Fighting 21st Century Wars

Written By: Ejaz Haider

The 21st century wars will not just exploit military weaknesses. They will make use of a nation's fault-lines. The non-kinetic means will act as force-multipliers for kinetic means. The sooner our civil and military planners understand this, the better prepared we will be for 21st century wars.
The obvious lesson, especially given the reference to the Arab Spring as also the historical situation obtaining in Crimea and Ukraine, is that a state's defence against this kind of war cannot be guaranteed by its military alone. How strong or weak a state is in the face of such a threat will depend on how internally strong and cohesive it is – or can be. A state's strength in such a situation is a function of political stability, economic prowess, diplomatic outreach and, consequent to these preconditions, military strength. In other words, military strength flows from non-military factors. War is older than the oldest profession. Violence began when Cain slew Abel. It has since gone through many ages. But while there are many spots of time along the historical trajectory of war-fighting, closer to our time we see the shift with the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte created a national army through 'willing' conscription and made France fight 'armies' on the continent that, until Gerhard von Scharnhorst's idea of a general staff, mostly comprised mercenary troops employed by various states and principalities. Bonaparte gave the foretaste of national wars, the idea so lamented and considered dangerous by Maj Gen JFC Fuller (The Conduct of War). Bonaparte's corps d'armée, the model that allowed him both flexibility and superiority in numbers (width-depth and concentration/ dispersion) could not be sustained without involving France in wars. From the gunpowder revolution, the pace of technological advancement increases. We move to the First Industrial Revolution which introduced rifles and railroads, what has been described as the age of steel and steam and the machine gun. The MG killed more infantrymen during WWI than the two nuclear bombs did the Japanese in WWII. The Second Industrial Revolution, which introduced the tank and its terror, once again tipped the balance in favour of the offensive which the rifle and the MG had blunted. This was not to last long with the introduction of anti-tank weapons and aerial bombardment. These developments were to be followed by flattop carriers and submarines. Since then much else has changed in terms of platforms and weapon systems. Since WWI, war is no more a remote event. It is not just a matter of the armies fighting one another in secluded battlefields. As Bonaparte's France showed, modern wars are fought by nations, not just armies at war. Rocketry and air raids over cities ensured that. The spirit of the times in WWI was depicted by the famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats in the opening lines of his poem, Lapis Lazuli: For everybody knows or else should know That if nothing drastic is done Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out. Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in Until the town lie beaten flat. The fast pace at which new weapons are being introduced have also brought into sharp salience the issue of knowledge, high-end human resource and strong economies. But the interesting point, and a crucial one too, is about the slowness of response to changes on the battlefield, even when basic assumptions are being challenged and quite often falling apart. For instance, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the French top commander came up with absurd math on the 1:2 advantage of the attacker since the attacking force will have double the number of rifles and could fire more rounds than the defender. It was a costly mistake and Fuller describes Foch's math as abracadabra. This despite the fact that Foch was a war theorist and a highly-acclaimed soldier. The introduction of nuclear weapons is another case in point. With the benefit of the hindsight one would think that it should have led to deterrence, pure and simple. However, for a long time, even as nuclear weapons held the balance of terror, strategies were developed to fight a nuclear war and win it. American strategist Bernard Brodierealised early on that wars between two nuclear-capable adversaries had become a big no. This fact is also reflected in the writings of Philip Windsor and Martin van Creveld, to name just two. Yet, it took atleast two decades for military and civilian planners to accept that reality. 16The fifties and the sixties saw much theorising on the use and utility of nuclear weapons against the adversary until a realisation set in that balance of terror meant just that – a balance that precluded all sides from doing something stupid. Even now continued discussion on developing a ballistic missile defence keeps a hope kindled that somehow incoming missiles can be stopped. The attempts to create a Maginot Line in the sky continue. There is of course nothing exhaustive about the foregoing. Nor is it new. Thousands of books and academic articles have been written on the impact of technology and other factors on tactics and operational strategies. What is, however, missed very often is the question of when and how to fight a war. This is the puzzle and it has become more puzzling with the changing nature of war and the layers of complexity that mask the phenomenon and its consequences. Nary a man can be found who would deny that war entails suffering, very often terrible suffering. We have graphic depictions of the horrors of war in literature, some by soldier-poets like Lieutenant Wilfred Owen (MC) from WWI and Capt. Keith Douglas in WWII; others by such luminaries as Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy and George Orwell et al. The English playwright, Edward Bond, wrote in the preface to his play, Lear: “I write about violence as naturally as Jane Austen wrote about manners. Violence shapes and obsesses our society, and if we do not stop being violent we have no future… It would be immoral not to write about violence.” Bond was using the concept in a broader sense, talking about the aggression that takes many forms and which he described as an ability but not a necessity. In a 1995 paper for the academic journal International Organisation, political scientist James D. Fearon argued that “The central puzzle about war, and also the main reason we study it, is that wars are costly but nonetheless wars recur.” If wars are costly ex post then some explanation is needed for why a compromise cannot be found ex ante. Some historians and political scientists put wars in the category of 'wanted' and 'unwanted'. A rather celebrated example of that would be US President Barack Obama's categorisation of the Iraq war as the 'bad' war and the conflict in Afghanistan as a 'necessary' war. Since then of course the Obama Administration has come round to a second aerial round of war in Iraq and Syria, though this time against a new adversary. This