Saudi Arabia’s announcement of a new 34-nation Islamic military alliance was greeted with cheers by many, and confusion by others. For many Muslims, the idea of a grand alliance of Islamic countries was a dream come true, forgetting the sad reality that the Ummah is deeply divided over sectarian and political issues, many of the divisions being made worse by Saudi Arabia, not better. In Islamabad, confusion had once again taken hold as Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry expressed surprise about the announcement saying the first he heard of Pakistan’s joining the alliance was in the news.
Some wondered if this was another case of GHQ making a decision and forgetting to deliver the script to the civilians on time. Unsurprisingly, it looks like that analysis might be spot on.
Senior officials at the foreign ministry initially expressed surprise at Pakistan being included in the new group, and said that Riyadh had not taken Islamabad on board. But subsequent developments revealed that Saudi Arabia had been given a secret commitment regarding joining the alliance, about which the Foreign Office was not aware.
There were speculations about who had given that assurance.
The military had started in October a new phase in the bilateral defence relationship by training Saudi special forces personnel in countering terrorism. Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif visited Saudi Arabia after the special exercises for discussions on counter-terrorism efforts.
Today the Foreign Office has confirmed Pakistan’s commitment to Saudi Arabia’s new military alliance, however explains that officials are still “awaiting further details to decide the extent of its participation in different activities of the alliance”. It was not clarified whether they are awaiting these details from Riyadh or Rawalpindi. For all the confusion, one thing seems clear: Important decisions are appearing to be made outside the constitutional channels. As long as this continues, don’t expect the ‘coup’ question to disappear.
A high level defence delegation led by Lt. Gen (Retd) Muhammad Alam Khattak has headed to Washington to attend the 24th Meeting of Pakistan-US Defence Consultative Group. The Pakistani delegation has a clear brief: Ask for more money.
Pakistan side will stress for a way forward on issues related to Coalition Support Fund, its reimbursement continuation and enhancement. It remains high on agenda that Pakistan requires security equipment for capacity building and counter-terrorism operations.
Pakistan is in the front line on the war against terrorists. We have sacrificed more than any other nation and operation Zarb-e-Azb has also done more to break the backbone of terrorists than any other operation. None of this is denied. Still there need to be some questions asked about where all the billions are going. In the case of the military budget, the question does not always have a pleasing answer.
Auditor General of Pakistan has found over Rs5 BILLION in funds embezzled from defense budget in one year alone. Earlier this year Defence Ministry admitted that 81 officials were found guilty of embezzeling Rs1.53 billion from accounts of the Military Engineering Services (MES). Almost none of these funds could be recovered.
These are only two incidents that have been reported. Other reports suggest the problem may be much larger such as how former Chief of Army Staff and military dictator Gen Mushasrraf became a billionaire? Who knows how much has been stolen from defence funds?
Being the richest country in the world, America may not think much about billions going missing, but without proper accounting and accountability for these funds they could be funding the corruption that is destroying the nation’s economy.
Despite State Bank of Pakistan’s rosy portrait of the national economy, there are difficult questions about whether the positive report is more spin than substance. If most of the country is suffering economically, though, at least one economic sector seems to be doing quite well: the military.
PPP may have faded in recent polls, but party co-Chairman Asif Zardari brought the party firmly back into the spotlight with a fiery speech that lashed out at the security establishment for overstepping its domain. If Zardari’s rhetoric was over the top, it has been outdone by hyperventilating media responses terming the speech as ‘declaring war on the military‘. I think a reality check is needed. Ejaz Haider noted that, with the current Rangers operations expanding in Sindh, “Zardari finds himself in a bind. He could act meek or throw down the gauntlet”. Zardari is many things, but “meek” is not one of his better known traits. Even though, he spent five years as President taking all manner of attacks against his party and himself. Only now is he really lashing out. Whether or not this is a wise political strategy only time will tell, but underestimating the PPP co-Chairman has never been a good bet. This time may be no different.
Pakistan Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman announced that operation Zarb-e-Azb has ‘backbone of terrorists‘. It is a welcome announcement and one that I pray is true. But forgive me if I greet this declaration of victory with some sense of sceptism. You see, I have heard it before. Several times, actually.
In August of last year, military officials declared that operation Zarb-e-Azb had ‘crippled‘ command and control system of TTP. A few days later, the ‘crippled’ Taliban carried out audacious attacks on Samungli and Khalid airbases.
Next month, DG ISPR Major General Asim Bajwa announced that due to operation Zarb-e-Azb, Taliban capacity to carry out terrorist attacks had been neutralised. Unfortunately, his announcement proved to be premature as it was soon followed by the suicide bomb attack at Wagah border crossing.
PM Nawaz waited a few weeks before echoing ISPR’s line and announced that Zarb-e-Azb had dealt a ‘fatal blow’ to terrorists in December, only to have his statement followed almost immediately by the barbaric attack against APS Peshawar.
Each time the military declares victory against terrorists, the terrorists carry out a brazen attack. This has serious and damaging consequences not only to the credibility of the Army but to the national psyche as well. By making declarations that are not in line with reality, Army leadership not only makes people doubt what they are saying, but what they are doing also.
I hope that this time the military is telling the truth, and that operations against terrorists have finally been dealt a fatal blow. But forgive me if my hopes are tempered with an abundance of caution, as it is a story I have heard before.