People of Pakistan in general and of tribal belt in particular are concerned about escalation in drone strikes but the Fata people are equally concerned, rather angry over escalation in bombings by Pakistan Air Force jets and armed forces’ gunship helicopters that have been resulting in considerable collateral damage.
The situation is quite dilemmatic that can be likened to a ‘Devil and the Deep Sea’ situation, the country’s security apparatus being left with no choice other than taking action against the hard-nosed anti-state militants, though with a heavy heart, since it is their conviction that the armed services of a country are duty-bound to protect their people and are not supposed to launch offensives and operations against them.
The senior and middle-tier functionaries of our military establishment have, at times, fully asserted and even given statements like this while talking to this scribe: “intrinsically duty-bound to protect the people of Pakistan without yielding to any political or external powers’ (read American) pressure”. The forces’ seniors in particular take pride in their non-aligned composition, unlike our political class.
These have been rare moments, both for the media and the military in the history of ties between the two institutions i.e having met two commanders of one of the most pivotal-if not sensitive-11 Corps, Peshawar and one of our renowned spymasters during their incumbency in office. This scribe’s tete-a-tetes with former 11 Corps Commander, Lt Gen (R) Asif Yasin, now Secretary Defence and his successor, the present Corps Commander, Peshawar, Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani, have been brief but, given these military bigwigs’ love for glasnost, the business of reading the minds (and mindsets) became yet easier for this scribe after applying the journalistic insight developed over myriad interactions with all kinds of ins and outs, ups and downs (avoiding the fiery terms trickeries and vagaries).
Of course, it came as a surprise that is the glasnost or openness with a touch of broadmindedness as if both the generals believed in ‘open arm policy’ for the civilians (media, in fact) despite being confronted with insurmountable challenges typical of the region under their command.
No public relationing for the generals is intended. The narrations contained herein are, in fact, being relied upon to explain the actual state of media-military relations as adjudged from a ‘point-blank’ range through these interactions. Also in special focus is media’s empowerment that is now at its peak, as acknowledged to the fullest extent within our armed structures that used to be labeled ‘structures behind the iron curtain’ till the recent past.
How should the media take this ‘transformation’ of the recent times?
The media, many now opine, should take it wholeheartedly even though the respect coming the media’s way in the eyes of the powers that be, owes much to the media’s own incessant, sustained struggle.
Nevertheless, it always takes two to tango and ‘respect lies in the eyes of the respecter’, as well. So, the media should reciprocate the respect given to it by the state institutions especially the armed services of Pakistan.
During more or less the same period, discussions at length also took place with a number of stakeholders of different shades of opinion including some people based in the same area and who had done in-depth study of the currents and undercurrents beneath the war on terror, media exposures and overall conduct of public and that of the rank and file of the armed forces. Very frankly, most of these stakeholders spoke well about the “sunlight exposure” (sic) undertaken with determination and unflinching resolve by the media of Pakistan. This appreciation was indeed heartening to note especially the realization and recognition in the establishment circles that national media is now well-informed and mature enough not only to highlight the flaws in the system but also capable of proffering advices and concrete suggestions that were given serious pondering in policy-making systems including the defence systems though a few reservations were also expressed over the ignorance of a few media persons (anchorpersons in particular) on two serious issues, one that of the trumpeted full-scale, impending operation in Waziristan and the other that of miscalculations about Predator (drone) attacks’ collateral damage.
Still, the overall view about media in the security establishment is good and that is indeed a plus point for the media but, at the same time, it means yet another challenge to the media to steer the country out of the mess that has eaten into the vitals of our dynamic and peace-loving society.
Coming to the point of miscalculations by some media persons, the phrase ‘Devil and the Deep Sea’ is used repeatedly. The armed forces people say that theirs will be the last organ of the state to launch operations against any segment of the people of Pakistan. And, in this conviction they were neither guided nor pushed by the United States of America, ISAF or UN. They have an altogether independent policy on this issue. The rationale given by armed services seniors is that the forces of any country are intrinsically duty-bound to protect the people and not to act against them or treat them like adversaries.
This is rather like a well-nurtured value and a virtue within Pakistan’s security establishment but when some people rise in arms not only against the state system but also against innocent, harmless and unarmed non-combatants from amongst the ordinary citizens of Pakistan, limited options are left behind. Hence the paradigm shift in military doctrine with focus now on internal security.
However, if the armed forces make use of force to ensure internal security and stability, with their existing equipments, PAF jets, helicopter gunships and guns, the collateral damage is massive and spread in miles and no such military equipment has so far been invented that could ensure minimum or nil collateral damage or loss of civilian lives in the vicinity of operations’ areas.
The drones, however, cause almost no collateral damage, given their precision technology and state-of-the-art system of targeting only a specific person, hideout or a limited space. That is a different thing if the targets are not chosen judiciously or if the humint (human
intelligence) is mixed with malicious intent.
Taking cue from these interactions and discussions with different stakeholders, ‘The News’ extended the study and learned that civilian casualties in the aftermath of use of routine equipments have been far greater than those caused by drone strikes, though rarely reported.
The armed forces’ authorities are worried about this aspect and they also don’t want the drone strikes anymore, at least in the sovereignty perspective.
They, however, seriously want an end to conflicts and war for which the political forces, media and the civil society, have a crucial role to play.
One of the armed forces’ seniors even went to extent of saying an entirely different thing that might appear odd to people used to viewing the armed forces only and only as a vehicle of war. The functionary stated the devastation caused by the war is known more to a soldier than a politician or a war-preaching guru, placed far away from the war theatre.