Wednesday, April 15, 2009

View from the other side

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.

11 comments:

mathew said...

hmm...actually i feel quite empathic with the sensible people in Pakistan...might sound unpopular but I believe that the average pakistani is just like us who value civil rights..freedom of expression and such basics..I would support any progressive movement in Pakistan that tries to break itself from the shackles of radicalism...atleast glad to know that this article got published on the other side of the border..that itself gives some hope!!

Anonymous said...

mathew, there was an OpEd recently discussing this viewpoint: http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=4e661b6b-ca91-43f6-8153-e927ad151c76

silverine, sorry about the cross conversation.

Amal Bose said...

quite touching letter.. i think it will have a good effect on Gen Kayani. It should. i feel sorry for the people of Pakistan who are no different that you and me. this can come to an end only if both India and Pakistan join hands in this fight. i really look forward for that day.

Soviet Capitalist said...

"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."
Couldn't stop laughing....

silverine said...

mathew and Amal: What I wanted to say has been so eloquently said by Vir Sanghvi in the article linked by the Anon at 2:11 pm.

Anon@ 2:11 pm: Thanks for the link. I have read similar views and quite agree with it.

Anon@ 2:40 pm: I don't see anything funny in it.

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

I don't expect the letter to have any effect.
Anyway, what really caught my attention is this:
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?Really? Col. Puri must not be up to date! At the rate at which the West is handing out bail-outs and development funds and loans to Pakistan, in 6 months I expect it will be the richest nation in the world and Taliban the most powerful "Army" in the world! :|

~==[[[ Abhi ]]]==~ said...

It is indeed a touching letter, but then i don't feel that the proper response would be coming from across the border. All i feel is that Paki's maybe ordinary people like us, having the same feelings and same needs, but those at the head of the government and the Army never show that compassion in their actions. Else we would never have had a Kargil war where they failed to take back even the dead bodies of slain Paki soldiers dressed up as Mujahiddien. So the point being that its totally useless unless the changes happen from the otherside as well.

But as Mathew said its a a great opening that this letter DID get published in the Paki paper :). Good find

joshmatters said...

sir, there is a realization that the pakis are going down the same grave they dug for others. The tragedy with pakis is that they donot have a vission for their nation. The broke away from india on the basis of religion.but they are not totally islamic as far the functioning of the govt is concerned.they are not democratic ( otherwise your letter would be addressed to the prime minster and not to the genral saab)and certainly not modarate( if they were the incidents in SWAT woulnt have happend). Its for the people and leadership of pakistan to decide the fate of their mother land. And from our behalf we wish them "ALL THE BEST".

Anonymous said...

Mathew,
Definitely agree with you. Balance from what media and leaders feed us, is the need of the future.

I think India needs to do a lot of rethinking about how it has acted towards Pakistan in general. There were some rightful steps that India took in the past, and some wrong moves.

Likewise, Pakistan needs to rethink its total behaviour about India.

On the other hand, both countries need to stop making pawns out of the people. So many millions have died not because those millions had issues, but because a handful had. Again, so many millions of lives have been ruined over the last 60 years, because leaders of both countries played with the common persons' lives, while their own children lived well and became heirs.

The losses of conflicts between nations, are paid by civilians who had little say in the actions of either.

-kajan

silverine said...

Karthik: "At the rate at which the West is handing out bail-outs and development funds and loans to Pakistan, in 6 months I expect it will be the richest nation in the world and Taliban the most powerful "Army" in the world!" That just about sums up the whole sordid situation!

Abhi: If the Paki people had the same need as us I am sure we would be friends by now.

Joshmatters: Well said!

meera said...

i agree with what abhi says
"It is indeed a touching letter, but then i don't feel that the proper response would be coming from across the border"..

i wonder how many average pakis would like to be friends with us!i would rather have them mind their own business and let us live in peace.but then thats not the case..