By General Mirza Aslam Beg

The Senate Standing Committee on Defence (SSCD) is presently engaged in “devising a robust defense policy, aimed at making policy guidelines for the parliamentarians”, with three objectives in mind.

  • One, to review current issues pertaining to defense;
  • Two, to determine mandatory changes to the defense policy,
  • Three, to provide new policy guidelines for better national defense. The SSCD’s intentions are noble, but it has started the exercise from the wrong end. The first step which SSCD must take is, to assist the government of Pakistan to issue the ‘War Directive (WD)”, which lays down the policy guidelines for the armed forces.

The War Directive

A new WD is long over due. Some of the main objectives the WD sets are: One, The structure of the Higher Defense Organization; Two, Level and size of the armed forces; Three, War stamina to be developed; Four, War objectives to be achieved, Five, The capability to be achieved within a given time frame. After the issue of the WD, the armed forces carry out in depth studies, to evolve the Defense Policy, based on the available resources. Once the Defence Policy is approved by the government, the armed forces evolve Joint Defense Strategy and the Strategies of Army, Navy and Airforce.

The War Directive, which I inherited in 1988 as COAS, was out-dated. Despite my requests to the then President and the Prime Ministers, the new WD was not issued. Perforce, Army on its own developed the new strategy of Offensive Defense, based on the current Land-air Warfare concept. Self sufficiency, through indigenization was achieved in the production of weapons, equipment ad ammunition of all caliber. Army also developed the new strategy on Kashmir, so that in future, army was not drawn into the conflict unprepared, as had happened in 1965 and 1971. 

The Higher Defense Organization (HDO)

The HDO plays a vital role in bringing harmony in the war efforts of the three services. General Mohammad Sharif’s Commission Report of 1975 also justified the need for establishing the Joint Defence Command (JDC) but PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, for reasons best known to himself, did not approve of it and paid dearly for his failing. As Army Chief, I pleaded with both the PMs – Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to establish the JDC, but they didn’t listen. Mr. Nawaz Sharif thought, I was seeking the appointment for myself. He also paid a heavy price for his failing.

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The SSCD should help the government develop the War Directive first and follow it up, to ensure that the armed forces come-up with appropriate Defence Policy and Defence Strategies which is their business and they are paid for it. Some of the issues, which the SSCD has discussed in the recent meeting, need to be given deeper thought as outlined below.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction (WsMD)

Regarding our nuclear capability, it must be remembered that weapons of Mass Destruction (WsMD) “are not the weapons of war.” They could not save Soviet Union from disintegration. They could not help the Israelis avert defeat at the hands of Hezbollah in 2006. The WsMD provided no comfort to the US and their NATO allies, to lessen the pain of the nagging defeat at the hands of the rag tag Afghan freedom fighters. The WsMD would be of no help to Pakistan either, in its fight against the enemy. Yet, the “WsMD are great equalizers,” as it was proved in 1998, when Pakistan demonstrated its capability and the Indian Defence Minister spoke the truth by saying: “Perfect nuclear deterrence now exists between India and Pakistan.” This was precisely the purpose Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had in mind when he declared to the world in 1974 ‘to correct the balance of terror at any cost’ and tasked Dr. A.Q. Khan to accomplish it. It was Benazir Bhutto who understood his logic and propounded the ‘Policy of Nuclear Restraint’ in 1989, knowing fully well that at that time, India had the capability to develop about sixty or more atomic war heads, whereas Pakistan could hardly put together eight to ten such devices, because “only a few WsMD against many, can maintain the balance of terror, as of now between Pakistan and India.”

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Conventional Military Forces

The conventional military forces are the mainstay of national defense, and need to be developed, organized, equipped and trained to meet the demands of the War Directive. The conventional forces keep themselves abreast of developments in the fields of technology, new doctrines, concepts and weapon systems, and change and modify their concepts and plans to maintain the required level of operational readiness.  

New Military Concepts and Trends

In recent years, some significant concepts of fighting the war have been developed. These are: the asymmetric war led by men with high motivation and the judicious use of missiles in mass. During the last thirty years, “the asymmetric war conducted by the “Shadow Armies, led by committed believers, has humbled the mightiest of the mighty,” – M.J. Akbar – in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. The “use of missiles in mass,” in Lebanon, in 2006, knocked-off the pride of the Israeli Army. Israel is now threatening war on Iran, but is deterred because of the dread, that there is no defense against the thousands of missiles that would be raining over its territory in retaliation from Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hammas.

Pakistan Army’s Overstretch

Whenever called in aid of civil power, Army has delivered by establishing the writ of the government in areas, where writ was lost but invariably it were the governments of Pakistan, which “failed to establish the civil order in those areas and the political process never started.” It so happened four times in Balochistan – in 1958-68 Ayub era; 1974-77, Bhutto era; 2006-8, Musharraf era and now 2009-12 Zardari era. The Army restored government’s writ in 2009 in the areas of Swat, Dir, Bajaur, FATA and Balochistan, but the civil government is yet not prepared to take over these areas to establish the civil order. Thus, for the last four years, these areas, which constitute almost forty percent of Pakistan territory, are gradually drifting into chaos and army takes the blame for it. Some two years back the Army handed over internal security duties in Balochistan to the para-military forces. It also abandoned the plan to build new cantonments there, yet army is being blamed for carrying out operations, abductions and killings. The same happened in East Pakistan in 1971, where, by August 1971, the army had restored government writ over the entire territories of East Pakistan, but the government did not come forward to restore the civil authority and the political process, resulting into a dangerous drift and downfall.

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National Security Management

The SSCD may also look into the need for a proper National Security Management system, which does not exist in Pakistan. We do have a National Security Council which is more of a Disaster Management body than for national security. We therefore need a dedicated body, working three hundred sixty days a year, under the National Security Advisor, answerable to the Prime Minister. If nothing else, we may pick up the system which the Indians have developed and modify it to suit our needs.

The Senate Standing Committee on Defence can best assist the government to prepare the new War Doctrine for the Armed Forces, as it is the most important instrument, determining the war preparedness of the armed forces. And equally important is the need to pull-out the army from areas under their control for such extended period, sapping their energies and lowering their guard against real threats. The SSCD has some hard choices to make!