Master of the Game


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards themselves?) — Juvenal, Satires

The civil-military challenge is to reconcile a military strong enough to do anything the civilians ask with a military subordinate enough to do only what civilians authorise.” — Peter D. Feaver

On May 16, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority suggested to TV channels that Corps Commander, Karachi, Lt.-Gen Naveed Mukhtar, was going to address a National Defence University seminar, attended by the city’s elite and business community, and it would be helpful if the channels could live telecast his speech.

Every channel did.

Mukhtar, a rather well-spoken officer in an age when the English-language is not a strong suit of military officers, barring exceptions, made no bones about what ailed the city, a crumpling, atrophying megalopolis of over 20 million people, if guesstimates are to be believed.

His speech was declared by most observers of the scene to be directed at the political actors in Karachi, notably the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM), the city’s strongest political actor, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which rules Sindh and has acquired notoriety for being remarkably dysfunctional and corrupt.

PEMRA’s ‘request’ for live telecasting the speech and the speech’s content were clear proof, if one were required, of who steers important policy matters in Pakistan. Mukhtar’s speech followed earlier comments, staccato, compared to his explication, by the Chief of the Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif. Observers were convinced that the General Headquarters (GHQ) had decided that the city, Pakistan’s financial hub, needed to be cleansed of its criminal and disruptive elements, regardless of their genesis and affiliations.

Whether that can, or will be done, is a separate debate and outside the scope of this piece. What’s important is that since the beginning of Operation Zarb-e Azb and later during the sit-ins by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek, the army has, masterfully, managed perceptions to show that it is the only organisation that thinks nationally and has the capability to deliver results. But the exercise in perceptions management is as much about signalling the inefficiencies of the civilian principals as it is about priding itself on its own ability to multi-task. In fact, it achieves the desired result by showing the contrast and, unless one were trained to think rationally and go below the surface, the contrast does appear very obvious and, often, stark.

The important point in the new strategy to show the civilians up for the nincompoops they are is that it is not crude. For instance, during the PTI-PAT sit-ins, there was much speculation about when the army would take over. The speculation missed the point since it presupposed the old strategy of the army to send in elements of the 111 Brigade to take over PTV and Radio Pakistan buildings, as also other important building on Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue.

That was not to be and, unless something very drastic happens, won’t be. And yet, the takeover is complete. The army sits at the high table and it dictates its terms. The civilians can either take it or lump it. That they choose to meekly submit to the army’s advice is what ensures the form of democracy. As for the substance of it, there wouldn’t be much even if the army weren’t on the scene. But that too is another debate.

Corollary: it works fine for both sides.

The army is smart enough to let the civilians be seen to be in the driver’s seat even as it navigates the bus. This way, if and when something goes wrong, people will hold the civilians responsible. In other words, the army can rule without being subjected to direct responsibility for any action. Whoever said that one could not have one’s cake and eat it obviously was not thinking about the Pakistani army.

The civilians are taking the hit on economy. But not many would pause to realise that it is the very policies, foreign and security, as directed by the army which continue to trap the country in a poor economic cycle. Not just that, military-directed policies also shrink the space for the civilians to handle foreign and security policies and threats through means other than military.

India, where Narendra Modi’s government has been particularly poisonous towards Pakistan, is a case in point. The army has carefully crafted and directed perceptions towards a confrontation, given the confrontational tone emanating from New Delhi. The fact, however, is that atmospherics can be improved by using non-military means, including by movement on the trade front. But that’s a closed chapter, despite the fact that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is deeply interested and invested in trade with India and appointed one of the best in his team, Khurram Dastgir-Khan, as commerce minister.

It’s easy to manage perceptions on India because the Modi government, unlike the Vajpayee and Singh governments, thrives on challenging Pakistan directly. As things stand, relations with India are going to go from bad to worse. Ironically, that impacts Islamabad’s relations with Kabul, despite genuine efforts by President Ashraf Ghani to improve the optics and substance of relations through a three-phase, short- to medium- to long-term engagement.

That window, too, is closing. With the Taliban launching an intense Spring-Summer offensive, this has been the bloodiest year of fighting in Afghanistan. Ghani’s political risk at home is increasing exponentially and unless Pakistan moves fast to give him operational space, the downward spiral will not be stopped.

Both areas are crucial for Pakistan Army. But lest it be misunderstood: The army is not being villainous. It is reacting and acting to these developments. The problem is that as managers of violence, their kitty does not have non-military solutions. That is the job of the civilians and the civilians have already conceded space to the army. The army, like all large-scale bureaucratic organisations, is afflicted with bounded rationality and systematic stupidity. Not because the officers are stupid but because organisations ‘satisfice’ rather than ‘optimising’. They are essentially tactical in problem-solving and they go sequentially rather than looking at the broader picture and understanding the imperative of simultaneity.

At home, it’s the same story. General Sharif has been presented as a man of action. He went into North Waziristan without the hemming and hawing of former chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani. Great. But an operation with limited objectives that has already taken a year was presented, from the word go, as a final showdown between the state and the terrorists. Now, the focus is not on hard questions but notions of chivalry, the heart-warming songs, the symbolism of the flag and the state et cetera. All of which is very well, except it doesn’t proffer answers and it begs too many questions — questions that very few are prepared to ask because they begin to clear up the smoke screen that will show the army up for its own limitations, no less remarkable than the inefficiencies of the politicians.

No one knows how the operation has been conducted. What exactly were the objectives? How much has been achieved and what remains? What operational techniques were employed? Has the fighting been discriminate? How long will it take for the IDPs to return, if at all? This is not even an exhaustive list.