categorisation assumes that while 'wanted' wars are or should be, to use the economists' term, Pareto-efficient, the 'unwanted' ones are inefficient. The question, however, is: how can we determine that War X must be fought because it will be more efficient than War Y? Clearly, any such assumption cannot fully factor in the responses of the adversary or how he will react to the application of force. The most that one side deciding to go to war can do is to play out all possible scenarios and contingencies. This, as the history of war tells us, is always useful but never enough. Napoleon would not have marched on Moscow if he knew what would happen to his army on the return journey; he would not have gone into Spain if he knew that, having defeated the Spanish army, he would have to contend with the population that would embroil him in a different kind of conflict and give the world the famous term guerilla war. France and America would have stayed away from Indo-China; the Soviet Union from Afghanistan; the U.S. from Afghanistan and Iraq. The list is long. The famous Prussian soldier and war theorist Carl von Clausewitz understood this clearly. He realised that the application of force on an animate object could result in unintended consequence. The inability of any man to predict consequences, in other words have foreknowledge of what an action would entail in a nonlinear environment, was Clausewitz' 'fog of war', the 'drag', the 'friction.' War would be a much simpler affair if we were dealing with linear systems where, to quote Alan D. Beyerchen, “variables could be plotted against each other as a straight line.” But that is not to be. States, societies, groups are not linear systems where inputs and outputs equal each other and the parts make up the whole. Take the example of Islamic State also referred to variously as ISIS and ISIL. The decision to bomb, strafe and rocket IS ground targets in Syria and Iraq is supposed to destroy the movement. To be certain, the aerial campaign will manage to achieve certain objectives. It will destroy IS infrastructure, partially, if not fully; it will degrade some of its fighting capability; it will make it difficult for IS to concentrate its forces for conventional ground offensives to take over strategic positions, communication arteries and cities. Since IS doesn't have air capability, it is exposed to such attacks and apparently can't do much about them. That said, how will IS react to the campaign? Put another way, what are its options? The first would be to disperse its fighting cadres and assets. It will restrict the movement of large bodies of fighters and find patterns in time lags between in-coming sorties, just like one would calculate the lag between one artillery salvo and another. But most of all, it will calculate the sustainability of the campaign itself – i.e., how long will it take for the US-led Gulf coalition to continue this mission at the pace at which they have started it. There is also the element of cost. While the cost per flight hour of Predators and Reapers is very low, sortie after sortie of A-10s, F-16s, F-15Es, F-18s and F-22s is much higher, averaging above USD 30,000. The cost of this campaign will steadily grow and will also have to be estimated in relation to the extent of damage to IS on the ground. The IS will also devise strategies to tightly couple its fighters and assets with the population in cities it already controls. This will increase the chances of collateral damage and create an unfavourable environment for the coalition to continue with its bombing campaign. We have already seen how the scenario plays out during the Israeli air and artillery bombing and shelling of Gaza which was followed by the ground offensive. The IS is on the ground and has the time. Without a serious ground offensive it cannot really be rolled back. But the ground offensive has its own problems. If the Gulf States decide on one, the IS will revert to being an elusive force. The offensive will likely take the ground back but will not be able to 'defeat' the IS because it will change its way of fighting and extend the war zone to areas in the Gulf that, so far, have been spared from terrorist attacks. Such a strategy could further destabilise the entire region. Does this mean there is never an option to fight? No. There are times when one has to fight. But any planning must clearly appreciate the limits of use of force and its utility. On the surface, IS stands no chance against the combined might of a US-led coalition. Yet, the very asymmetry allows the IS to play according to its own rules and blunt the advantage of the more powerful adversary. That is precisely what we saw in Iraq earlier and are witnessing in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and at home in Pakistan. This is one aspect of war's nonlinear nature; the other is the employment of more than kinetic means. In a paper, The Value of Science in Prediction, General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation, writes: “In the 21st century we have seen a tendency toward blurring the lines between the states of war and peace. Wars are no longer declared and, having begun, proceed according to an unfamiliar template.” “The experience of military conflicts – including those connected with the so-called coloured revolutions in north Africa and the Middle East – confirm that a perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war.” “Of course, it would be easiest of all to say that the events of the 'Arab Spring' are not war and so there are no lessons for us – military men – to learn. But maybe the opposite is true – that precisely these events are typical of warfare in the 21st century.” “In terms of the scale of the casualties and destruction, the catastrophic social, economic, and political consequences, such new-type conflicts are comparable with the consequences of any real war.” “The very 'rules of war' have changed. The role of non-military means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.” Strategists are already referring to the Gerasimov Doctrine while still others see the hand of Vladimir Putin behind this Russian way of making war. In a May 5, 2014 analysis in Foreign Policy (FP), titled, How Putin is Reinventing Warfare, Peter Pomerantsev writes: “The Kremlin, according to Barack Obama, is stuck in the 'old ways,' trapped in Cold War or even 19th century mindsets. But look closer at the Kremlin's actions during the crisis in Ukraine and you begin to see a very 21st century mentality, manipulating transnational financial interconnections, spinning global media, and reconfiguring geo-political alliances. Could it be that the West is the one caught up in the 'old ways,' while the Kremlin is the geopolitical avant-garde, informed by a dark, subversive reading of globalisation?” From the above quotes – the original Gerasimov article is much longer, as is the FP piece – it should be clear that nonlinear, or hybrid war is an idea that incorporates into it the use and exploitation of both kinetic and non-kinetic means.

