Loss of the Great Ambiance

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I feel humbled by a large number of people, young and old, sharing their worries, anguish and pain over the recent tumultuous turn of events. In which, by a queer but predictable coincidence, most painfully and utterly unnecessarily, the Army seems to have lost a good part of its widespread goodwill and moral space among the countrymen. I also feel burdened beyond capacity and capability to offer advice, show a silver lining or make an informed comment in the presence of an enormous information haze and widespread disinformation cloud.

I am neither a campaigner for the lost causes nor a social, political or religious reformer. I am not a pir, pundit, mufti or a garanthi either. I am a citizen with a deep and abiding affection for my country, I lost an elder brother (Major) during the 1971 War, and myself became a PoW fighting the same impossible war in East Pakistan. I have seen colleagues, juniors and seniors, soldiers and officers with bullet holes through their bodies, buried them in their uniforms in the trenches they fell fighting. Unarmed, abandoned civil population running for their life from Jessore after its fall, in the dead of night, trying to escape rape, murder, arson and looting. Their incalculable desperation and heart-wrenching cries and wailing haunt till today.

I have also seen mutilated, headless, slaughtered bodies of our men and officers fighting terrorists in FATA, charred vans and blood-soaked pieces of limbs and dresses of the innocent men, women and children blown all over by the IEDs and suicide bombers in our cities. The unforgettable 2014 APS Peshawar massacre of school children and tales of superlative bravery are still vivid. Each of these events is tons of weight that I carry over my heart. Pride, yes, pride in our nation’s resilience and great fight by our armed forces against militants’ relentless butchery and terror attacks is indelible. Still, it takes second place because of the lingering gloom and overwhelming tragedy delivered to the people of Pakistan for the state fighting the US war in Afghanistan. An utterly thankless partnership.

This was a brief premise to my motivation to write what I do, as a duty to the country and the nation, what one observes, feels and endures without favour or prejudice. I have penned hundreds of articles. I have diligently tried to follow this small personal resolve. Many delicate, sentimental chords I seemed to have touched in the process. God bless them for their goodness.

Recently, which is erroneously thought to be suddenly, but actually by a very well-choreographed and deliberately applied strategy, a substantial political storm has hit Islamabad and enveloped the country. There are many prominent actors and underlying factors, but my immediate concern is the awkward poise the Army has got itself into while PTI and PDM wrestled for power. However, there are visible traces of our voluntary intervention, unlike being drawn into the vortex of events by being in the ‘neighborhood’.

GHQ first opted to observe a kind of strategic restraint as the loose tongues in the opposition began to call names, allege malpractices and be partisan. Many questions raised many questions: our role in twice diffusing TLP assault, military diplomacy to repair frayed relations, and alleged bonding role during Chairman Senate elections. Meanwhile, opposition relentlessly continued to accuse the Army, and we only responded occasionally, mainly in generic terms, which did not silence even a finch in the bush.

When the going got tough and heat began to burn soles, panic seemed to have set in. A moral high ground was needed to climb up and let the sandstorm pass under. Some military Aristotle must have suggested to opt for (strategic) neutrality in the ongoing power struggle between the government and the opposition. Everybody must have clapped and little thought was given to the consequences of such a declaration or were typically ignored under a false bravado. The moment ‘we are neutral’ was said, we got done and dusted. We failed to appreciate that the question of Army’s neutrality was absurd ab initio. Army is not a political party to be neutral or partisan on issues of national policy. It is technically a state institution under government orders. Next, this declaration immediately put us in the thick soup. It implied an admission that heretofore GHQ had been partisan. That is a mea culpa which will stick to us like the horse branding iron mark. Not that it was not known but this time we officially tried to take a position

As a matter of fact, the notion of neutrality is unsustainable and lies outside the Army’s professional mandate. Appropriate words could have been ‘We are apolitical’. By the way, did somebody notice Fazl-ur-Rehman repeatedly claiming since quite a few months that the Army no more supported PTI government? How did he know that when officially ISPR declared this policy only days ago??

Most unfortunately, within weeks of the start of the current political crisis and it’s so-called ‘hands-off policy’ the Army has lost a large motivated force of spirited supporters both within and among the people which we will regret for a long time. Gulf that appeared between the people and the Army seems to be widening rapidly.

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