Gen Kayani’s statement protesting the assault on the morale and reputation of Pakistan’s armed forces is a good move. But let us not kid ourselves. It’s too little, too late, and lacks legal punch.
Attacks on our military from inside and outside the country have become a thriving business since 2007. The inability of the state and the military to defend themselves is a matter of deep concern, not only for our soldiers but also for the majority of patriotic Pakistanis. Blunt denigration of our military by domestic actors shot through the roof in this five-year period. Strangely, this unprecedented domestic military-bashing overlapped with a similar campaign originating in the United States against the Pakistani army and the ISI. There is little evidence that a statement from the army chief would end the domestic part of the campaign, although there are signs the American-led external campaign has waned to some extent, but hasn’t ended.
The military in Pakistan is an easy target. Several examples can be quoted within Pakistan. The get-ISI campaign doesn’t end with politically-motivated attacks. The Afghanistan-based BLA accused the ISI of jailing 6,000 Pakistani Baloch women. The group kidnapped a UN official from Quetta in 2009 and said it would exchange them for the Baloch women. Fortunately, the kidnapped UN official turned out to be an American citizen and the involvement of the US government in the probe proved conclusively there was not a single Pakistani Baloch woman in any jail across Pakistan, and there were no missing-person cases registered for any Baloch woman.
A different kind of attack on the Pakistani military emerged in 2010 when a British extremist group was found trying to recruit senior Pakistani officers. The group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, is a British-origin and -licensed religious extremist group. It uses gullible British Muslims to make inroads into countries in the Middle East and Central Asia. Saudi and Egyptian intelligence established the group’s links to British intelligence back in the 1990s, and this led to some tense moments in Riyadh’s and Cairo’s relationship with London. The British group no longer operates in those countries. After 9/11, it apparently shifted operations to Pakistan and Central Asia. Unlike Cairo and Riyadh, Islamabad is yet to ask London to restrain British extremists.
The anti-military bias was also apparent in the case of retired general Javed Ashraf Qazi. Almost all the media reports highlighted the remark and conveniently omitted the remarks made by the two unknown reporters.
Since 2007, the government and the military have allowed extreme forms of anti-military slander to pass as freedom of expression. American media commentaries abusing our military and levelling charges without evidence were reproduced by the media without objection from Pemra or the ISPR. As elections approach, some politicians will find it easier to make anti-military statements than answer voter questions about governance issues. We are also hearing rumours that some political parties and foreign media organisations are preparing for another round of military-bashing on the occasion of the release of the findings of the judicial commission into the American military incursion in Abbottabad.
If the government and the military are serious in containing military-bashing that is demoralising our soldiers, they should start taking legal action against those who float conspiracy theories assailing the reputation of the Pakistani military. Islamabad should also put a check on foreign meddling in our media where commentators have been recruited to promote a certain agenda serving foreign strategic purposes, including demonisation of our military.
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