An open letter to Gen Kayani by Col Harish Puri (Retd)
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Dear Gen Kayani,
Sir, let me begin by recounting that old army quip that did the rounds in the immediate aftermath of World war II: To guarantee victory, an army should ideally have German generals, British officers, Indian soldiers, American equipment and Italian enemies.
A Pakistani soldier that I met in Iraq in 2004 lamented the fact that the Pakistani soldier in Kargil had been badly let down firstly by Nawaz Sharif and then by the Pakistani officers' cadre. Pakistani soldiers led by Indian officers, , he believed, would be the most fearsome combination possible. Pakistani officers, he went on to say, were more into real estate, defence housing colonies and the like.
As I look at two photographs of surrender that lie before me, I can't help recalling his words. The first is the celebrated event at Dhaka on Dec 16, 1971, which now adorns most Army messes in Delhi and Calcutta. The second, sir, is the video of a teenage girl being flogged by the Taliban in Swat -- not far, I am sure, from one of your Army check posts.
The surrender by any Army is always a sad and humiliating event. Gen Niazi surrendered in Dhaka to a professional army that had outnumbered and outfought him. No Pakistani has been able to get over that humiliation, and 16th December is remembered as a black day by the Pakistani Army and the Pakistani state. But battles are won and lost – armies know this, and having learnt their lessons, they move on.
But much more sadly, the video of the teenager being flogged represents an even more abject surrender by the Pakistani Army. The surrender in 1971, though humiliating, was not disgraceful. This time around, sir, what happened on your watch was something no Army commander should have to live through. The girl could have been your own daughter, or mine.
I have always maintained that the Pakistani Army, like its Indian counterpart, is a thoroughly professional outfit. It has fought valiantly in the three wars against India, and also accredited itself well in its UN missions abroad. It is, therefore, by no means a pushover. The instance of an Infantry unit, led by a lieutenant colonel, meekly laying down arms before 20-odd militants should have been an aberration. But this capitulation in Swat, that too so soon after your own visit to the area, is an assault on the sensibilities of any soldier. What did you tell your soldiers? What great inspirational speech did you make that made your troops back off without a murmur? Sir, I have fought insurgency in Kashmir as well as the North-East, but despite the occasional losses suffered (as is bound to be the case in counter-insurgency operations), such total surrender is unthinkable.
I have been a signaller, and it beats me how my counterparts in your Signal Corps could not locate or even jam a normal FM radio station broadcasting on a fixed frequency at fixed timings. Is there more than meets the eye?
I am told that it is difficult for your troops to "fight their own people." But you never had that problem in East Pakistan in 1971, where the atrocities committed by your own troops are well documented in the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report. Or is it that the Bengalis were never considered "your own" people, influenced as they were by the Hindus across the border? Or is that your troops are terrified by the ruthless barbarians of the Taliban?
Sir, it is imperative that we recognise our enemy without any delay. I use the word "our" advisedly – for the Taliban threat is not far from India's borders. And the only force that can stop them from dragging Pakistan back into the Stone Age is the force that you command. In this historic moment, providence has placed a tremendous responsibility in your hands. Indeed, the fate of your nation, the future of humankind in the subcontinent rests with you. It doesn't matter if it is "my war" or "your war" – it is a war that has to be won. A desperate Swati citizen's desperate lament says it all – "Please drop an atom bomb on us and put us out of our misery!" Do not fail him, sir.
But in the gloom and the ignominy, the average Pakistani citizen has shown us that there is hope yet. The lawyers, the media, have all refused to buckle even under direct threats. It took the Taliban no less than 32 bullets to still the voice of a brave journalist. Yes, there is hope – but why don't we hear the same language from you? Look to these brave hearts, sir – and maybe we shall see the tide turn. Our prayers are with you, and the hapless people of Swat.
The New York Times predicts that Pakistan will collapse in six months. Do you want to go down in history as the man who allowed that to happen?
The writer is a retired colonel of the Indian army who lives in Pune.