The obvious lesson, especially given the reference to the Arab Spring as also the historical situation obtaining in Crimea and Ukraine, is that a state's defence against this kind of war cannot be guaranteed by its military alone. How strong or weak a state is in the face of such a threat will depend on how internally strong and cohesive it is – or can be.

A state's strength in such a situation is a function of political stability, economic prowess, diplomatic outreach and, consequent to these preconditions, military strength. In other words, military strength flows from non-military factors.

This should clearly indicate that the national strategy to put military strength ahead of the very factors that can ensure and sustain it, has been a deeply flawed policy and has resulted in weakening rather than strengthening the state. Unfortunately, it also means that we are extremely vulnerable to the ravages of nonlinear or hybrid war. The crucial problem is not this new way of fighting, though that proffers its own problems. The essential and deeply worrisome point is that we are completely unprepared for it. While the civilians have an uncanny realisation of it, without often understanding the ingredients of the problem, the military is still caught up in outmoded thinking. I call it the RCC syndrome. Furthermore, it remains afflicted with the thought that it can somehow act as an arbiter in a complex polity and its managerial skills are enough to advance the interests of the state. This thinking – reinforced at every level – blinds to the larger strategic picture that informs today's world as also new ways of fighting wars. That of course is a discussion with its own dimensions. For now it suffices to argue that nonlinear wars of 21st century are to be dealt with in a different way. This is a realisation that must reflect at all levels of training, beginning with the military academy. It also requires reconfiguration of the military in operational terms. The 21st century wars will not just exploit military weaknesses. They will make use of a nation's fault-lines. The non-kinetic means will act as force-multipliers for kinetic means. The sooner our civil and military planners understand this, the better prepared we will be for 21st century wars.

The writer was a Ford Scholar at the Programme in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1997) and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. (2002-03). He is currently Editor, National Security Affairs, at a private TV channel and contributes to several publications.

Twitter: @ejazhaider


Systemic Evolution of Ideological Warfare A Perspective

Written By: Beenish Sultan

The basis of religion, to go beyond the borders is precarious. It is evident from the rise of ISIS (now IS) in Syria in Iraq and the way it is now distributing pamphlets in Afghanistan (and also few reports point towards FATA region of Pakistan) and gaining support for the declared caliphate. It is one of its kind of a global war.

