Monday, 19 November 2007

Our Great Military Victories

Looking through bits and pieces that I wrote over the last few months, but never went on to complete and post, I came across this unfinished piece about the Musharraf government's capitulations to militants and the largest loss of sovereign Pakistani soil after the loss of East Pakistan in 1971. The article remains unfinished, and perhaps in some ways, now outdated, but I'm posting it up anyway since very few people in Pakistan seem to know about or even acknowledge the carving out of an independent state in our northern areas.

As a soldier, Musharraf supposedly had an outstanding record. Unfortunately as a commander, his record seems to be rather woeful. Apart from the Kargil fiasco, which was a neatly planned tactical exercise, but dangerously foolish strategic blunder that ended in defeat on the battlefield, two separate campaigns in Waziristan have met ignominious ends, and Swat has been a source of severe embarrassment. Lets hope the current army "operation" there has better results. Initial reports from the military sound a positive tone, though I'm highly suspicious of these body counts of air strikes and artillery barrages. How can the army be sure of how many people they are killing, and, more importantly, whether they actually are militants or simply local civillians caught in the crossfire?

I suppose I am ranging far from the purported topic of this post, but I do want to add a little note about the Kargil war. I have heard some people defend the little adventure by stating that the war caused far more Indian casualties than it did Pakistani, that it "jolted" the Indians by showing them that the Pakistani army were still a force to be reckoned with, that it "internationalized the Kashmir issue" (whatever that means) and that it helped "bleed" the Indian army and economy.

These arguments remind me of the English generals of the First World War who defended the Battle of the Somme as a great victory for the British against the Germans, worth the cost of lives lost. The brainchild of the plan, General Haig threw wave after wave of British and French troops against the German trenches at the Somme. After four and a half months, a strip of land 25 km long and 6 km wide had been taken. There were 420,000 British casualties, 200,000 French casualties and 500,000 German casualties. The good General argued that he had won a great victory because he had "bled" the German army, diverted their attention from other fronts, and put them on the defensive. The public and media were appalled because they had been led to believe the promised "great victory" would result in something quiet different. The question some historians ask, is whether the political leaders of Europe would have been more willing to open negotiations if they had not kept being reassured of the coming "great victories" by their military generals.

The repeated attempts at an 'all-or-nothing' military solution to political problems have parallels with the clumsy attempts at directing Pakistan's foreign policy by the military. Perhaps most telling was how Kargill slammed the door shut on the negotiations over Kashmir that had been ongoing at the time between the Vajpayee and Sharif governments. These talks were based around the so-called Livingston Plan through which "a portion of the former princely State of Jammu and Kashmir should be reconstituted as a sovereign entity (but one without an international personality) enjoying free access to and from both India and Pakistan". This was the closest that India ever came in its history to a settlement of the Kashmir issue. According to the analyst, Hassan Abbas, these negotiations had started in March, 1999, and after being briefed about them, Musharraf had called them a good starting point. In May, the Kargil operation was launched, torpedoing the negotiations and till this day, shutting the door on any further negotiations on Kashmir by the Indians.

Truly a great military victory.

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