Keep Talking and Keep Listening!

They say listening is more difficult than talking. But what is even harder in today's world is to communicate - an intense process of listening and talking and listening and responding........
This is a forum for people to engage in a conversation which is an art that many people don't know. Lets listen to others while maintaining the courage of conviction.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

War is Not a Joke

War is Not a Joke
Ayesha Siddiqa
When the French statesman Georges Clemenceau, who led his country into the First World War, said that ‘war was too serious a matter to be left to generals’ he wasn’t demeaning his commanders. It meant that active conflict is not a light matter to be trifled with and thus should not be left to people, who due to their training, have a natural propensity towards conflict. Many decades later, John F. Kennedy followed a similar principle in not adhering to advise of his generals in dealing with the Cuban missile crisis.
If wars teach us anything it is that these must be avoided not cherished. Those, who understand the ugliness of war and violence, can appreciate the tyranny of war more than those for whom war is perhaps nothing more than a thrilling videogame.  
Thus, it can be appreciated when young Russian, Ukrainian, German and Armenian musicians got together in Berlin in late August this year to participate in the 16th Young Euro Classic Peace Orchestra and played to send a signal of peaceful coexistence and international understanding to their respective governments and other in Europe. The 1500 musicians from 44 countries gently challenged cultural biases of their state and political blocks. This was meaningful in the context of Europe that looks strained due to the West’s attitude towards Russia.
And who understands war and violence more than Europe that experienced years of bitter wars over competing political, religious and power divides. Moreover, people of Europe have lost millions fighting both protracted hot and cold wars. The crowd in Berlin would certainly have been amazed to see India and Pakistan recently celebrate a war rather than peace. War are remembered not because of gains made or loses to the enemy but to remember all precious lives lost due to egos of their leaders or that they couldn’t find a reasonable solution. I remember a recent conversation with the sibling of one of Pakistan’s brave war hero who received the highest military award for laying down his life in 1971 war. The sister so wanted him to be alive today and not dead. She wasn’t ashamed of her brother’s sacrifice but weary of those who use these deaths to market war as worth cherishing. This sister was certainly troubled by the increased jingoism on both sides of the divide.
Such expression of heroism is farcical considering that the way 1965 war was fought by both India and Pakistan. The war at best denotes antics of two 2nd World War veteran militaries that were terribly unimpressive in fighting decisive conventional battles. Conscious of its relative technological superiority, Pakistan started Operation Gibraltar with the intent to provide fillip to a wrongly imagined uprising in the Kashmir valley. The gains made during the battle of Runn of Kutch earlier that year gave Pakistan’s generals a sense that they could outmaneuver Indian army in Kashmir, especially with the help of better American equipment. Not only that the plan, which was based on poor intelligence did not work, it provoked a war across the international boundary. So, those of us, who grew up reading about 1965 as a victory were truly amazed to hear the then army chief, Mirza Aslam Baig admit in 1989/90 that this was not the case. This act of his was considered as army’s version of ‘perestroika’. The urgent image change military needed after General Zia demanded truth as a concession to people.
However, India’s performance during the war was equally unimpressive as it could not manage a decisive victory despite that it had greater numerical potential to snatch tactical initiative from Pakistan. The poor inter-services coordination put it in the same league as Arab militaries that failed to make gains despite crossing the earlier considered impregnable ceasefire line into Israel in 1973 Yom Kipur war.
But then those were comparatively decent wars in which casualties were limited. Apparently, the two enemies lost approximately five thousand people in its three wars. This cannot be said about the present age of ‘mutually assured destruction’ where annihilation could be at an unimaginably larger scale. (I have always believed that Japan should lend its Hiroshima and Nagasaki exhibitions for display for ordinary Indians and Pakistanis). Notwithstanding love for their respective countries, people must at least know what can happen in case of a nuclear war. May be when people actually understand the grave risk of nuclear wars to life and future generations that the idea of using nuclear weapons if a crisis goes out of control may not appear very cute. No one, who has lost a loved one, can dispassionately talk about death.
However, observing young serving officers fight virtual battles and promising to finish the unfinished job of 1965 reminds one of how important it is for a professional military to ensure that its men are seen only in barracks and not on twitter and facebook. The leadership may be willing to defend the nation but that requires for it to harness its men from expressing opinions that could complicate perceptions.
It is equally important for these brave men to be taught that bravado is not synonymous with lack of appreciation of life. Majority of militaries globally have not really fought conventional wars they were initially programmed for which means they have not really had taste of its lethality. The appreciation of how increased dedliness of weapons makes conflicts bloodier than imagined. Wars aught to be the very last resort than the first available option.  

The manner in which war is imagined and verbalized indicates a lack of appreciation of the fact that those brave men that we remember did not just die for the sake of dying but so that their future generation could live. The talk of annihilation is anti-life. With a thousand times increase in velocity of destruction caused by nuclear weapons its important that while committed to protecting their nations, military men remain humble about war and death. I will re-iterate that professionalism requires emotions to be kept in check and not influence decisions of leadership.     

