T he operational capability of the Pakistan Army in the face of Taliban challenges in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has much to do with the command authority of its officer cadre. But judging from recent events and the perception of the integrity of the officer cadre, especially at senior levels, the Pakistan Army fails to encourage confidence in its abilities to effectively combat the Taliban.
The consistently unstable political scenario in Pakistan has led to a perceived need among senior army officers to plan a financial exit strategy in case they fall out of favor due to the typical unpredictability of power equations in Pakistan. As a result, senior officers are busy planning on making their pile, garnering assets and going into business for themselves.
The dominance of the military in public affairs has also enabled these senior officers to dip their hands in the till with barely any accountability. Examples of this are the Corps Commanders in Lahore and Karachi being Chairmen of the respective Defense Housing Authorities. President Musharraf too promoted many officers to three-star rank, but with barely any brief. This has allowed them to display their rank and help themselves. The US, UK, Dubai and now increasingly Canada have become favored destinations for generals to retire to with their wealth. During the time of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, many senior officers of the army and the ISI cashed in on the drug trade and diverted money from the aid given by the US.
All of this has led to the senior leadership of the army ignoring operational matters, having become effete, ineffective and even unprofessional, leading to poor supervision of army units.
In Pakistan, the army is seen to be the only place where one can get ahead, without being a member of a feudal, political, business or even army family. Naturally, this results in the recruitment of officers who are motivated by the power, influence and money-making opportunities that the army offers. Significantly, neither the children of Zia-ul-Haq nor Pervez Musharraf joined the army. Integrity issues became an especially acute problem under the Musharraf dispensation, which allowed senior officers a virtual free hand without question to divert funds to themselves. But General Kayani’s leadership is seen to be little better.
There are also divisions in the Pakistan Army. First, there is the religious-liberal divide. Under General’s Zia’s rule, the recruitment of radically indoctrinated Islamists was encouraged into the officer cadre. It is only recently that every colonel’s ACR (Annual Confidential Report) now has a section indicating whether the officer is radicalized. This process is now being followed to identify religiously-radicalized officers, weed them out and prevent their promotion to the rank of Brigadier.
Another divide in the army is ethnic. The Punjabi-officer dominated Pakistan Army has faced desertions and mutiny recently in the frontier regions. Troops of three brigades in Parachinar, Kohat and Turbat (Two in NWFP and one in Balochistan) mutinied resulting in the killing of seven army personnel. The mutineers were reportedly refusing to follow orders directing them on patrol with some later taken into custody. These mutinies are a result of the mixed religious-liberal and Punjabi-Pathan divides in the army.
There are also other recurring incidents of impropriety. Pakistan does not have simulators for its pilots in the Combat Aviation Group. Consequently, the pilots are sent to Germany and the US (Austin, Texas) for training. There have been several incidents where the officers have been found drunk and consorting with prostitutes.
Two years back, officers of the 8 Division and 15 Division at Sialkot under 30 Corps were found running a wife-swapping ring, events of which were filmed. CDs of these films were then doing the circuit.
The Pakistan Army has had three main expectations from the US. Firstly, movement on Kashmir, to which the US has said it cannot force any country to conduct a dialogue. Secondly, a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul. The US has pointed out this will depend on the Afghan elections to be held in a few months. The US has also pointed out the currently pro-US character of the government in Kabul and asked the Pakistanis, “What more do you want?”
The third expectation from the US is of aid, in obscene amounts. It is no secret that the aid the US had given Pakistan since 2001 has been either diverted towards military resource building against India or into the pockets of senior Pakistan Army officers. This has resulted in lack of training and resources for the Pakistan Army to combat the Taliban. The army’s operations against the Taliban have so far been indiscriminate and resulted in a huge refugee problem, a problem the US is now trying to aid, to minimize and keep a lid on the escalating resentment of the refugees.
The army operations conducted with the use of fighter aircraft, artillery and helicopter gunships has resulted in turmoil and alienation of the people. This loss of trust of the people has led to doubts as to the larger effect of the operations on the existence of the Pakistani state.