The painful irony of all this is that perceptions have been managed cleverly. Not through, as I said, activating the 111 Brigade but through handheld gizmos, smart phones and even smarter use of social media by DG-ISPR, Maj.-Gen Asim Bajwa and his team, all of them smart, hardworking officers. I call it the Twitter coup. They work round the clock, tweeting strategically, using bots to spread messages, focusing on sacrifices rather than operational questions, providing information to those who will lap it up uncritically and cutting loose those who have an annoying habit of being critical.

They are helped in this by many young officers who have also taken to social media and put out news and pictures of men in uniform, sacrificing their lives and being away from their loved ones, contrasting that spartan existence from the lavish laziness and apathy of civilian rulers. And social media, especially Twitter, offensive require this kind of bombardment. The 140-character brevity, which certainly is neither the soul of wit nor of lingerie, thrives on the attention span of pea-brained people that swarm the electronic space like flies, and is tremendous help to anyone out to tell lies or, if he is generous, merely withhold the truth.

Facts, subtleties, nuances and hard questions are lost, however. What is lost is the obvious, in-one’s-face fact that this is a war that killed some 2,000 Americans but has ended up killing more than 55,000 Pakistanis. If this is our idea of grand strategy and victory against real and ghost enemies then we need to revisit it badly.

Civil-military relations theories have amassed a huge corpus of literature since Samuel Huntington wrote The Soldier and the State. But what the army has managed to do in the last year-and-half is the employment of a strategy that no civ-mil theorist has ever written about — or could possibly have conceived.

Why? Because it is essentially a takeover without a physical takeover and it is underpinned by perceptions management through a clever use of social media. If anything, in the years to come, the Pakistan Army’s use of social media will become a case study.

This article, written for Newsline Magazine, was published in the July 2015 issue.

Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider

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The Soldier and the Lover


Sept. 17, 2009, DAILY TIMES

An evening at Shaista Sirajuddin’s is always a stimulating affair and never fails to remind me of the time when I would sit through her class, usually the only one I attended, trying to soak in every word and image.

On this evening, a few days ago, Shaista mentioned Keith Douglas, an English soldier and poet who studied at Oxford and then reported for recruitment and graduated from Sandhurst to fight in WWII as an officer in the Second Derbyshire Yeomanry, a Reconnaissance Armoured regiment. Captain Douglas was killed during the Normandy landing on June 9, 1944 by a mortar shell splinter so fine, as Ted Hughes wrote, that no wound showed on the body. He was 24.

War claims the young and the best, as Herodotus noted millennia ago. That hasn’t changed.

I had not heard of Douglas before but have since read some of his poetry and read up on him. There is horror in those lines, the dreadfulness that always attends violence, more so at a large scale. But the paradox is the understanding that comes with it, the value of life in the midst of death, the appreciation of relationships, sacrifice, camaraderie, even empathy for the enemy.

There is deadly, matter-of-fact prose in the rattling of machine guns and the employment of other weaponry; but it’s the human behaviour in the midst of the sound and fury that signifies both much and nothing, that awes, and that combination is always poetic.

What does one say when “returning over the nightmare ground” after “the combatants [have] gone” one sees

the soldier sprawling in the sun.
The frowning barrel of his gun
overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon.
Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
the dishonoured picture of his girl
who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht.
in a copybook gothic script.

There’s the sense of victory for one’s side but there is also human emotion which goes beyond the sides we take because we are either born into them or, as sometimes happens, we think we are fighting a “just” war being on a particular side.

But she would weep to see today
how on his skin the swart flies move;
the dust upon the paper eye
and the burst stomach like a cave.
For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart.
And death who had the soldier singled
has done the lover mortal hurt.

These are the moments when war’s larger picture, the one that interests the historian and the strategist, shrinks to become one man, the dead soldier who has his woman’s picture in his pocket and who now lies with a burst stomach, decaying, having crossed the line from where none has ever returned, regardless of the pain and love of those who are waiting for the one who death has singled out and claimed at that moment.

But, for the living, or still living, there is also the grim acceptance of the broader picture, of stakes involved, of the job that must be done, no matter how many fall in the course of doing it. And there is also the recognition that tomorrow death may visit the one who has seen his comrades fall today.

War, then, is the constant interaction of deadly prose and awe-inspiring poetry, each informing the other. I cannot think of any other human activity that embraces in itself, and subsumes, so many paradoxes and ironies: such selfishness and such selflessness, such ruthlessness and such compassion, such cold calculation and such passion.

I was talking to Maj.-Gen Tariq Khan, IG-FC. He has, and is, commanding some of the most difficult counter-insurgency operations in the tribal areas. A cavalry officer, he belongs to South Waziristan himself. I asked him about the Scouts that make up the Frontier Corps and its 14 battalions. Are they trained for this kind of war?

General Khan said that he had always endeavoured to keep the Scouts as Scouts. This is how he put it: “Being from the Army I know the value of drills and procedures. While most people feel these are a necessary nuisance to allow for efficiency, I do not agree. These SOPs etc are important because while the average soldier is doing a mission, he does not [necessarily] understand the intent. But the Scouts are too individualistic and must never have their wings clipped by SOPs. They follow an intent and not merely the mission. The Soldier appreciates a situation; a Scout anticipates it.”

I found the fine distinction very incisive. This kind of insight comes when the commander knows his men and when his men know him. That bond does not come easy. War is fascinating and dreadful, more dreadful than fascinating because when the fighting is on and the blood is spilled, the average soldier does not think in terms of poetry or the philosophy of it. That luxury is meant for those of us who can find the right words and write despatches. A Douglas, or to raise the bar, an Orwell, is an exception.

