In twenty years time when even the last remnants of terrorism are but a distant memory for Pakistanis, when Gwadar rises to be a shining city of modernity and one of the focal points of both trade and tourism in Asia, when CPEC is a multi-cylinder engine driving prosperity from Lahore to Karachi and when economic growth becomes consistent and sustainable throughout the country – people throughout Pakistan will know that this much is true: without the protection of one of the most professional, dedicated and patriotic Armies in the world, there would be no such place as Pakistan.
While a Pakistan that sounds like a giant Singapore with Islamic characteristics might seem like a tall order in terms of forecasting such positive changes over the country’s next 20 years of development, one must remember that even ten or fifteen years ago, few could imagine that the Pakistan of 2019 would be a place where peace is the rule and instability is the exception, where orderly political transitions can be conducted with confidence and without dynastic parties ruling the day, a place where Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is province of renewal rather than a ground zero of horror and a place where an unpredictable US President criticises Pakistan one month and then effectively begs its Prime Minister for assistance in Afghanistan the next.
The Pakistan of today is very different than the Pakistan of 2009 and it is the Army that has largely made the difference as in 2009, political institutions of the country were weakened by internal chaos whilst even Swiss style political efficiency would have required an armed forces and intelligence service of supreme commitment to a fight against a wave of terrorism in a battle that to many, seemed to be unwinnable to at the time.
The history of armies leading countries out of dark periods and into those of renewal is well established throughout modern history. At a time when modern Turkey was threatened with western directed colonialism on all sides after 1918, it was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Turkish National Movement that reclaimed Turkey’s dignity and helped to form the modern Republic of Turkey. As it was Atatürk’s army that helped to create the modern state, so too did the army play a major role in shaping Turkey’s politics until very recent years when it became clear that the civilian government had sufficiently modernised itself and was up to the important task of overseeing stable governance. Yet few in the west nor in Asia have insulted the historic role of Turkey’s army in the way that they have done in respect of Pakistan.
In many ways, Pakistan’s 21st century war against a multitude of terror groups has been even more harrowing than the Turkish War of Independence. While for decades India had sponsored terror groups aiming to sever Pakistan’s national unity whilst no Afghan government has ever recognised Pakistan’s internationally acknowledged border along the Durand Line, it was the unleashing of George W. Bush’s “war on terror” that for Pakistan became a war for survival as extremist groups supported by Pakistan’s regional enemies swarmed across the border causing havoc throughout the country, but particularly in the north-west.
While America’s misguided war on Afghanistan after 2001 was supposed to be a war to avenge the 9/11 atrocity, this war unleashed onto Pakistan many micro-9/11s in which civilians were slaughtered by terror groups that were perversely aided by the fledgling Kabul forces that the US had installed. While US drone strikes in Pakistan killed civilians almost as frequently as they targeted actual terrorists, it was Pakistan’s Army that succeeded in turning groups like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan from a force that threatened to plant the flag of terror in Islamabad into a rudderless, leaderless rump whose power has more or less been totally neutralised.
While today, it is rightly acknowledged that political reforms in KP continue to fight the roots of extremism, while a border fence along the Durand Line has helped to stem the tide of terror from the Afghan failed state, what must never be forgotten is the it was the martyrdom of thousands of Pakistani soldiers upon whose sacrifice the foundation of Naya Pakistan was at long last built.
The choice for Pakistan during much of the 21st century was not between “the Establishment and democracy” as many cynics would have one believe. The choice was one between national life and national death and without the courage of the Army, the terrorist death merchants would have made the choice for Pakistan and the results would have been truly devastating on a grand scale.
2018 saw the second ever peaceful transition of power in Pakistan and one were the old dynastic parties of the past were democratically dislodged from power in favour of a reformist force – PTI. Saying that this peaceful transition of power was orchestrated by “the Establishment” is actually an insult both to the people of Pakistan and to the Army. This is the case because it was on the back of the supreme sacrifices of the Army in the fight against terrorism and extremism that the country was able to hold its second ever peaceful transition of power and it was the people who were able to speak freely because of the safety that pervades in the country, now that the most wicked terror groups are shadows of their former selves.
The American media frequently criticises Pakistan’s Army and yet there is an expression among ordinary Americans that states “if you love your freedom, thank a soldier”. As a country that has faced vastly less terrorism and foreign invasion than Pakistan and as a country bordered by two allies rather than a nation with two clear enemies, one to the east and one to the north-west, the American phrase stating that a soldier should be thanked for national freedom frankly applies far more to Pakistan than to almost any other country in the 21st century. It is therefore nothing less than shameful that some American journalists who live in a country where the soldier is elevated to a position of respect in the media and in much of society, should somehow criticise Pakistan for the role its Army has played in preventing chaos from turning a great Asian nation into a failed state like Afghanistan or like Libya.
Looking to the future, if Naya Pakistan means anything – it means harmony. Harmony between wealth and development, between Pakistan and its all weather friends whether it be China or Turkey or others, between provinces of the country and within provinces of the country and between the Army and the government. In a harmonious state, the government and Army are not in a competition for power but work together to continue securing the nation from its enemies who have been beaten back but who have by no means gone away.
Pakistan’s democracy has become healthy because Pakistan’s streets, mountains, ports and villages have become safe. There can be no freedom without prosperity and there can be no prosperity without peace. This should be the epilogue of any story about the role of Pakistan’s Army in the last decades. It is a universal truth made all the more clear by specific stories of the ultimate sacrifice – one that has risen the flag of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s enlightenment where the flags of extremist barbarism once flew.