By S. M. Hali

The war on terror has taken a heavy toll of more than 40,000 precious lives, cost the national exchequer more than 68 billion dollars and deprived cash starved Pakistan of millions of dollars worth of property, equipment and the armed forces of precious weapon systems like the P3C Orions or AEW&C aircraft. It is ironical that the doubting Thomas among us still question whether this is our war? Like ostriches we bury our heads in sand in the sight of clear & present danger from the terror attacks pretendinG this is not our war. Finally, when rather belatedly, on Independence Day 2012, the Chief of Army Staff in his address to the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul declared the war on terror to be Pakistan’s war, knives were out to assail his opinion. A number of TV anchors and columnists, in a state of shock rued that it was a misperception. Renowned columnist Khaled Ahmed, in his weekend Op-Ed ‘General Kayani’s war’ went to the extent of naming populist decisions by General Kayani, which according to him “were front-loaded with defiant challenge but were always followed by realistic retreat that appeared like cowardice to people.” He recounts the release of CIA operative Raymond Davis; his decision on May 2011 to feel “unrealistically enraged by the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad and turning on the government in power after it took the correct posture”; in response to the Salala incident on November 26, 2011, flying “off the handle and stopping the NATO supply route through Pakistan”. Khaled claims that  “Not only is the army openly in exclusive charge of the country’s foreign and security policy, it is clearly the real power in Pakistan behind the façade of democracy”. Blaming the Army Chief for letting the Difa-e-Pakistan Council loose on the country after his own volte-face on the NATO route, the erudite scholar concludes that “General Kayani is thus the most powerful man in the country, paradoxically enjoying the reputation of an army chief who believes in non-interference in the democratic process.”

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These detractors of Pakistan do not wholeheartedly participate in the war on terror with the plea that it is the sole domain of Pakistan Army, forgetting that it is a national effort.  Those elements blaming the Army, as an institution to have absolute control on its direction and conduct are highly misinformed. It was the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, none of whose members belong to any of the armed forces, that after long deliberations, came to the informed decision that the rules of engagement with the US need to be redrawn, drone attacks must cease and Pakistan needs to revisit the concessions regarding the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC), commonly known as NATO supply routes.

It must be understood that the elimination of terrorism, anywhere in Pakistan is the nation’s responsibility. Decisions have to be taken by the civilian government after weighing all options. Whether in Karachi or in NWA (North Waziristan Agency), operations will be undertaken in line with Government’s directions and in line with national imperatives. Pakistan Army is but one of the implements, which the government can employ to combat terrorism along with other law enforcement agencies.

Instead of mudslinging and casting aspersions at an institution engaged unreservedly in defending the homeland, cognizance must be taken of appreciation of the threat facing Pakistan. As demonstrated by the attack on PAF Base Minhas at Kamra, elements of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), firmly entrenched in NWA have extended the range of their terrorist activities throughout Pakistan. The level of sophistication and expertise acquired by the terrorists is visible proof that they have access to insider information. There are strong indications to suggest that the harbingers of doom and gloom in Pakistan have been infiltrated by hostile agencies to target Pakistan’s strategic interests.  There should not be two opinions on the need that the TTP needs to be neutralized; sooner rather than later; NWA or anywhere their modules are located. The attacks by the Kamikaze style suicide bombers has become ever more lethal because along with the will to sacrifice their lives, the perpetrators of the heinous acts are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, weapons which can wreak havoc and penetrate the best defended targets. Their determination, level of expertise and motivation through training enable them to achieve a modicum of success, which was not available before, when they were content to target buses, cars and street convoys. The attack on GHQ, Pakistan Naval Base Mehran and lately the air base at Kamra depict the new found confidence of the terrorists.

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Some elements in the media continue to suggest that the War on Terror is a personal war driven by the dictates of Army’s Leadership. They should realize that it is our survival as a nation; the earlier we can tackle this problem which has acquired gargantuan proportions, the safer we will be.

It must be clear that while launching operations in NWA, the national sovereignty can never be compromised; nor will the policy be dictated by outside interests as suggested by a whispering campaign that the United States is pulling the puppet strings. Of course statements like that, made by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that Pakistan has committed itself to invading North Waziristan, do not help matters. He would be better advised to keep his loaded opinions to himself. It would only facilitate the enemies of Pakistan if a wedge were driven between the armed forces of Pakistan and its people. A slandering campaign against the Army Chief by writers like Khaled Ahmad is driven by vested interests and is directed to tarnish Army’s commendable record in combating terrorism. The extent of involvement of the Army is evident from the ratio of the officers and enlisted men, who have embraced shahadat. The number of officers’ sacrifice of their lives is indicative of the fact that the army is leading from the front. Those who find faults with Pakistan’s involvement in the war on terror should provide solutions to resolve the imbroglio we are faced with.