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July 17, 2018
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The 2018 elections as a 5GW battlefield

Opinion

July 17, 2018

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To understand the depth of the wounds from the Peshawar assassination of Shaheed Haroon Bilour, the Bannu attack on Akram Durrani and the horrific massacre in Mastung targeting Shaheed Sajid Raisani, we have to try to understand the kind of war the Pakistan Army believes it is fighting. These attacks are seen by Pakistani strategists as part of a fifth generation war (5GW) being imposed on Pakistan.

How did we get to 5GW? We have to start with fourth generation war (4GW). In the most laywoman terms possible, 4GW was the evolution of war in which large formal structures like armies are forced to contend with smaller, more agile, decentralised and non-state or quasi-state tormentors. America was awoken to fourth generation warfare by the September 11, 2001 attacks. How ready was the US for the Al-Qaeda? In the December 2001 issue of The Atlantic, Jason Vest describes Franklin Spinney’s critique of the US war machine as suffering from “static thinking, poor financial oversight, weapons-procurement bloat, and a personnel system that accentuates careerism over training”. The same may have been said about the Pakistan Army under General Pervez Musharraf.

With the ascent of General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan’s war machine modernised rapidly. Beyond the political and institutional arguments against his extension (arguments that I myself made at the time), there are those that argued that his six-year tenure as chief was essential because he was the architect of the modern Pakistani army. If Musharraf was the scoundrel that dragged Pakistan back by a quarter century, through Kargil and after, Kayani was the one that secured its release from the clutches of that history. As chief, Gen Kayani modernised the internal operations of the armed forces, and prepared it to be able to fight (and win) the 4GW imposed on Pakistan – from east and west, from inside and out.

General Raheel Sharif was the beneficiary of two great wonders of happenstance. The first was that he succeeded General Kayani. Pakistan’s military had never been a more war-ready machine than it was by the end of 2013. The second was that his boss was Nawaz Sharif. Lazy and arrogant democrats make for sitting ducks when dealing with an army ready for war. PM Sharif had several months to take the bull by the horn and declare war on the Tehreek-e-Taliban. But even as the entire nation awaited a declaration of war towards the end of January 2014, he avoided making a decision – outsourcing the work to a committee.

That crucial decision in early 2014 helped shape the complete overhaul of the army’s public image, and freed General Raheel Sharif from any kind of meaningful civilian supremacy. The launch of Zarb-e-Azb that summer was more than the beginning of one of the only 4GW victories on the planet. It also established a wholly new dimension to the civil-military divide in Pakistan.

When the APS attack in Peshawar took place, the prosecution of this 4GW was well underway. The national response to the APS tragedy fast tracked key developments in the war, including the acquiescence of the legislative and judicial pillars of the state. The results have been far from perfect, but nevertheless hailed as remarkable. From December 2007 till the APS attack, terrorism had become the norm. Since December 2014 they have become the exception. Perhaps unlike any other country on the planet, Pakistan’s soldiers and spies have delivered a 4GW victory.

A year after the APS attack, as we closed the books on the year 2015, Pakistanis had legitimate cause for optimism. Low oil prices, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the most peaceful era the country had since the turn of the century represented a cocktail on which dreams of decades of uninterrupted and unadulterated national growth – economic and otherwise – could be built. Sadly, Pakistan’s enemies were paying attention.

The first half of 2016 was a glimpse into the complexities of a society upon which fifth generation warfare (5GW) is being imposed. What is 5GW? It is the evolution of war into a metastasized and bastardised version of conflict in which the enemy takes no prisoners, and attempts to destroy everything. How? By creating chaos and ensuring that nobody knows who the enemy is at any given time. If you are in a war and you are not quite sure of who the enemy is, then what do you do? You assume the worst. Everyone is the enemy.

Think Syria. How many different patrons has Jabhat al Nusra had? Who are they? How many different actors have linkages with Turkey? What are those linkages? Why are uniformed, serving officers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps in Damascus? Who is friend and who is foe? When anyone could be anything, everyone is the enemy. Welcome to 5GW.

Examine any key juncture in Pakistani history, and you will find India standing there, awaiting an opportunity to malign, damage and hurt Pakistan. Pakistan’s 4GW success at beating back a multi-headed hydra of terrorists in Swat, Waziristan, Balochistan and Karachi only served to provoke a strategic upping of the game. Enter India.

First came the arrest of Kulbushan Jhadav, a serving Indian Navy officer who had been financing and planning terrorism in Pakistan. Jhadav’s arrest confirmed the Indian hand behind the trail of terrorist destruction in the minds of an entire generation of Pakistani soldiers and spies. A month later, in April 2016 the Panama Papers drove a truck bomb into Pakistan’s domestic politics, causing an almighty guilty panic within the Sharif family, whetting the appetite of anti-Sharif elements across state and society, and no doubt distracting at least some, if not many Pakistani 5GW strategists.

Sensing an historic opportunity to dismantle the progress Pakistan had made since June 2014, India’s strategists kicked it up a gear. On August 15, 2016 Narendra Modi went on an Independence Day tirade about India’s support for Baloch terrorists from the historic venue of New Delhi’s Red Fort. A month later, an alleged terrorist attack that is widely reported to have resembled a case of arson, took place at Uri, in Kashmir. India blamed this on Pakistan, ensuring that any window of opportunity to dial down the temperature at the UNGA later that week would be firmly closed. Never one to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, Pakistan responded with a blistering speech at the UNGA in which PM Sharif spoke glowingly of Burhan Wani, the young Kashmiri activist assassinated earlier that summer by India’s occupying forces in Kashmir.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif and her clique in the PML-N spent 2017 dismantling her father’s hard-built political empire by framing the Panama Papers crisis as a political battle against the military. This was the same military that was dealing with a transition from a 4GW war it was winning to a 5GW that demanded national coherence to win – a coherence made impossible by the Panama Papers, and the Noonie response to it. To boot, this was a military that was now being led by General Qamar Javed Bajwa – an officer with a demonstrable record as a democrat. A record that the PML-N media cell itself had been propagating upon his appointment in November 2016.

Now Maryam Sharif is in jail. The Bilour family is in mourning once again. The blood of Pakistanis in Peshawar, Bannu and Mastung has yet to begin drying.

Ten days to go till the election.

The chief justice, superior judiciary, chief of army staff and the corps commanders have difficult jobs, and Pakistan’s unique circumstances place an unenviable burden on them. But they are now the guardians and stewards of a safe, free, fair and credible 2018 election. Despite the unnecessary attempts to suppress dissent and disrupt the PML-N, it is not too late.

A controversial election day will be an enormous setback for Pakistan in the fifth generation war being imposed on it. No matter who loses the election, Pakistan must win on July 25. Pakistan cannot win unless the conduct of Returning Officers and their counterparts in the military that are deployed at each polling station is beyond reproach. No matter the provocations from angry activists, a cantankerous press and politicians with little to lose, the system must deliver a demonstrably smooth and fair election day process to this country. Anything less will play into the enemy’s hands.

The writer is an analyst and commentator.

www.mosharrafzaidi.com

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