Where the taking and giving of lives is involved, the officer has to lead from the front. General Khan believes, as an adaptive leader, that “the initiative and independence of the Scout” must not be disturbed. If it is, “you shall have a radically negative shift in the efficiency of the institution”.

He went on: “Just a year ago they lost forts, lines of communications and border control; look at it now! These are probably the best troops in the world. If you have their confidence they will follow you to hell. But getting their confidence is not so easy.”

True. General Khan and his officers have had to be with their men in almost every difficult situation. They must compete with them when they shoot rifles, live with them when there is a problem, face the danger where it is most dangerous. General Khan himself was with the troops during the worst days in Bajaur and remained there for two weeks until the siege was broken.

And then there is, in the middle of it all, the simplicity and the hilarity. General Khan told me: “Driving back on the route you took to Khar and back now in the worst days of last year, my driver on reaching the Motorway at Mardan decided to get sophisticated and told the gunman next to him, ‘Put on my seat belt’. The gunman reached across and yanked the belt from where it was secured and promptly tried tying it up with the handbrake. When I asked him what the hell he was doing, he looked at me and said, ‘Didn’t you say we must have our seat belts on? Why are you worried how we do it as long as we do it?'”


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Use tradition ingeniously


Plan meticulously; execute ruthlessly

Jose Saramago’s novel Blindness is the story of an unnamed city afflicted by a mass epidemic of blindness. As the affliction spreads, social order begins to break down. The government’s inept and panic-driven repressive measures, trying to quarantine those already gone blind and resorting to excessive force against others, only serve to worsen the fast deteriorating situation. The result is deep moral degradation. Then one day, as suddenly and inexplicably as it had come, the affliction is gone but by then the society has been tested at the most basic, and base, level.

Saramago is a tough read for someone like me who likes it neat and ordered. His sentences are long, interspersed with commas rather than periods. The dialogue, given the lack of quotation marks, looks jumbled and characters are described through descriptive appellations rather than proper names. I have yet to bring myself to read a couple of his other novels that are likely to become a part of my anti-library, the books one has but may never read.

Even so I was thinking about Blindness as I sat next to Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Wednesday night and heard him give a summary of the interrogation of Salmaan Taseer’s murderer. Latent in the narrative were details of the Barelvi groundswell in favour of the killer, the Deobandi/Wahhabi attempts to not allow the Barelvis to capture the religio-political space and the constraints of a government on a respirator, without will and authority and unable to stand up for one of its stalwarts who has gone down defending basic human values.

Saramago doesn’t tell the reader why his unnamed city was afflicted with blindness. Pedants would talk about his style and literary technique. But our blindness, and the consequent deterioration of moral values, has a clear and explainable history. That history is also the story of those prescient people who warned at every stage of where we were headed. People are warning still but those who are entrusted with authority lack the will and the ability to formulate workable strategies.

ST could not have turned the tide singlehandedly even as he had the courage to stand up. But the government, acting through its legal-constitutional mandate, even at its weakest, can pick up its battles wisely and begin to make a difference. Consider.

The government has made clear that it does not intend to repeal the blasphemy law or even change it at this point. Fine; that was required. It is important to amend the law to ensure it is not abused, but that opportunity has been lost at this stage. However, and this is important, that should be no reason for not picking up those people who are instigating others to murder those who are citizens of this country and are agitating for rationalising this law.

There is no reason, for instance, to spare the maulvi who has called for killing Sherry Rehman. Neither is there any reason for the government to ignore the cleric who has warned Shehrbano Taseer against speaking out. It is an irony that these two women have shown more spunk than the government. They cannot and must not be left alone.
The message should be plain and simple: the blasphemy law is not being changed but there are also laws against anyone killing another person or instigating people to kill others. And if someone does that, for whatever reason, the state will not spare him.

But this is where we get into another problem: prosecution and conviction. The government has failed, as has the criminal justice system, to prosecute and convict criminals and terrorists. Not one terrorist conviction has survived appeal. Judges and prosecutors are threatened and the government has come up with no strategy to address the issue.

Extraordinary times demand extraordinary and innovative measures. If there are threats, arrangements can be made for faceless judges and prosecutors. We can find out how Italy and Colombia dealt with drug cartels and what measures they took to effectively prosecute and convict members of very powerful crime syndicates.

The next step is for the government to break this alliance. Deobandis and Wahhabis are in on the game not because they think much of this blasphemy law but because they cannot allow the Barelvis to capture the religio-political space they have made for themselves through the so-called jihad industry. In fact, in a typical Barelvi-Deobandi denominational split, a Deobandi maulvi and his son were sentenced to life last week by an anti-terrorism court on the charge of blasphemy in a case where the complainant is a Barelvi!

The government should also bring to the surface the sub-literature of various denominations which is, quite often, blasphemous, as are also their actions when they get into violent fights. Check out the Barelvi and Deobandi discussion forums on the internet to see what they do to each other, going back to Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi’s Husam al-Haramayn from where the fatwa wars began.

Raza Khan, through his various fatwas, apostatised nearly all the major Deobandi clerics of his time including Muhammad Qasim Nanotwi, Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri and Ashraf Ali Thanwi. Not just that, for good measure, Raza Khan added that all those who did not consider these clerics apostates were also apostates.

Over time other strands have been added to old fissures. Deobandis and Salafis have picked up Ibn-e Taymiyya and started killing those who don’t agree with them through the exclusion principle, becoming today’s Kharijites.

