News Analysis | Naïve Pakistani Hawks Force Military To Clarify Its Combat Worthiness

News Analysis | Naïve Pakistani Hawks Force Military To Clarify Its Combat Worthiness
Since their independence from British colonial rule, both India and Pakistan have been locked in a confrontational relationship that has witnessed three full-scale wars and a number of border skirmishes in the past 75 years. The Kashmir dispute continues to be the core issue preventing both neighbours from moving forward into a rational and logical bilateral relationship. As all avenues of formal diplomatic engagement have been more or less closed since August 5, 2019, tensions remain high between the nuclear powers.

In a recent news show, journalist Hamid Mir made some startling revelations that he attributed to former Pakistan army chief Gen (retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa. His host and fellow journalist Nasim Zehra also appeared to confirm some of the references Mir made. Since then, the issue of Pakistan's military capabilities and its armed forces' combat readiness has come under intense scrutiny. While many stress that this is nothing more than 'fake news', others who are willing to believe these 'revelations' by Hamid Mir ask where has the money, invested in or extracted by the army in previous defence budgets, gone?

Since Hamid Mir made overt references to Kashmir and to the former army chief having allegedly said that Pakistan was "in no position" to engage in a military conflict with India, Indian news media picked up on this story and ran with it. Credible Indian mainstream news outlets published stories with headlines saying that the Pakistan Army was "no match for the Indian Army" or was "incapable of fighting India".

Other Indian news platforms also did not miss the opportunity to use a former Pakistan army chief's own words - albeit indirectly, quoted by Hamid Mir - against the institution. The Indian public was informed that Pakistan cannot go to war with India and lacks the ammunition and economic strength to mount a conventional military challenge to its 'traditional enemy' on its eastern border. Mir's specific quote that Pakistan's armored corps was decrepit and in no condition for active service, was also used extensively by Indian media.

Other Indian media outlets referred to former premier Imran Khan's litany of accusations against Gen (retd) Bajwa, including that the former army chief wanted to sell out on Kashmir and pressured him to develop friendly ties with India. Interestingly, one news website referred to the retired Pakistan army chief as the 'clue' behind the calm in Kashmir since Articles 35A and 370 were abrogated in August 2019.

On April 28, DG ISPR Major General Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry issued a rebuttal that Gen (retd) Bajwa's comments were "quoted out of context". The Pakistan military's official spokesperson explained that the retired general's remarks were in relation to "certain weapons systems in its inventory" and in view of "future threats to Pakistan". Maj Gen Chaudhry also reiterated that the army took pride in its operational preparedness and combat readiness. This clarification was echoed by mainstream media and by many on social media as well.

A few days earlier, in his first press conference as DG ISPR, Maj Gen Chaudhry said that the army does not concern itself with propaganda or baseless accusations on social media. This was in response to questions regarding social media influencers and YouTube vloggers churning out hateful content against the Pakistan Army for clickbait views from PTI supporters online, and regarding rumours that an inquiry against former DG ISI Lt Gen (retd) Faiz Hameed was ongoing. Evidently, the DG ISPR wanted to convey the impression that the military rank and file was focusing on its job of national security, and did not bother with the political cacophony and poisonous social media discourses going on.

But with Hamid Mir's 'revelations', the damage has been done yet again. By issuing this clarification, the DG ISPR unwittingly committed a U-turn and exposed how the military was, in fact, troubled by the propaganda - baseless or otherwise - being churned out against it. At one time, Pakistan used to marvel at its propaganda feats against the Indian military, now it is suffering at the hands of its own 'fifth generation warriors' and 'analysts' it has nurtured and cultivated over decades.

And this is only the latest instance, that too at the hands of a mainstream journalist and senior anchorperson. For months, sordid details have been made public about generals amassing exorbitant wealth while in service, setting up business empires and restaurant chains, abusing their official powers for personal gains and political manoeuvering, forcibly apprehending or 'disappearing' dissident activists, journalists and outspoken politicians, in addition to committing a plethora of other improprieties (and even possibly crimes).

While many of these allegations were made against the military establishment for years, the phenomenon of open accusations and vilification of the Pakistan Army - in ways never seen or imagined before - shocked the nation at first, but has become the new norm over the past year. Even though this may serve the temporary political benefit of a hybrid political force that considers itself the most popular party of the time, in the long run these proclamations and this unnecessarily aggressive approach will delegitimize the very people who wish to capitalize from it.

And the damage done to Pakistan's reputation, credibility and prestige as a state will not be so easy to undo. But Pakistan still has a long way to go before the continuous destruction of its national fabric can be stopped.