By Brian  Cloughley

No matter what happens in Afghanistan, a most important factor in the region will continue to be the army of Pakistan which has had to move large numbers of troops to the border in order to counter terrorist groups. In the event of civil war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s security will be subject to even more threat from over its western frontier and it is therefore relevant to examine the Pakistan army, which conducts operations to counter terrorism.

On February 1 Russia announced that Moscow is “closely cooperating” with Islamabad in the fight against terrorism and that “Great contribution is being made by all the countries bordering Afghanistan, and Russia is a reliable partner of those countries in every effort to ensure the security of the borders.” But although Russia acknowledges Pakistan’s vital role in the region, most western governments and media outlets claim that much of the shambles in war-torn Afghanistan is the fault of Pakistan. Not only that, but the UK’s Economist claimed in January that “Pakistan’s army is to blame for the poverty of the country’s 208m citizens — it has fostered the paranoia and extremism that hold the country back.”

This is the army which, along with para-military forces, has had 7,057 soldiers killed in operations against paranoid extremists from January 2002 to January 27, 2019. Since the US invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent expansion of Islamic terrorist groups, Pakistan has suffered 468 suicide bombing attacks, in which 7,230 citizens were killed. Before the US offensive in 2001 there was one such attack, in 1995 by a crazy Egyptian who drove a bomb-laden lorry into the Egyptian Embassy’s gates. Last year 369 Pakistani civilians died in terrorist attacks and 165 soldiers were killed in fighting against terrorists, killing 157 of them.

The Pakistan army has mounted countless operations against terrorists, and has been able to restore peace. As the BBC reported, “For over a decade the inaccessible and mountainous tribal area of North Waziristan [on the Afghan border] was home to a swirling array of violent jihadists. The Pakistan and Afghan Taliban movements, al-Qaeda and less well-known militant outfits such as the Haqqani Network used the area to hold hostages, train militants, store weapons and deploy suicide bombers to attack targets in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today the militants have gone. Virtually the whole of North Waziristan is in Pakistani army hands.” At the cost of hundreds of dead and wounded Pakistan army soldiers.

This is the army that The Economist alleges “promotes a doctrine of persecution and paranoia”. The journal states, without any evidence, that “it helped cast out the previous prime minister, Nawaz Sharif” but doesn’t mention that Sharif was totally corrupt. It is not surprising that Sharif resigned in 2017 after the Supreme Court disqualified him from office following revelations of his family’s corruption. As reported by Al Jazeera, “In 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists leaked 11.5 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, dubbed the Panama Papers. Several documents included in the leak showed three of Sharif’s children — Hussain, Hasan and Maryam — owned at least three off-shore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. The documents showed that these companies had engaged in deals worth $25m. Crucially, one of the documents also revealed that the companies had been involved in a $13.2m mortgage involving the London properties as collateral, the first time the Sharif family’s ownership of the apartments was proven on paper.”

The whole thing stank, and it was eventually made public that Nawaz Sharif was corrupt to the eyeballs — as everyone in Pakistan had known for decades.

The Pakistan Army cannot not be held to blame for that, any more than it can be for the majestic corruption of former President Asif Zardari (Mr Ten Percent), the husband of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. In 1998 the Pulitzer Prize winner John Burns wrote in an eight page exposé in the New York Times that “In 1995, a leading French military contractor, Dassault Aviation, agreed to pay Mr. Zardari and a Pakistani partner $200 million for a $4 billion jet fighter deal that fell apart only when Ms. Bhutto’s Government was dismissed. In another deal, a leading Swiss company hired to curb customs fraud in Pakistan paid millions of dollars between 1994 and 1996 to offshore companies controlled by Mr. Zardari and Ms. Bhutto’s widowed mother, Nusrat.”

The Bhutto government was also corrupt to the earlobes. As Burns recounted, “In the largest single payment investigators have discovered, a gold bullion dealer in the Middle East was shown to have deposited at least $10 million into an account controlled by Mr. Zardari after the Bhutto Government gave him a monopoly on gold imports that sustained Pakistan’s jewellery industry. The money was deposited into a Citibank account in the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, one of several Citibank accounts for companies owned by Mr. Zardari. Together, the documents provided an extraordinarily detailed look at high-level corruption in Pakistan, a nation so poor that perhaps 70 percent of its 130 million people are illiterate, and millions have no proper shelter, no schools, no hospitals, not even safe drinking water. During Ms. Bhutto’s five years in power, the economy became so enfeebled that she spent much of her time negotiating new foreign loans to stave off default on $62 billion in public debt.”