The affliction will not go away quickly; rather it will be a long and very painful process. But it cannot be avoided. The important point is to avoid the two extremes of foolhardiness and pusillanimity. Neither retreat nor frontal assaults will do. The fights should be picked up judiciously, the planning should be meticulous and the execution ruthless.

For now, ensure that the killer gets what he deserves; pick up the instigators and put them through the wringer. Put other rabble-rousers under house arrest. Get the clerics together or through the Council of Islamic Ideology and get a verdict on the issue of apostatising other Muslims. The Hadith is very clear on how, when and whether it can be done. Liberal humanism alone is not going to work here but mixed with tradition could help ameliorate the situation. Let’s make ingenious use of tradition.

This article was originally published in Pakistan Today following the gratuitous murder of Salmaan Taseer.

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A BMW shouldn’t play chicken with a ‘jalopy’


It was around 11 am when I reached Dhamal, a small village smack on the Working Boundary between Pakistan and India in Charva sector, a 20-minute drive from Sialkot Cantonment. As our vehicles pulled into the main, dusty road of the village, there were almost no signs of life. To the left of the road, across the green fields, I spotted a Chenab Rangers watch tower. North of the tower, in the middle distance, there was another observation post, almost identical, except that it flew the Indian tri-color.

I asked a Rangers officer if I could film the area from atop the tower. He said that was not advisable. Since the two sides began trading mortar shells and small and light weapons fire, they have stopped manning some of the towers for fear that a sniper on the ground could take out the sentry. The best time to do that would be when shifts are changing. “That hasn’t happened yet but there are safety drills that we have to resort to,” he said.

The situation, at the moment, is very different from normal days of joint Rangers-BSF (Border Security Force) patrolling. That standard practice allows the two sides at the lowest, directly-on-the-ground level to talk to each other and coordinate. There are other levels too, steadily rising until matters reach the Directors-General level. The mechanism is there, fully detailed for all eventualities.

But as happens between Pakistan and India, the mechanisms under military CBMs (confidence-building measures) work the least when needed the most. This is one of those situations.

Information is hard to come by even when one goes to the ground. Who started the current round is a question that depends on which side of the border one resides. For the Indians it’s the Pakistanis. For Pakistan, it’s India. However, it is interesting to note the pattern this time. Reports emerging from India, citing unnamed official sources, gloat over BSF’s aggressive response and the “sheer volume of fire” the BSF has been delivering on ‘hard targets’. Other reports talk about a deliberate policy to target Pakistani villages to kill civilians. We are also told that the BSF firing has resulted in high Rangers casualties while the BSF itself has sustained no losses in men and material.

Still other reports mention instructions from the new government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to act tough and aggressive towards Pakistan. In a bid to further authenticate this new policy, we are informed that India refused to blink in the Chumar sector while China’s president Xi Jingping was visiting India and forced PLA troops to back off. It’s almost like Captain India is here and the countries around India must take heed.

The nosecone of an Indian mortar shell/Photo: Ejaz Haider

The nosecone of an Indian mortar shell / Photo: Ejaz Haider

The problem with this Captain India narrative, however, is this: it begins to answer our question of who the aggressor might be. But let’s suppose that Punjab Rangers, for some bizarre reason, decided to start firing at Indian posts at a time when Pakistan’s western front is hot and the army is stretched thin. Furthermore, that there is relative disparity between the size and firepower of Rangers and BSF in favor of the latter. Despite this, it was the Rangers that started it. In that case, going by our hypothetical reasoning, BSF’s aggressive stance, its firepower and its supposedly accurate mortar shelling, which we are told has forced the other side to duck, should also compel the side ‘ducking for cover’ to go quiet. But either the Pakistani side sustaining reportedly heavy damage and “ducking for cover” is still capable of firing back at BSF or it is the BSF that is the aggressor and hasn’t been able to tame the Pakistani side.

The fact is that reports emerging from India are low on critical appraisal of the situation and swallow the official version hook, line and sinker without asking the tough questions. This is a dangerous trend. Although not new, this trend – there are exceptions to it – under Modi’s government could reach higher levels of jingoism.

There is no way that it can be determined who fired first or, even if one side fired, whether the firing was speculative or targeted. Anyone who knows the border understands this. Even when a local situation threatens to get out of control, the provisions within the sector-level CBMs mechanism and also at the DGs level are meant primarily to resolve and defuse the situation. It is very clear that India has decided to ignore the mechanism because if it hadn’t, the situation would have long been resolved.

A child admitted to CMH's surgical ward with splinter injury / Photo: Ejaz Haider

A child admitted to CMH’s surgical ward with splinter injury / Photo: Ejaz Haider

This is also clear from reports talking about India refusing a flag meeting with Pakistan supposedly until Pakistan stopped firing. This in itself is a lie because Pakistan has not asked for a DGs-level meeting since this round started. But the lie in a way tells the truth about India’s intentions and by doing so gives the lie to the Pakistan-started-it mantra.

Perhaps it is important also to put on record that Rangers have suffered no casualties. The civilians, on the other hand, have not been so lucky. As I roamed the dusty lanes of the village, I found that the village wasn’t entirely empty. Even as the majority of the population has moved out to safer locations, people do come back during day to perform the daily chores. The village is vulnerable, as are villages on the Indian side. While Rangers and BSF can take protective cover in the bunkers and pill-boxes, houses, many adobe ones, offer no protection against anti-material rounds or mortar shells that burst upon impact, killing either with direct hits or killing and injuring through metal shards of the bursting shells, often mistakenly called shrapnel.