When Count Destutt de Tracy, a French philosopher, coined the term 'ideology' for the first time in 1700s, no one had an idea of how this term would evolve and emerge as one of the major causes of global warfare. The Count envisioned ideology to be a 'science of formation of ideas' and a replacement for theology, hence excluding all religious studies from the ideological system. Eversince, the term has been subjected to controversy; Count Tracy was imprisoned in the aura of political upheaval in France for his ideologues, and later Karl Marx defined ideology as a 'false consciousness' of a ruling class, who presents their false assumptions in the society and believe them to be universal truth.

As of today, despite its neutral meaning: 'set of ideas accompanied with political goals and interests,' the purpose of ideology: engineer change in the society through normative thought process, still induces controversy in the phenomenon. The impetus rests upon the notion of every global catastrophe to be based on some specific kind of ideology or 'clash of ideologies.' The First World War which started off with a traditional approach, later sought refuge in ideologies namely: Nationalism, Militarism and Imperialism. The Second World War can categorically be termed as the 'Hitler's ideological war,' the Cold War may be considered as a conquest between liberal democracy and Marxism-Leninism, and in the current decade the 'war on terrorism' can be considered as a war between 'extremist ideologies' and ideology of a nation-state.

In this regard, Pakistan is an interesting case for understanding ideological warfare. The country was unprecedentedly carved-out on the map of the world on the basis of a certain ideology. The two-nation theory which became the ideological basis for the creation of Pakistan depicted in Muhammad Ali Jinnah's speech that: 'The Muslims are a nation by every right to establish their separate homeland. They can adopt any means to promote and protect their economic, social, political and cultural interests.”

Undoubtedly, the ideological basis for the creation of Pakistan was a 'separate Muslim identity.' In other words, this did mean merging theology with ideology, which Count Tracy had partitioned in the 17th century. Furthermore, it also meant that this ideology was so strong a motive that it rampaged the political subjugation. However, where the creators used this merger to change history of the Muslims of the subcontinent, the takers were not able to handle its power. Religion became a tool for external and internal entities to induce instability and a form of 'religious extremism' became an existential threat for the country giving rise to an ideological warfare. In this milieu, the potential of ideological warfare on the basis of religion, to go beyond the borders is precarious. It is evident from the rise of ISIS (now IS) in Syria in Iraq and the way it is now distributing pamphlets in Afghanistan (and also few reports point towards FATA region of Pakistan) and gaining support for the declared caliphate. It is one of its kind of a global war. Determining the historical discourse of such 'ideological awakening' may be a tedious task, but it is true to believe at this point that its roots hail over three generations. The first kind was produced back in 1920s with the rise of Ikhwan-al-Muslimeen. Second originated in the form of Islamic Group of Egypt and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad having a transnational effect, and third, more precisely, being the ideology rising in the form of Al-Qaeda after the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan.

As a response to deal with the rise of such 'awakened' individuals, governments have tried to curb the threats they may pose by incarcerating their leaders, putting a ban on the organizations and applying physical means to halt the magnitude of them going transnational. This approach in turn proved to be counter-productive. Hassan Al-Banna's assassination fueled rage in the members of the brotherhood worldwide, suppression of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad resulted in its mergence to Osama's Al-Qaeda and now the suppression of Al-Qaeda has brought before Pakistan, a band of zealots, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Is the ideology followed by the extremist entities more powerful than the one which resulted in the creation of Pakistan? How were they able to spread their tentacles? The evolutionary process may be determined in the three generational way as mentioned above, however, Ibn-e-Khaldun's theory of 'Assabiyya' – shared purpose and unity sheds lights on the aspect with three major postulates: first, there is a fundamental bond of the human society, second, bond is not based on blood relations but of classical republicanism, and third, loyalty to one's group.

Nonetheless, the ideological warfare in Pakistan was able to get sympathetic due to the very sense of Assabiyya in the motivated people. It provided them a sense of unity, a motivation for a mutual cause with loyalty to each other without thinking about the circumstances and consequences. The ideology they followed no matter how extremist it went, was a driving force for achieving their goal for protecting their mutual existence. This evolved into a battle against the writ of the state, challenging the very ideological borders of the country as laid in 1947.

How do we deal with it now? The answer is simple, if the 'ideologically motivated' were able to infuse threat just on the sense of mutuality of interests, why cannot Assabiyya be infused in the name of Pakistan. Why can't we be united to protect the interests of Pakistan? Should not people be motivated, united and brought together to defend the ideals of its founding father, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah? Why not people should be united to shape a state that ensures their freedom, prosperity and peace instead of bloodshed and hatred? Nonetheless, clash of ideologies in Pakistan can generate a war so lethal that can spread on streets and amongst the layman. The need of the day is to let go of individualism and promote national unity.