So it might be asked of The Economist exactly what the Pakistan army had to do with impoverishment of citizens during the regimes of Benazir Bhutto, then her husband, the crooked Asif Zardari, then the almost equally corrupt Nawaz Sharif. The country has had civilian government since 2008, and might reasonably be expected to have improved its economic situation, but in some weird way, according to The Economist, the fact that it has failed to do so must be the fault of the army, which has been trying to protect the country against the massive terrorist effort to destroy democracy and establish Islamic rule.

The Economist states that the army “at last” moved against the terrorists in 2014 “following an appalling school massacre.” As described above, it did indeed mount a massive operation in Waziristan in 2014, but to assert that this was belated action is totally misleading. The Economist ignores the fact that in May 2009, for example, “Pakistan’s army declared a ‘full-scale’ offensive against Taliban insurgents holed up in the Swat valley… The fighting was concentrated in the main town, Mingora, where the bulk of an estimated 4,000 Taliban fighters across Swat are heavily dug in. Artillery and helicopter gunships battered militant-held buildings, while the Taliban planted mines across the city in expectation of a major ground offensive.” In this army operation 228 officers and men were killed and 757 wounded. Fazlullah, the leader of the insurgent group known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) escaped to Afghanistan, where he was killed by a US drone strike in 2018.

It is all very well for clever commentators who have never experienced a military operation or heard a shot fired in anger to declare that Pakistan’s armed forces “commandeer resources” as if this is a crime. They have no idea of the enormous cost of logistics in anti-terrorist operations in “the inaccessible and mountainous tribal area of North Waziristan.” They have no idea of the human and financial implications of casualty evacuation in such awful terrain, or of the enormous cost of establishing forward bases and transporting ammunition and rations over hundreds of miles of rugged tracks. Yet they say they believe that “the army’s pre-eminence is precisely what lies at the heart of Pakistan’s troubles.”

Tell that to the people of Swat and North Waziristan who suffered from the atrocities of the Taliban who have now been ejected — by the army — from the regions where, for example, “decapitated bodies were found on the roadside, hung from electric poles and trees.” Now, as the BBC notes, “The army is building infrastructure to tempt people to return. As well as new roads, there are brand new schools with facilities that rival anything on offer elsewhere in Pakistan.” That might seem to most people, if not The Economist, a reasonable use of “resources”.

In preparing for even greater instability in Afghanistan and its likely spill-over to Pakistan, the army will require more resources, and it is likely these will be forthcoming, as will cooperation by at least some other nations, notably Russia whose special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, said in Islamabad on January 29 that Moscow “greatly appreciated Pakistan’s role as a facilitator in the Afghan peace process.” Nobody knows how that process will pan out, but it is certain there will continue to be regional instability, and that in Pakistan it will be essential that the army continues in its role as protector of democracy.

Pakistan’s Army is a National Umbrella Under Stormy Skies

By Adam Garrie


In twenty years time when even the last remnants of terrorism are but a distant memory for Pakistanis, when Gwadar rises to be a shining city of modernity and one of the focal points of both trade and tourism in Asia, when CPEC is a multi-cylinder engine driving prosperity from Lahore to Karachi and when economic growth becomes consistent and sustainable throughout the country – people throughout Pakistan will know that this much is true: without the protection of one of the most professional, dedicated and patriotic Armies in the world, there would be no such place as Pakistan.

While a Pakistan that sounds like a giant Singapore with Islamic characteristics might seem like a tall order in terms of forecasting such positive changes over the country’s next 20 years of development, one must remember that even ten or fifteen years ago, few could imagine that the Pakistan of 2019 would be a place where peace is the rule and instability is the exception, where orderly political transitions can be conducted with confidence and without dynastic parties ruling the day, a place where Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is province of renewal rather than a ground zero of horror and a place where an unpredictable US President criticises Pakistan one month and then effectively begs its Prime Minister for assistance in Afghanistan the next.

The Pakistan of today is very different than the Pakistan of 2009 and it is the Army that has largely made the difference as in 2009, political institutions of the country were weakened by internal chaos whilst even Swiss style political efficiency would have required an armed forces and intelligence service of supreme commitment to a fight against a wave of terrorism in a battle that to many, seemed to be unwinnable to at the time.