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Pakistani generals are reputed to be lucky. The more ambitious a general the better it is. Even gods conspire in their favor. Whenever in power, they seem to attract money and new opportunities. Today, Pakistan and its military would turn any other green with envy. Not only certain segments of the civil society are keen, as in the past, to build the military high command’s image as the ultimate savior, both friends and foe seem to help in boosting the institution’s image. So, its not odd for the former ISI chief Lt. General Asad Durrani to feel so smug and confident as he appeared to be during his interviews to the BBC and Al-Jazeera English in February 2015. With an Oscar and Nobel prizes to boost about, we now have other things to rejoice such as the economic corridor to be constructed by China. Soon pictures of the corridor with Chinese trucks will replace paintings of F-16s painted on the sides of buses and trucks.  
But an even greater stroke of luck is in the form of Seymour Hersh’s story about American operation to kill Osama bin laden on May 2nd, 2011. While many have rubbished it as baseless, others consider it as conspiracy to damage Pakistan or threaten Chinese investment in the country. You may wonder how the OBL story, which says that Pakistan knew about the operation to kill him, is connected with Beijing investing in the country. The conspiracy against Chinese investment is the same logic that is used to argue that since India’s home minister stated that he had no clue of Dawood Ibrahim’s whereabouts, his lack of knowledge should automatically extend to LeT’s Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeed. With such ministers India certainly has no locus standi on demanding legal proceedings against Mumbai attack suspects. Had it been the UPA government in India many a passionate anchors there would already have accused their own minister of being an agent for Pakistan’s intelligence. 
Referring to the Hersh report, one wonders how has Pakistan media not noticed that it is a super-positive story that aught to clear any doubts people had about the military’s incompetence. It is the American that come out looking silly rather than GHQ, Rawalpindi. As the former ISI chief, who is used as one of the main sources of Hersh’s piece, said in February the world’s most famous terrorist was kept as quid pro quo at some later date. And like General Musharraf is supposed to have saved the country by cooperating excessively with the US after 9/11, Generals Kiyani and Pasha also turned visionary and cut a deal with Washington especially after the CIA got wind of bin Laden’s whereabouts. What is for sure is that whoever provided this information to Hersh was fairly sympathetic to Pakistan. According to the story, Pakistan kept OBL as a prisoner and he had little control over Al-Qaeeda operations during that period. The story suggests that the Obama administration lied and build a hype in killing an unarmed and ineffective terrorist, and didn’t even find anything worth its while. So, then it wasn’t such a bad idea after all for Pakistan to betray a spent force?
And this particular ISI chief is just amazing as everyone wants to talk to him – from the British and American to Indian. In fact, he is also one of the key sources of information of the first book about to be published on the ISI which will be the first of its kind (written by a German the book should be out on the stalls in August).
Many believe that this opinion piece is to build up interest in Hersh’s forthcoming book. But it seems he has other ‘partners in this crime’. The former ISI chief’s February interview appears to be part of this campaign as a disclosure was made in London by the retired general strongly suggesting that Pakistan did keep bin Laden (smart generals today know how to suggest things without being caught for doing so legally). Interestingly, such stories were being spread by military’s own sources even in 2011. The military was confronted with a catch-22 of whether to admit collusion or incompetence. It seems they opted for the former.
Logically, the story should result in a demand for a fresh inquiry into the Abbotabad incident to answer questions raised by Hersh. Not only that this will not happen but such demand will be touted as a RAW-driven conspiracy. Already, there is pressure on social media from strange accounts reminding people of lack of patriotism for questioning military on many recent developments. Notwithstanding problems one may have with some of the details, `Hersh's story cannot be outrightly dismissed as illogical and a complete fabrication. It draws attention towards many facts such as how did American helicopters sneak into Pakistan? If we were to believe the air chief’s perspective that is recorded in the leaked version of the Abbotabad Commission report `9the only inquiry conducted by Pakistan) in which he claimed that since they were not supposed to watch out for threat from Afghanistan and so there was little radar cover, how about when the helicopter flew back with OBL’s body? Surely, someone picked up the noise generated by the helicopter crashing stones throw away from PMA Kakul? Or do we not monitor sensitive areas inside our air space? It’s a better idea to think that our generals were on top and had arranged all of that else many would think this is a re-play of generals sleeping while an attack was carried out across the BRB canal during the 1965 war. The story, however, makes one curious about his sources and especially how much was fed by Asad Durrani.
If wishes were horses one would like a detailed inquiry into the Abbotabad operation. Meanwhile, the echo of Pakistani sources is quite audible in Hersh’s story. For example, recently a Pakistan intelligence agency-friendly journalist was feverishly tweeting about Kiyani being investigated for corruption. Seems the source of the tweet and Hersh reference to Kiyani’s investigation are similar. In any case, Pakistan military has found another bad guy – after Yahya Khan and Ziaul Haq – its Kiyani who will be suspected and demonized for the future generations. Not that the investigation against him will go very far but many in command of the GHQ will come out looking bright and shinning in comparison. More important, the story will not be a dent in Pakistan military’s relations with the US, Europe or China. We have a luck general in charge.