The current round, like most such fire exchange in the area, has ended up killing, injuring and displacing the civilian population. The DG Rangers, Maj.-Gen Khan Tahir, told me that Rangers are responding caliber for caliber: “If they fire 12.7mm, we respond with the same caliber. If they use 14.5, we reply with 14.5,” he said.

The problem with this strategy is that if India is in an escalation dominance mood, it won’t work. Also, it gives the initiative to India. The ideal way would be to make the CBMs work. But while it takes one to make a row, it takes two to make peace. Quite often, especially when the adversary is in no mood to climb down on the escalation ladder, the only strategy that works is to climb up the ladder. If the Modi government is in an aggressive mood and thinks it has made the diplomatic space for itself to do so, Islamabad’s policy should be to raise the cost for Delhi. One way of doing that would be to force Delhi to calculate the ‘benefit’ of this brinkmanship with Pakistan with the cost of what Modi wants to do on the economic front.

Pakistan might also need to signal to the world that this escalation will force it to thin deployment to the west and beef up the eastern front. Islamabad cannot afford a two-front war and if it has to make a choice between the two fronts, it must give priority to the eastern one. That should help get the world to convince Modi that Captain India cannot ignore the world while trying to woo it. If India considers itself a shining new BMW, it would be sensible for it to avoid playing chicken with a jalopy.

The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs, at Capital TV and a Visiting Fellow at SDPI. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.

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Fighting 21st Century Wars

Ejaz Haider

War is older than the oldest profession. Violence began when Cain slew Abel. It has since gone through many ages. But while there are many spots of time along the historical trajectory of war-fighting, closer to our time we see the shift with the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte created a national army through ‘willing’ conscription and made France fight ‘armies’ on the continent that, until Gerhard von Scharnhorst’s idea of a general staff, mostly comprised mercenary troops employed by various states and principalities.

Bonaparte gave the foretaste of national wars, the idea so lamented and considered dangerous by Maj Gen JFC Fuller (The Conduct of War). Bonaparte’s corps d’armée, the model that allowed him both flexibility and superiority in numbers (width-depth and concentration/dispersion) could not be sustained without involving France in wars.

From the gunpowder revolution, the pace of technological advancement increases. We move to the First Industrial Revolution which introduced rifles and railroads, what has been described as the age of steel and steam and the machine gun. The MG killed more infantrymen during WWI than the two nuclear bombs did the Japanese in WWII. The Second Industrial Revolution, which introduced the tank and its terror, once again tipped the balance in favour of the offensive which the rifle and the MG had blunted. This was not to last long with the introduction of anti-tank weapons and aerial bombardment. These developments were to be followed by flattop carriers and submarines. Since then much else has changed in terms of platforms and weapon systems.

Since WWI, war is no more a remote event. It is not just a matter of the armies fighting one another in secluded battlefields. As Bonaparte’s France showed, modern wars are fought by nations, not just armies at war. Rocketry and air raids over cities ensured that. The spirit of the times in WWI was depicted by the famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats in the opening lines of his poem, Lapis Lazuli:

For everybody knows or else should know
That if nothing drastic is done
Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out.
Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in
Until the town lie beaten flat.

The fast pace at which new weapons are being introduced has also brought into sharp salience the issue of knowledge, high-end human resource and strong economies. But the interesting point, and a crucial one too, is about the slowness of response to changes on the battlefield, even when basic assumptions are being challenged and quite often falling apart. For instance, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the French top commander came up with absurd math on the 1:2 advantage of the attacker since the attacking force will have double the number of rifles and could fire more rounds than the defender. It was a costly mistake and Fuller describes Foch’s math as abracadabra. This despite the fact that Foch was a war theorist and a highly-acclaimed soldier.

The introduction of nuclear weapons is another case in point. With the benefit of the hindsight one would think that it should have led to deterrence, pure and simple. However, for a long time, even as nuclear weapons held the balance of terror, strategies were developed to fight a nuclear war and win it.

American strategist Bernard Brodie realised early on that wars between two nuclear-capable adversaries had become a big no. This fact is also reflected in the writings of Philip Windsor and Martin van Creveld, to name just two. Yet, it took at least two decades for military and civilian planners to accept that reality. The fifties and the sixties saw much theorising on the use and utility of nuclear weapons against the adversary until a realisation set in that balance of terror meant just that — a balance that precluded all sides from doing something stupid. Even now continued discussion on developing a ballistic missile defence keeps a hope kindled that somehow incoming missiles can be stopped. The attempts to create a Maginot Line in the sky continue.

There is of course nothing exhaustive about the foregoing. Nor is it new. Thousands of books and academic articles have been written on the impact of technology and other factors on tactics and operational strategies. What is, however, missed very often is the question of when and how to fight a war. This is the puzzle and it has become more puzzling with the changing nature of war and the layers of complexity that mask the phenomenon and its consequences.

Nary a man can be found who would deny that war entails suffering, very often terrible suffering. We have graphic depictions of the horrors of war in literature, some by soldier-poets like Lieutenant Wilfred Owen (MC) from WWI and Capt. Keith Douglas in WWII; others by such luminaries as Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy and George Orwell et al. The English playwright, Edward Bond, wrote in the preface to his play, Lear: “I write about violence as naturally as Jane Austen wrote about manners. Violence shapes and obsesses our society, and if we do not stop being violent we have no future…It would be immoral not to write about violence.” Bond was using the concept in a broader sense, talking about the aggression that takes many forms and which he described as an ability but not a necessity.

In a 1995 paper for the academic journal International Organisation, political scientist James D. Fearon argued that “The central puzzle about war, and also the main reason we study it, is that wars are costly but nonetheless wars recur.” If wars are costly ex post then some explanation is needed for why a compromise cannot be found ex ante. Some historians and political scientists put wars in the category of ‘wanted’ and ‘unwanted’.
A rather celebrated example of that would be US President Barack Obama’s categorisation of the Iraq war as the ‘bad’ war and the conflict in Afghanistan as a ‘necessary’ war. Since then of course the Obama Administration has come round to a second aerial round of war in Iraq and Syria, though this time against a new adversary. This categorisation assumes that while ‘wanted’ wars are or should be, to use the economists’ term, Pareto-efficient, the ‘unwanted’ ones are inefficient.

The question, however, is: how can we determine that War X must be fought because it will be more efficient than War Y? Clearly, any such assumption cannot fully factor in the responses of the adversary or how he will react to the application of force. The most that one side deciding to go to war can do is to play out all possible scenarios and contingencies.

This, as the history of war tells us, is always useful but never enough. Napoleon would not have marched on Moscow if he knew what would happen to his army on the return journey; he would not have gone into Spain if he knew that, having defeated the Spanish army, he would have to contend with the population that would embroil him in a different kind of conflict and give the world the famous term guerilla war. France and America would have stayed away from Indo-China; the Soviet Union from Afghanistan; the U.S. from Afghanistan and Iraq. The list is long.

The famous Prussian soldier and war theorist Carl von Clausewitz understood this clearly. He realised that the application of force on an animate object could result in unintended consequence. The inability of any man to predict consequences, in other words have foreknowledge of what an action would entail in a nonlinear environment, was Clausewitz’ ‘fog of war’, the ‘drag’, the ‘friction.’ War would be a much simpler affair if we were dealing with linear systems where, to quote Alan D. Beyerchen, “variables could be plotted against each other as a straight line.” But that is not to be. States, societies, groups are not linear systems where inputs and outputs equal each other and the parts make up the whole.

Take the example of Islamic State also referred to variously as ISIS and ISIL. The decision to bomb, strafe and rocket IS ground targets in Syria and Iraq is supposed to destroy the movement. To be certain, the aerial campaign will manage to achieve certain objectives. It will destroy IS infrastructure, partially, if not fully; it will degrade some of its fighting capability; it will make it difficult for IS to concentrate its forces for conventional ground offensives to take over strategic positions, communication arteries and cities. Since IS doesn’t have air capability, it is exposed to such attacks and apparently can’t do much about them. That said, how will IS react to the campaign? Put another way, what are its options?

The first would be to disperse its fighting cadres and assets. It will restrict the movement of large bodies of fighters and find patterns in time lags between in-coming sorties, just like one would calculate the lag between one artillery salvo and another. But most of all, it will calculate the sustainability of the campaign itself – i.e., how long will it take for the US-led Gulf coalition to continue this mission at the pace at which they have started it.

There is also the element of cost. While the cost per flight hour of Predators and Reapers is very low, sortie after sortie of A-10s, F-16s, F-15Es, F-18s and F-22s is much higher, averaging above USD30,000. The cost of this campaign will steadily grow and will also have to be estimated in relation to the extent of damage to IS on the ground. The IS will also devise strategies to tightly couple its fighters and assets with the population in cities it already controls. This will increase the chances of collateral damage and create an unfavourable environment for the coalition to continue with its bombing campaign. We have already seen how the scenario plays out during the Israeli air and artillery bombing and shelling of Gaza which was followed by the ground offensive.

The IS is on the ground and has the time. Without a serious ground offensive it cannot really be rolled back. But the ground offensive has its own problems. If the Gulf States decide on one, the IS will revert to being an elusive force. The offensive will likely take the ground back but will not be able to ‘defeat’ the IS because it will change its way of fighting and extend the war zone to areas in the Gulf that, so far, have been spared from terrorist attacks. Such a strategy could further destabilise the entire region.

Does this mean there is never an option to fight?

No. There are times when one has to fight. But any planning must clearly appreciate the limits of use of force and its utility. On the surface, IS stands no chance against the combined might of a US-led coalition. Yet, the very asymmetry allows the IS to play according to its own rules and blunt the advantage of the more powerful adversary. That is precisely what we saw in Iraq earlier and are witnessing in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and at home in Pakistan.

This is one aspect of war’s nonlinear nature; the other is the employment of more than kinetic means. In a paper, The Value of Science in Prediction, General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation, writes:

“In the 21st century we have seen a tendency toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template.
“The experience of military conflicts — including those connected with the so-called coloured revolutions in north Africa and the Middle East — confirm that a perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war.
“Of course, it would be easiest of all to say that the events of the ‘Arab Spring’ are not war and so there are no lessons for us — military men — to learn. But maybe the opposite is true — that precisely these events are typical of warfare in the 21st century.
“In terms of the scale of the casualties and destruction, the catastrophic social, economic, and political consequences, such new-type conflicts are comparable with the consequences of any real war.
“The very ‘rules of war’ have changed. The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”

Strategists are already referring to the Gerasimov Doctrine while still others see the hand of Vladimir Putin behind this Russian way of making war. In a May 5, 2014 analysis in Foreign Policy (FP), titled, How Putin Is Reinventing Warfare, Peter Pomerantsev writes: “The Kremlin, according to Barack Obama, is stuck in the ‘old ways,’ trapped in Cold War or even 19th century mindsets. But look closer at the Kremlin’s actions during the crisis in Ukraine and you begin to see a very 21st century mentality, manipulating transnational financial interconnections, spinning global media, and reconfiguring geo-political alliances. Could it be that the West is the one caught up in the ‘old ways,’ while the Kremlin is the geopolitical avant-garde, informed by a dark, subversive reading of globalization?”

From the above quotes – the original Gerasimov article is much longer, as is the FP piece – it should be clear that nonlinear, or hybrid, war is an idea that incorporates into it the use and exploitation of both kinetic and non-kinetic means. The obvious lesson, especially given the reference to the Arab Spring as also the historical situation obtaining in Crimea and Ukraine, is that a state’s defence against this kind of war cannot be guaranteed by its military alone. How strong or weak a state is in the face of such a threat will depend on how internally strong and cohesive it is – or can be.

A state’s strength in such a situation is a function of political stability, economic prowess, diplomatic outreach and, consequent to these preconditions, military strength. In other words, military strength flows from non-military factors. This should clearly indicate that our national strategy to put military strength ahead of the very factors that can ensure and sustain it, has been a deeply flawed policy and has resulted in weakening rather than strengthening the state. Unfortunately, it also means that we are extremely vulnerable to the ravages of nonlinear or hybrid war.

The crucial problem is not this new way of fighting, though that proffers its own problems. The essential and deeply worrisome point is that we are completely unprepared for it. While the civilians have an uncanny realisation of it, without often understanding the ingredients of the problem, the military is still caught up in outmoded thinking. I call it the RCC (Ravi-Chenab Corridor) syndrome. Furthermore, the military remains afflicted with the thought that it can somehow act as an arbiter in a complex polity and its managerial skills are enough to advance the interests of this state. This thinking is reinforced at every level and blinds officers to the larger strategic picture that informs today’s world as also new ways of fighting wars.

That of course is a discussion with its own dimensions. For now it suffices to argue that nonlinear wars of 21st century are to be dealt with in a different way. This is a realisation that must reflect at all levels of training, beginning with the military academy. It also requires reconfiguration of the military in operational terms.

The 21st century wars will not just exploit military weaknesses. They will make use of a nation’s fault-lines. The non-kinetic means will act as force-multipliers for kinetic means. The sooner our civil and military planners understand this, the better prepared we will be for 21st century wars.
The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1997) and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. (2002-03). He is currently Editor, National Security Affairs, at a private TV channel and contributes to several publications.
Twitter: @ejazhaider

This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of Hilal, the Armed Forces’ Magazine.

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Alexis De Tocqueville

When we remember…that the French nation, excluded as it was from the conduct of its own affairs, lacking in political experience, shackled by ancient institutions and powerless to reform them — when we remember that this was the most literary-minded of all nations and intellectually quickest in the uptake, it is easy to understand why our authors became a power in the land and ended up as its political leaders.

In England writers on the theory of government and those who actually governed co-operated with each other, the former setting forth their new theories, the latter amending or circumscribing these in the light of practical experience. In France, however, precept and practice were kept quit distinct and remained in the hands of two quite independent groups. One of these carried on the actual administration while the other set forth the abstract principles on which good government should, they said, be based; one took the routine measures appropriate to the needs of the moment, the other propounded general laws without a thought for their practical application; one group shaped the course of public affairs, the other that of public opinion.

Thus alongside the traditional and confused, not to say chaotic, social system of the day there was gradually built up in men’s minds an imaginary ideal society in which all was simple, uniform, coherent, equitable, and rational in the full sense of the term. It was this vision of the perfect State that fired the imagination of the masses and little by little estranged them from the here-and-now. Turning away from the real world around them, they indulged in dreams of a far better one and ended up by living, spiritually, in the ideal world thought up by the writers.

The French Revolution has often been regarded as a consequence of the American and there is no denying that the latter had considerable influence on it. But it was due less to what actually took place in the United States than to ideas then prevalent in France. To the rest of Europe the American Revolution seemed merely a novel and remarkable historical event; whereas the French saw in it a brilliant confirmation of theories already familiar to them. Elsewhere it merely shocked and startled; for the French it was conclusive proof that they were in the right. Indeed, the Americans seemed only to be putting into practice ideas which had been sponsored by our writers, and to be making our dreams their realities… Never before had the entire political education of a great nation been the work of its men of letters and it was this peculiarity that perhaps did most to give the French Revolution its exceptional character and the regime that followed it the form we are familiar with.

Our men of letters did not merely impart their revolutionary ideas to the French nation; they also shaped the national temperament and outlook on life. In the long process of moulding men’s minds to their ideal pattern their task was all the easier since the French had had no training in the field of politics, and they thus had a clear field. The result was that our writers ended up by giving the Franchman the instincts, the turn of mind, the tastes, and even the eccentricities characteristic of the literary man. And when the time came for action, these literary propensities were imported into the political arena.

When we closely study the French Revolution we find that it was conducted in precisely the same spirit as that which gave rise to so many books expounding theories of government in the abstract. Our revolutionaries had the same fondness for broad generalisations, cut-and-dried legislative systems, and a pedantic symmetry; the same contempt for hard facts; the same taste for reshaping institutions on novel ingenious, original lines; the same desire to reconstruct the entire constitution according to the rules of logic and a preconceived system instead of trying to rectify its faulty parts. The result was nothing short of disastrous; for what is merit in the writer may well be a vice in the statesman and the very qualities which go to make great literature can lead to catastrophic revolutions.