Fight extremist ideology with the ideology of Pakistan.

The writer is a Research Associate at ISSRA (National Defence University, Islamabad). This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Facing A Two-Front Situation and A Possible Third

Written By: Arif Nizami

The Pakistani Military is seemingly confronted with a possible three front situation. As General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) said the other day, Operation Zarb-e-Azb should not be merely seen as counter-terrorism action but as a commitment to rid the country of terrorism forever. As if the threat on Pakistan's western front was not enough to keep the military engaged, India under Narindera Modi, the hard line BJP (Bhartya Janta Party) Prime Minister, have upped the ante on the LOC (Line of Control) and working boundary. Although the government is trying its best to diffuse the situation through diplomatic channels, Modi has given his military a carte blanche, “to teach Pakistan a lesson.”

As General Raheel Sharif has said on more than one occasion, the key to peace in the region could only come through settlement of the Kashmir issue. Both the Army Chief and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have been stressing that Kashmir issue can only be resolved in accordance with the will of the Kashmiri people as enshrined in the United Nations Resolutions. The third front, that is heating up, is the challenge from Daish. Four TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) commanders reportedly pledging allegiance to the newly emerging IS (Islamic State) must have surely got the military thinking. That in this complex matrix, the military is overstretched is stating but the obvious. Nonetheless our armed forces are valiantly coping with the existential challenges.

On the diplomatic front Islamabad is facing a dicey situation. The Indian Prime Minister has been certainly emboldened to bait Pakistan after his recent sojourn to Washington. The strongly worded joint statement issued at the conclusion of the Modi-Obama summit late last month, specifically named jihadist groups allegedly operating from Pakistan. In this context, the ongoing escalation in Indian military adventurism on the LOC is not at all surprising. Nonetheless their timing and scale peppered by the jingoistic rhetoric of the BJP leadership is ominous.

The violence on the LOC is unprecedented in the past decade. Clearly India under Modi wants to draw fresh red lines. Cancelling secretary level talks late August at the last moment on the flimsy pretext that the Pakistani High Commissioner to New Delhi, Abdul Basit met the Hurriyat leadership, was a clear message to Islamabad that good relations with the Indians were only possible on their terms. Of course that Pakistan should forget about the UN Resolutions on Kashmir was the underlying message. Contrarily General Sharif has more than fulfilled his pledge made late September while visiting the LOC that, “provocation along the Line of Control will be responded to effectively.” As a result the severity of the Indian attack has been somewhat blunted.

Diplomacy is the only way to resolve the Kashmir dispute that has plagued relations between the two nuclear powered neighbours since their inception. Modi will have to start talking – sooner than later in the interest of peace – rather than patting his military commanders on the back to consistently raise the ante against Pakistan. Thankfully the military has been largely successful in clearing the tribal belt of terrorists of all hue and colour holed up there. The operation is also being carried out in Khyber Agency where the militants were given an ultimatum to lay down their arms and surrender or face a full-fledged operation. Pamphlets containing the message to surrender arms were dropped from helicopters in Jamrud and Bara areas of Khyber. The Army Chief has made it clear that not only in the tribal areas and KPK, terrorist networks across the country are being targeted. He has also expressed the hope that the Temporary Displaced Persons (TDPs) from the tribal belt would be able to return home sooner than later. However, the real challenge in combating terrorism is winning the hearts and minds. The military can clear areas infested with terrorism and hold it for a limited period of time. It is for the civilian leadership to evolve a policy framework under which the hydra headed monster of terrorism cannot raise its head again. This requires not only economic and political initiatives and a proactive foreign policy but also a vision based upon the raison d'être of Pakistan.

After recent successes in Iraq and Syria, reportedly the IS militants have started spreading their tentacles in Pakistan. Some of the badly mauled TTP groups would be more than willing to lend them a helping hand. Likes of TTP commander Shahidullah Shahid and others do not intend to travel to the Levant but to spread the IS franchise in Pakistan. Illicit printing presses churning out Pashto/Dari jehadi pamphlets, training DVDs and other material is compelling evidence that a much more violent version of the jihadists is raising its head. Another hitherto less known al Qaeda franchise, the so called Jamat Qaidat al-Jihad fi Shibh al-Qarra al-Hindiya– simply put, Al Qaeda in the Subcontinent (AQIS) – is raising its head. It was reportedly the mastermind behind the recent failed attempt to hijack a Pakistani Naval frigate.