The history of armies leading countries out of dark periods and into those of renewal is well established throughout modern history. At a time when modern Turkey was threatened with western directed colonialism on all sides after 1918, it was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Turkish National Movement that reclaimed Turkey’s dignity and helped to form the modern Republic of Turkey. As it was Atatürk’s army that helped to create the modern state, so too did the army play a major role in shaping Turkey’s politics until very recent years when it became clear that the civilian government had sufficiently modernised itself and was up to the important task of overseeing stable governance. Yet few in the west nor in Asia have insulted the historic role of Turkey’s army in the way that they have done in respect of Pakistan.

In many ways, Pakistan’s 21st century war against a multitude of terror groups has been even more harrowing than the Turkish War of Independence. While for decades India had sponsored terror groups aiming to sever Pakistan’s national unity whilst no Afghan government has ever recognised Pakistan’s internationally acknowledged border along the Durand Line, it was the unleashing of George W. Bush’s “war on terror” that for Pakistan became a war for survival as extremist groups supported by Pakistan’s regional enemies swarmed across the border causing havoc throughout the country, but particularly in the north-west.

While America’s misguided war on Afghanistan after 2001 was supposed to be a war to avenge the 9/11 atrocity, this war unleashed onto Pakistan many micro-9/11s in which civilians were slaughtered by terror groups that were perversely aided by the fledgling Kabul forces that the US had installed. While US drone strikes in Pakistan killed civilians almost as frequently as they targeted actual terrorists, it was Pakistan’s Army that succeeded in turning groups like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan from a force that threatened to plant the flag of terror in Islamabad into a rudderless, leaderless rump whose power has more or less been totally neutralised.

While today, it is rightly acknowledged that political reforms in KP continue to fight the roots of extremism, while a border fence along the Durand Line has helped to stem the tide of terror from the Afghan failed state, what must never be forgotten is the it was the martyrdom of thousands of Pakistani soldiers upon whose sacrifice the foundation of Naya Pakistan was at long last built.

The choice for Pakistan during much of the 21st century was not between “the Establishment and democracy” as many cynics would have one believe. The choice was one between national life and national death and without the courage of the Army, the terrorist death merchants would have made the choice for Pakistan and the results would have been truly devastating on a grand scale.

2018 saw the second ever peaceful transition of power in Pakistan and one were the old dynastic parties of the past were democratically dislodged from power in favour of a reformist force – PTI. Saying that this peaceful transition of power was orchestrated by “the Establishment” is actually an insult both to the people of Pakistan and to the Army. This is the case because it was on the back of the supreme sacrifices of the Army in the fight against terrorism and extremism that the country was able to hold its second ever peaceful transition of power and it was the people who were able to speak freely because of the safety that pervades in the country, now that the most wicked terror groups are shadows of their former selves.

The American media frequently criticises Pakistan’s Army and yet there is an expression among ordinary Americans that states “if you love your freedom, thank a soldier”. As a country that has faced vastly less terrorism and foreign invasion than Pakistan and as a country bordered by two allies rather than a nation with two clear enemies, one to the east and one to the north-west, the American phrase stating that a soldier should be thanked for national freedom frankly applies far more to Pakistan than to almost any other country in the 21st century. It is therefore nothing less than shameful that some American journalists who live in a country where the soldier is elevated to a position of respect in the media and in much of society, should somehow criticise Pakistan for the role its Army has played in preventing chaos from turning a great Asian nation into a failed state like Afghanistan or like Libya.

Looking to the future, if Naya Pakistan means anything – it means harmony. Harmony between wealth and development, between Pakistan and its all weather friends whether it be China or Turkey or others, between provinces of the country and within provinces of the country and between the Army and the government. In a harmonious state, the government and Army are not in a competition for power but work together to continue securing the nation from its enemies who have been beaten back but who have by no means gone away.

Pakistan’s democracy has become healthy because Pakistan’s streets, mountains, ports and villages have become safe. There can be no freedom without prosperity and there can be no prosperity without peace. This should be the epilogue of any story about the role of Pakistan’s Army in the last decades. It is a universal truth made all the more clear by specific stories of the ultimate sacrifice – one that has risen the flag of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s enlightenment where the flags of extremist barbarism once flew.