Alexis de Tocqueville is arguably one of the greatest political thinkers of the 19th Century. This passage is taken from his book, “Old Regime and the French Revolution,” one of the most insightful accounts of that great event in history. Unfortunately, he could complete only the first section before his death. De Tocqueville brings to his study of the French Revolution the same sharpness of mind, observation and intellect that characterised his earlier work, “Democracy in America”. The translation is by Stuart Gilbert.

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State and nation-building: Imagination to reality


The basic unit of identity and analysis in today’s world is the nation-state. In its current incarnation, it’s not a very old concept. Some scholars trace it to the 1648 peace of Westphalia, a series of treaties that ended the Thirty Years War and the Eighty Years War between Spain and the Dutch Republic. Others trace the modern contours of the nation-state to the French Revolution (1789-99).

Be that as it may, the nation-state has emerged over the last three centuries as the concept that gives legitimacy to a collective.

Yet, it is a problematic concept. Scholars have — and continue to — debate what exactly constitutes a state, where it can be situated, what grants it its legitimacy, what makes it more powerful than the people that constitute it, why do states act in totalitarian and Orwellian ways, and so on.

Add to this the problem of the post-colonial state, an entity begot of independence from colonial rulers and often carved out in ways that destroyed the facts of geography, history and ethnic and other organic linkages, leading to bloody conflicts within and across states that have persisted and drawn much blood. Most post-colonial states can be better described as state-nations rather than nation-states, administrative units striving to build nations after having got the states. The experiment has failed at many places, with states imploding and giving birth to more states, arguably more organic than the previous incarnations.

Pakistan went through this experience in 1971, internal troubles leading to external aggression resulting in a politico-military defeat and the secession of its eastern wing. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, which itself split into 15 new states, there has been much upheaval in the Balkans, ranging from bloody internal wars in former Yugoslavia to the velvet divorce in former Czechoslovakia.

However, despite the ease with which the concept can be problematized, both conceptually and empirically the state remains the basic unit of analysis and legitimacy. The rise of trans- and multi-nationals, civil society actors, NGOs, and other global entities that cut across state boundaries have begun to play a much bigger role but remain, in the end, subservient to the states and their laws. In fact, even as globalization has caused greater integration, the changing nature of threats from non-state actors has forced the states into enacting laws that cut into civil liberties and tend to keep the aliens out through enhanced scrutiny. The paradox is that this segregation and building of legal walls is owed to the integration made possible by globalization and the communication revolution.

States still indoctrinate. They retain the monopoly of violence. They are crucial to the identity of every individual. They give passports and grant visas. They have national anthems, their versions of history, the idea of sovereignty, the concept of nationhood, one being distinct from the other. Everyone outside the in-group is the ‘other’ and a potential enemy. People fight for their states, they kill and get killed. The morality of the states is not judged by the benchmarks on which we judge individual morality. Like Luigi in Italo Calvino’s short story, Conscience, we get medals for killing enemies in a war. But just like Luigi, if we were to go and kill Alberto, a personal enemy, we are caught and hanged to death. Somehow, killing for the state is more acceptable than killing for personal reasons. One gets us medals, the other is termed murder.

That said, the state is just an imagined community. It is neither biological, nor organic. And once we have it, we get down to creating a nation around it through what the French scholar, Ernest Renan, called ‘selective amnesia’ by which term he meant that the narrative must be controlled in ways that allow highlighting certain aspects and forgetting others.

During the years that I lectured at the Command and Staff College and when I speak at the National Defence University, I flag the point that the entity for which we are prepared to lay down our lives exists only in our imagination. It’s a provocative point for sure, especially when made before officers who have taken an oath to defend the motherland, another term used to invoke powerful imagery of defending the mother’s honour. But it’s an important point. The two armies that have fought wars since 1947 were once one army. In 1947-48, as well as in 1965, the two sides facing each other were often commanded by former comrades-in-arms. It’s a lesser-known fact that when Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinlek realized that Partition was inevitable, he made a last ditch attempt to propose that the British Indian Army must not be divided. It was too late and his proposal, under the circumstances, was too impractical but it does show how the British looked at the army they had created and which, to wit, on both sides, remains the most organized and coherent organization.

Sixty-seven years ago, this month, Pakistan came into being. Sixty-seven years down the line, while we have travelled a long distance from the ragtag state we inherited, we have also lost on many fronts. The first shock was 1971. Even today, trouble simmers in parts of Balochistan, some sections of Sindhis and Seraikis and up north in Gilgit-Baltistan. It is not enough to say that these elements do not matter or that they are a minority. What is important to note is the point, proven once again, that states are imagined. Their reality lies in the strength of that imagination. And the strength of that imagination and the pride one takes in it is about state-society relations. It is neither about the strength of a state’s army nor its arsenal: it is about legitimacy.

As I once wrote elsewhere: “States, ultimately, are as strong or brittle as their acceptance by the people that make them up. Nazih Ayubi’s thesis comes to mind, distinguishing between ‘hard’ and ‘strong’ states. Ayubi argued that the authoritarian Arab states had little ability to control populations, trends and changes which is why they could not enforce laws and break traditional structures. The hard state coerces; the strong state achieves its goals because it is accepted by its people. By this definition, the Arab states were/are weak states.”

We will be celebrating the birth of Pakistan this month, as we should. But equally, we must remember that ceremonies alone do not keep a state together. Nor do national songs and speeches bristling with literary flourish. Nation building in some ways is the same as training for combat. The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war. The more you invest in appreciating the complex, hard work required by political aggregation the less likely will it be for people to challenge the legitimacy of the state.

This article was originally published in the August issue of Hilal, the Armed Forces’ magazine.

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