As a consequence of Zarb-e-Azb, quite few of these terrorists have sought refuge in neighbouring Afghanistan. Hence there is urgent need to mend fences with Kabul through concerted diplomatic efforts. Thankfully President Hamid Karzai who never hid his disdain for Pakistan has been replaced by the newly elected president, Ashraf Ghani who is not only more reform minded but is also keen to have friendly relations with Islamabad. It is indeed ironical that the only military outfit perhaps in the world that has been successful in combating the Islamic militants threat is Pakistan Army. The Iraqi Army despite years of training and logistical support of the US buckled under the IS challenge. Resultantly the west has been forced to give logistical support and air cover to forces resisting the IS. Zarb-e-Azb was initiated to remove an existential threat to the country and hence is no favour to any foreign power. Nonetheless it is a supreme irony that the US in the exit mode from Afghanistan is more interested in befriending India by implicitly blaming Islamabad for fomenting terrorism in Indian Held Kashmir. In reality the war against terrorism is not only Pakistan's war but of the US, India and Afghanistan as well. In the face of enormous challenges to our security, a united front is a sine qua non!


The writer is a former Federal Minister for Information & Broadcasting. He is an eminent personality of electronic and print media. He is also the Editor of an English Daily.



1971 Myths and Realities

Written By: Arshi Saleem Hashmi

December 16, 1971 does not bring good memories for Pakistanis; it is the date we lost half of our country. Since 1971, a lot has been published, questions have been raised, politician and military personalities have been blamed and that continues to happen even today. According to the Hamood-ur-Rehman commission report, the defeat suffered was not a result of military factors alone, but had been brought about as the cumulative result of political developments that took place between 1947 and 1971. It is unfortunate that instead of an objective analysis of the circumstances that led to the debacle in 1971, one sided, accusative approach is adopted to describe the situation during that time. Critiques of Pakistan take no time to come up with the accusation of “brutality” being conducted by Pakistan Army without any substantiated data.

A strong narrative based on 'biased propaganda' was promoted without analyzing factors like the role of India, Mukti Bahini, Awami League and wrong decisions at political level. Unfortunately, Bangladeshi youth is also being brought up on this narrative. East Pakistan was not governed properly, can be a true assessment but the violence that was unleashed in the year prior to the secession was way too exaggerated. The brutal murder of innocent Bengalis was all classified as the gruesome act of Pakistan Military, it actually helped covering the negligence of East Pakistani political and civil administration. The new narrative that was created in the subsequent years was to protect the violence conducted by Mukti Bahini and Awami League's members against those East Pakistanis who were not convinced that the solution to governance problems in East Pakistan was to break away from West Pakistan. These patriotic East Pakistanis believed in Pakistan and paid heavy price by losing their lives and damage to property. Later on, all the killings were termed as genocide by West Pakistan's policy tool and Pakistan Army was presented as the one responsible for this.

Recently I have gone through few books that record the accounts of primary sources and show the true picture. These books in a way respond to the most prevailing myths about 1971 and East Pakistan. The study of these books reveals the extent and effectiveness of Indian and Awami League propaganda to defame Pakistan and Pakistan Army. These independent scholars who have tried to bring a more scholarly work based on extensive research included personal experience as well as accounts of common Bangladeshis to unravel the true face of negative narratives.

Sarmila Bose is one such author, who in her book, “Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War” provides primary sources interviews detailing the accounts during the time and unfolding many mysteries that have been dominating the literature on East Pakistan situation. There are many other voices opening up new avenues for researchers and scholars working on Bangladeshi politics and its history. Ikram Sehgal, renowned defence expert has come up with his book, “Escape from Oblivion: The story of a Pakistani Prisoner of War in India”. Mr. Sehgal narrates the details about the real situation after Pakistan Army men were taken as prisoners by India. Similarly, the book “The Wastes of Time: Reflections on the Decline and Fall of East Pakistan” written by a Bengali professor, Dr Syed Sajjad Hussain, who remained Vice Chancellor of Rajshahi University and moved to Dhaka University in July 1971, gives an insider's account that unfolds many secrets regarding East Pakistan, buried in the history.

In next paragraphs I am reproducing few of the relevant excerpts for the interest of readers that also highlight different but a well-researched view-point about prevailing myths.

Myth: The military operation was conducted against innocent civilians.

Reality: “At the more organised level weapons training started and military-style parades were held carrying weapons both real and dummy. Kaliranjan Shil, a Communist activist who survived the army's assault on Jagannath Hall in Dhaka University on 25-26 March, wrote that following the postponement of the national assembly on 1 March, and the start of the non-cooperation movement, as part of the struggle the student union started 'training in pre-paration for war with dummy rifles on the Dhaka University gymnasium field.... I was also taking training in a group. In a few days our first batch's training was completed and along with girl-students' group three groups of us took part in a march-past on the roads'. Photographs of marching girls carrying rifles appeared in the foreign media during this period and images of such gatherings and parades are displayed with pride in the Liberation

War Museum in Dhaka.

The invocation of Gandhi's name in connection with the Bengali uprising of 1971 is not only entirely inappropriate, it is patently absurd. Mujib, 'the apostle of agitation' seeking power through brilliant oratory and electoral politics, did not speak the language of Gandhi or think his thoughts. Crowds did not go to hear Gandhi armed with guns, rods and spears.”

(Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War, Page 26)

Myth: There were over 3 million killings of Bengalis during the military operations. Reality: “Examination of the available material on the 1971 war in both Bengali and English showed that while the allegation of 'genocide' of 'three million Bengalis' is often made in books, articles, newspapers, films and websites it is not based on any accounting or survey on the ground. Sisson and Rose state that the figure of three million dead was put out by India, while some Bangladeshi sources say it was the figure announced on his return to Dhaka by Sheikh Mujib, who in turn had been 'told' that was the death toll when he emerged from nine months in prison in West Pakistan. It is unclear who 'told' Sheikh Mujib this and on what basis. However, Sheikh Mujib's public announcement of 'three million dead' after his return to the newly created Bangladesh was reported in the media. For instance, on 11 January 1972 in The Times Peter Hazelhurst reported from Dhaka on Mujib's emotional home-coming: in his first public rally in independent Bangladesh Mujib is reported to have said, 'I discovered that they had killed three million of my people’.”………… “As the earlier chapters indicate, my own experience in Bangladesh was very similar, with claims of dead in various incidents wildly exceeding anything that could be reasonably supported by evidence on the ground. 'Killing fields' and mass graves were claimed to be everywhere, but none was forensically exhumed and examined in a transparent manner, not even the one in Dhaka University. Moreover, as Drummond pointed out in 1972, the finding of someone's remains cannot clarify, unless scientifically demonstrated, whether the person was Bengali or non-Bengali, combatant or non-combatant, whether death took place in the 1971 war, or whether it was caused by the Pakistan Army. Ironically, as Drummond also points out, the Pakistan Army did kill, but the Bangladeshi claims were 'blown wholly out of proportion', undermining their credibility. Drummond reported that field investigations by the Home Ministry of Bangladesh in 1972 had turned up about 2000 complaints of deaths at the hands of the Pakistan Army.”

(Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War, Pages 175, 177)

Myth: The riches of East Pakistan (Sonar Bangla) were exploited by West Pakistanis. Reality: “The second move in the game was to build up an equally fictitious image of a Bengal overflowing with milk and honey which had been delivered over to Pakistan. The so-called Bengali scholars claimed to discover almost every day more and more evidence of a rich cultural heritage in Bengal's past now exposed to risk. The fact that the province had not yet recovered from the devastating famine of 1943 and the ravages of the Second World War was conveniently overlooked. Nor did anybody care to draw. attention to the recurring cycle of famines and shortages which has been a constant in Bengal's history. Only about 43 years before the 1943 famine, there had been at the turn of the century a terrible famine of the same kind which had taken a heavy toll of human life. Stories of similar food shortages at twenty-five or fifty year intervals form the staple of Bengal's literature. But the illiterate public in Bengal have a short memory and are apt to forget inconvenient truths. They love day-dreaming. Oblivious to the picture of this barrenness and starvation, the image they love to cherish of Bengal is that of an inexhaustible granary where no one goes hungry”............. “No one could deny either openly or secretly that Bengal, overwhelmed with a large population, needed foreign capital for development, since she had no capital herself. On the other hand, the presence of outsiders who seemed to possess both money and skill was keenly resented. To rationalise the resentment, they created the myth that the outsiders were not really helping in the development of her resources, but fleecing Bengal. There had existed, they maintained, back in the dim past of Sonar Bangla, a Golden period when the country lacked nothing. The outsiders had eaten her resources away, reduced her to destitution and poverty and degraded her to her present position. The myth took hold on the imagination of the public. In their lucid moments, of course, they remembered how relentless the realities around them were. But the natural bent of their minds towards romanticism and emotionalism gave rise to puerile fancies, without the slightest foundation in fact, about the wealth and resources of the motherland. The Indian conspirators kept fanning this puerilism, taking advantage of the inevitable frictions, which the advent of foreign capital produces in any society.”