Pakistan’s Army Reverses the Great Game: The Oxus Meets the Indus


In his book Russia in Central Asia in 1889 and the Anglo-Russian Question, George Curzon, former Viceroy of India, predicted that the Russians were unlikely to invade India for another hundred years. While analysing the two top Russian military officers, General Grodekoff and General Skobeleff, both of whom had been fighting the British in Crimea and then in charge of the Russian advance in Central Asia, Curzon noted in his book that the Russian decision-makers observed Central Asia as the strategic battleground for control where the affairs changed ‘minute by minute’. It was a remarkable prophecy from a man who, without dispute, is considered the architect of the Anglo-Russian policy at the peak of the British Empire’s ‘Great Game’ with the expanding Russian Empire. Indeed, his foresight came true as the Russians did invade Afghanistan in 1979, exactly one hundred years after the meeting between the Russian and British Indian army officers to delineate their two empires. For the defence of British India and later Pakistan, a Russian invasion of Afghanistan was the biggest threat to the stability and dominance of British interests over the Russians in Central Asia. For Curzon and the other administrators of British India, the threat had always been of a Russian invasion from the North-West Frontier Province of India. Pakistan inherited this problem as the British exited the scene in 1947 and ever since, Pakistan’s army has relied on the old British Indian Army policy of garrisoning the ‘Frontier’. This had meant the British created a buffer zone between their Empire and Afghanistan by giving the warlike Pashtun tribes autonomous status to rule themselves away from the influence of the Russian-influenced Afghan capital, Kabul. General after general of Pakistan’s army has been at pains to explain the continuation of the old British colonial strategy of policing the frontier and guarding against the Russian threat. However, the current Pakistani military leadership under Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa is set to reverse the Great Game and thereby end almost 200 years of ‘looking over their shoulder’ and fearing the Russian threat. Pakistan’s army is frantically mending its historically weak ties with the Russian army and making progress through defence diplomacy at a dizzying pace by making a pivot to Russia instead of its traditionally close military ties with the US. There are multiple military deals, intelligence cooperation and joint training exercises that are redefining the region. As a US led by President Donald Trump further isolates Pakistan, the army under Bajwa is shoring up its Western flank with the help of its erstwhile enemy, the Russian military. So how did this happen?

An Enemy from the Cold War: Bad Beginnings in 1947

After the British exit from India in 1947, the Pakistani military carried on its North-West Frontier policy of maintaining the buffer zone in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In 2007, while he was an opposition leader, Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister, Imran Khan, wrote in the Guardian about ‘learning from the experience of the British’. What Khan meant was that the newly established state of Pakistan, in 1947, quite simply did not send its army into the FATA but instead let the tribes police themselves whilst allowing the newly established Pakistan state to control the mountain passes, just like the British before it. The idea of keeping Pakistani troops outside the FATA was implemented by the British to combat Russian influence in Afghanistan and ward off the constant threats of invasion. But now in 2018, after seven decades of what Pakistan leaders such as Imran Khan termed ‘the old British policy’, Pakistan’s army has decided to no longer fear the Russian ‘bear’ and instead embrace it. This means that the policy of having a buffer zone with Afghanistan is no longer required as the Russians are no longer a threat to Afghanistan, and by default Pakistan.

In 1947 the Pakistani military became a willing participant on the US-led side in the Cold War. For all the criticisms of the Pakistani army in the West, beginning in the 1960s every military ruler and general was given great fanfare and welcome by US presidents, and indeed in 1966 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in the case of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. Britain’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US former President Ronald Reaganboth forged close relationships with General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq as Pakistan’s army led the fight against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

It was this closeness to the Americans that stationed Pakistan’s army on the front line of war against the Russians. Pakistan was central to the 1960 U-2 spy plane incident, as Peshawar hosted the US Air Force planes in their forward-operating bases against the Soviets. Throughout the 1980s, the CIA used Pakistan’s military to train insurgents to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan and launch raids into Soviet Central Asia. Similarly, on the other side, the Soviets assisted India in its wars against Pakistan. However, the Trump doctrine is now maturing into a permanent aggressive foreign policy against Pakistan in the shape of blocking military aid and putting pressure on the IMF not to grant the country more bailouts. In the first week of August, the Americans cancelled military training for the Pakistani military, and the International Military Education and Training programme (IMET) will now suspend Pakistan’s participation. It was no coincidence that as the Americans announced this, the Russians, for the first time in history, announced the start of military training for Pakistani military officers.

