The Pakistan Army’s First Victory

The first-ever victory of the Pakistan Army in early July will be remembered as a landmark in the history of the country’s armed forces. Since the creation of Pakistan 60 years ago, on at least 10 occasions when the Pakistani army has taken action against its own citizens, it has had to either surrender or abandon the action.

The military engagement against the famed Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) in Islamabad was completed after nine days of continuous attacks against the mosque and the adjacent seminary, Jamia Hafsa, where more than 1,200 students were trapped. This is according to a statement by a military spokesman.

The Pakistan Army can be pleased that, in what they called Operation Sun Rise, they managed to take the Lal Masjid Mosque with armored cars, heavy guns and hundreds of army personnel, despite the fact that the majority of the inhabitants were quite young, not more than 20 to 21 years or age. The action costs the lives of more than 100 people, including 11 military personnel.

According to evidence collected by witnesses, only a few of the 200 people present in the mosque and seminary resisted the attack with live ammunition.

It was a victory over people that the army had previously allowed to operate in whatever way suited them. For up to six months prior to the action, the management of the seminary and mosque were free to adopt any and all methods to implement Islamic law (shariah) through their students, by force where necessary. They were allowed to kidnap police officials and Chinese workers, and the government was then forced to negotiate for the release of the victims.

The Lal Masjid Mosque is just one kilometer away from the headquarters of the country’s main intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It is within walking distance of the residence of the prime minister and several federal secretariats. The question then arises as to how the believers were allowed to stockpile arms and ammunitions inside the mosque.

In political circles it is being said that this was no more than a drama staged by the army to make fundamentalism an issue once again in mainstream politics in order to gain some kudos from outside the country. In doing so the government certainly succeeded – at least in getting a pat on the back from George Bush.

The armed forces of Pakistan are five times larger than those for any other country of its size. It is common knowledge that 29 percent of the country’s annual budget goes to defense expenditure, in addition to pensions and other perks for officers that are paid from civilian expenditures in the annual budget. However, despite its resources, the army has a record of losing, in particular in a long series of confrontations with India and its own people. Historically, the armed forces do not have the capacity to survive more than 17 days during a conflict.

On the domestic front, the armed forces have carried out 11 military operations using their full might in different provinces and have never achieved the success that they did at the Lal Masjid Mosque. Among these 11 skirmishes, one was a “friendly military operation” in Karachi in 1994 in which several young people were killed. But even then it could not be called a success because the desired results were not achieved. In many of these operations the aim was simply the killing of certain people and nothing more than that.

Nor have they had any more success in their wars with India, which began in 1948, just after partition, when Pakistani armed forces moved into India through Kashmir, trumpeting that it was an indigenous fight for the liberation of Kashmir. But as casualties grew, Pakistan had to agree to some formula for a ceasefire.

The armed forces’ adventure was ignored by Pakistan’s politicians as a premature action. But the big issue, Kashmir, became a mainstay, used mostly to justify undemocratic actions. Pakistan’s national mindset created a justification for military government and military supremacy.

In 1965, during the military government of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, Pakistan again tried its 1948 tactics to liberate Kashmir. Again, after 17 days, Pakistan had to appeal for a ceasefire through the help of the international community. On this occasion the army not only sustained heavy casualties but also lost their country some land.

With the elections of 1970, which gave a thumping majority to the people of East Pakistan, which would become Bangladesh, the new military dictator provoked India again, but this time from the east, just to avoid handing over the governance of Pakistan to the Bengalis. Another war started and again, within 17 days, Pakistani forces had to surrender to India along with the whole of East Pakistan. Pakistan was dismembered by the action of its own armed forces. More than 90,000 military personnel were taken prisoner by India.

In the third week of June, 1999, the armed forces decided to penetrate into Indian Kashmir, this time through the Kargil area. Soldiers were sent inside and were termed the Mujahideen (holy warriors) of Kashmir. On the 17th day, the war had to be stopped. Pakistan had to withdraw its troops unilaterally after suffering heavy losses.

Returning to the domestic front; the 11 domestic military operations reveal large numbers of rapes, killings, and humiliation of the local population. The first military operation was in 1958 during the rule of a military governor general, Iskander Mirza, in the southern province of Balochistan. It stopped for a while but after some time another operation was started against the Balochis during the dictatorship of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. It continued for several years during which time the Pakistan Air Force was used to bombard the local people.

The local leaders came to an agreement with the army that if they surrendered they would not be tried. However, the army hanged them along with their family members. During this military operation, thousands of Balochis were arrested or killed and their women raped by the army.

After the general elections of 1970, when the Bengalis won, the army, then under the leadership of the military ruler General Yahya Khan, elected not to hand over power to an elected leadership termed as ‘anti-Pakistan’ and a military operation commenced in March 1971. During this time, press estimates say 250,000 women were raped and some 600,000 people were killed.

The religious parties of those days claimed that the army was serving the cause of Islam. They formed militant organizations to help the military hierarchy in arresting ‘anti Islamic forces.’ More than 1,000 writers, journalists and academics were killed by firing squad.

During another martial law regime, that of General Zia ul Haq from 1980 to 1984 several military actions were initiated in Sindh, two of them exceptionally brutal. The first was in 1981 when the army went after the Sindhis because the previous Prime Minister, Zulfiqa Ali Bhutto, who was convicted and hanged, was from Sindh province. During this operation two buses carrying students going on an excursion tour of Moen Jo Daro, a 5,000-year-old civilization, were attacked at a railway crossing by army personnel using automatic weapons, killing several.

The second was in 1983, when the Sindhi-based Restoration of Democracy (MRD), which had rebelled against General Zia’s martial law, had virtually taken control of communications in the province. The army bombarded villages and killed many people. Afterwards they announced that "we will not allow humiliation for second time as it was done in East Pakistan." The village of Sekhat, on the National Highway, was almost destroyed.

The regime of General Musharraf has been no different. Another Balochi operation resulted in the disappearance of more than 4,000 people. The people of Balochistan are kept in military camps all around the country. The political leadership, including student organisations, have been termed anti-Pakistan. Army officers were found to have taken part in rapes and in at least in one famous case, the rape of a woman doctor, Musharraf saved the perpetrator. In many areas of the province, the Air Force has been used to bombard the people.

Since 2001 and onward, the military also has run operations against peasants in different parts of the Punjab. Army officers have killed many people and committed crimes against local farmers, according to the provincial government of Punjab. Peasant resistance compelled army personnel to flee without their uniforms and boots, which are still on exhibition in those areas.

Since the "war against terrorism" began, in areas bordering Afghanistan, hundreds of villages have come under military operations in which thousands of children and women have been killed. Even then the army still did not meet with success, however, and instead withdrew after having lost more than 2000 soldiers.

According to several defense analysts, the Pakistan armed forces are not trained to fight wars but are trained for internal strife. However, it seems that the training mostly results in killing, torturing, bombardment, and rape.

Baseer Naveed is a senior researcher for South Asia for the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong.