of Pakistan’s current political turmoil to instigate even greater instability and violence.  One can expect them to attack our sectarian, religious, social, ethnic and, provincial fault lines to create unrest and armed conflict.

They will try and bring Pakistan to its knees, economically and then ask for their pound of flesh.

They will unleash Quislings like Husain Haqqani as the poster insider of Pakistan establishment and use his invective and poison to feed US public opinion. It is now easy to connect the dots and understand why a two bit hustler, albeit an intelligent two bit hustler like Husain Haqqani says and writes what what he does.  He should be ignored and shunned and castaway in the garbage heap of history as another who sold his soul!

They will also unleash other similar  moles, hidden deep inside our political, civil and military organizations and our media to create turmoil.

We are our own worst enemies.

I don’t think the US will militarily attack Pakistan. Some drone attacks, certainly.  But will do everything to destabilize us politically and destroy us economically.

Our best bet is a strong government and a regional pact between China, Pakistan, Russia and Iran. I think China has too much at stake to let us drift, despite our own best efforts to destroy ourselves. I think China may be able to prevail upon Ghani that the USA bear hug will be their death.

India will up the ante. Europe will not fall for the American narrative. Turkey as well. So lots in our favour except our own desire to commit suicide. Lots of moving parts.

And I can go as far as to hazard that they will attempt to create circumstances of such turmoil and massive civil unrest with the hope that the Army will take over and hoping, as in the past with Zia and Musharraf before to buy off the new strongman!

This is a ploy and a trap our Army and Gen. Bajwa must not fall for and into. They will use you and Pakistan and discard you once the night is over.  They will destroy the country and de-nuclearize us and leave us at the mercy of the dogs of India!

Beware the Greeks bearing gifts!

-Syed Haider Raza Mehdi