A Strategic Change: Russia and Pakistan

In July 2018, a remarkable meeting took place in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, as spy chiefs from Russia, Iran and China met to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and Central Asia. And so, the Great Game that the British and Russians began has come full circle. That Pakistan’s army sees Russia as an ally in Afghanistan and Central Asia is a complete turnaround from 200 years of fearing and indeed fighting the ‘bear’ from across the River Oxus. Just 20 or even 10 years ago it was unthinkable that both Russia and Iran would support the Afghan Taliban. This was previously the preserve of just the Pakistani army and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The Taliban had always been anti-Russian because of Russia’s support for the Taliban’s erstwhile enemies, the Northern Alliance, and they had also killed nine Iranian diplomats. Now, however, it is a widely accepted fact in most American military circles that both the Russians and the Iranians are following the Pakistani policy of supporting the Afghan Taliban.

This unique turnaround in Russia-Pakistan relations began in Afghanistan. Both countries now feel that the US-led war in Afghanistan is a threat to their security. Indeed, Prime Minister Khan has long rallied against the war. More so, he has said that Pakistan should never have been part of a war that has caused billions of dollars of damage to the Pakistani economy and tens of thousands of lives lost since 2001. Indeed, in 2012 Khan said that the Taliban’s war against the Americans was justified by Islamic law.

The Russians began their charm offensive on Pakistan’s army in 2002 when there was a tense stand-off between the Pakistani and Indian militaries in Kashmir. Russian President Vladimir Putin made public comments in Almaty, Kazakhstan that Russia was willing to negotiate a draw-down of the heightened tensions and escalation of troop numbers on the Pakistan-Indian border, and host the leaders of the nuclear-armed states to begin a meaningful dialogue, and in 2003 Pakistan’s then president General Pervez Musharraf made the most high-profile visit to date of any Pakistani leader to Moscow. This began the intelligence relationship in earnest. Musharraf then signed a strategic pact in Uzbekistan in 2005, under the encouragement of the Russians, for the Pakistani military and ISI to begin cooperation with all the former Soviet satellite states of Central Asia. This has reversed almost 30 years of antagonism between Russia and Pakistan in Central Asia. Thirteen years later, the Afghan Taliban made a public visit to Uzbekistan in August to talk about security in the region. Such a visit would have been unthinkable without Pakistani-Russian rapprochement on the issue of Afghanistan. This continues the general trend of Pakistan upgrading its Russian ties at an unprecedented pace.

Russia-Pakistan Military Ties Grow from Strength to Strength

In April 2018, Bajwa visited Moscow on an official visit to cement strategic military ties. This followed two large-scale military exercises that have taken place between the two armies in the last few years and the sale of Russian military attack helicopters to Pakistan. Then, during the same week that the Americans suspended military training for Pakistan, the Russians signed a training agreement with Pakistan’s army.

Although Bajwa has carried out the policy of rapprochement to the Russians, there has been a slow drift away from the US by his predecessors, with the full support of the Corps Commanders, the executive army of the military leadership which decides strategic decisions as a group. As the frenzy of American criticism on the Pakistani military rises, senior Russian defence officials have been publicly praising the Pakistani military’s efforts against terrorism on the Afghan borders.

Whilst all the talk during the Cold War was of a Russian threat to Pakistan and of it reaching the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, the Russians are now on board with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Moscow’s approach to participating in the development of Gwadar Port in Pakistan, seen as Pakistan’s economic future, is considered a game-changer in Pakistan. The Chinese have welcomed this participation and see it as a balancer against India’s insecurities about the project.

In what can be described as the final act of the Great Game, Pakistan’s army, emboldened by Operations Zarb-e-Azb and Raddul Fasaad which pushed the militants out of FATA and cleared the areas of those groups fighting the Pakistani state, have announced an end to the British-era policy of the Frontier Crimes Regulation, by which residents of the FATA are denied basic legal rights. This would mean the fabled ‘buffer zone’ of Curzon and British India would be no more, once the incoming parliament passes it in law in the coming year. This means that for the first time there is no need to have a tribal area. FATA will be abolished, and the areas on the Afghan border will be brought in line with the laws of the Pakistani state. In effect, the Russian threat is over. Pakistan’s army and Russia are sealing an ever-closer defence relationship which will have a strategic impact on the world stage for years to come. Pakistan’s army has also won over Moscow and Tehran to their side of the Afghan issue after decades of mistrust, and as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and General Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, land in Islamabad on 5 September to talk about regional peace, they will find it an uphill battle to shift Central Asia’s new dynamic.

Here it is pertinent to mention this article was published a little before Mike Pompeo’s and General Dunford’s visit to Islamabad.  And it would suffice to add the closing remark of this write-up did indeed turn out to be accurate.   

Kamal Alam


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