(Dr Syed Sajjad Hussain, The Wastes of Time: Reflections on the Decline and Fall of East Pakistan, Pages 111, 112, 117)

Myth: Pakistan Army is alone responsible for all violence. Reality: “By the time I reached my unit, my world had been turned topsy-turvy the writing clearly on the wall. One could never believe that the 2E Bengal had killed their West Pakistani colleagues. Sadly, it was true. The massacre of the family of Subedar Ayub was especially heinous and unforgiveable. All these officers had repeatedly been warned by West Pakistani officers that they would be killed if they did not leave the unit. During those critical days, some Bengali officers even advised them to take leave or go to Dacca on some pretext. All of them without exception refused to take the easy exit by abandoning the unit. It was unthinkable on their part to do so, particularly at such a juncture. They all were of the sentiment that if they stood their ground, they will be able to stop any action that might be taken against their unit. But they proved to be gravely wrong. They were murdered – their martyrdom proves that they were heroes by all means. Their killing is a dark stain on history and can never obliterate the fact that they were a fine battalion.”

(Ikram Sehgal, Escape from Oblivion: the Story of a Pakistani Prisoner of War in India, Page 6)

Myth: India entered the war in December 1971 and was trying for peaceful political solution to the problem from the outset. Reality: “The date of the start of full-fledged war between India and Pakistan in 1971 is a contested issue. The date popularly given out is 3 December, the one announced by India, but this is merely the date the war spread to include the Western sector. In a sense India's involvement in the war may be taken to be from March, and its involvement in the politics of the province perhaps from even earlier. Numerous Bangladeshi pro-liberation accounts blithely recount close contact and coordination with authorities prior to the military action taken by the Pakistani Regime, as well as in-year. Many of the Pakistani officers I spoke to described Indian involvement and casualties in 'actions' in East Pakistan throughout the year……. 'The big operations are always done by the Indians', reported The Guardian on 18 September 1971, after an ethnic Bengali, who blended in with the local population and needed no translation, visited the training camps of the Mukti Bahini in India and crossed in to East Pakistan with a guide on his own. Of the couple of hundred Bengali 'volunteers' who were said to be in the border area he visited, only six had been given any training at all and only three had taken part in any operation”………… “The American government was correct in its assessment that India had already decided to launch a military operation in East Pakistan when Mrs. Gandhi came to Washington in early November pretending that she was still seeking a peaceful solution”.

(Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War, Pages 172, 173)

Myth: The West Pakistanis imposed its culture on Bengalis. Reality: “During the Civil War of 1971 there was a great deal of talk in the American Press, particularly in such journals as Time and Newsweek, about the revolt of the Bengalis against the attempted imposition of an alien culture upon them by the Punjabis. In so far as the term Bengalis connoted Bengali Muslims, this was of course a plain lie, there having been no difference between the culture of one section of Muslims and another in Pakistan. In so far as the statement referred to the original culture of the local inhabitants, there was not much in it which one could consider worth defending. There was in either case no truth in the allegation that the inhabitants of East Pakistan were being forced to accept a way of life repugnant to them. What had indeed been happening since the adoption of policy of industrialisation by Pakistan was that the crust of old customs and superstitions was gradually breaking up, people were beginning to understand the advantages of modern comforts; polished floors were being substituted for mud and sand, bamboo being replaced by cement concrete, porcelain taking the place of brass and bell-metal chairs and tables being substituted for cane mattresses. New roads, better communications, the influx of capital from abroad, the growth of industrial townships, the arrival of new skills and techniques, had begun to erode the traditional pattern of life and end the old isolationism. An air of cosmopolitanism filled the atmosphere. Bengalis, both Hindus and Muslims, were being forced increasingly to come into contact with foreigners whose ways and judgments were so different. The opening of airports in remote areas like Lalmonirhat or Shaistanager, the setting up of a paper mill at Chandraghona or a newsprint mill at Khulna, the establishment of a network of jute mills all over the province, the discovery and utilisation of gas at Haripur and Titas disclosed new potentialities at the same time that they opened up possibilities of change never foreseen.”

(Dr Syed Sajjad Hussain, The Wastes of Time: Reflections on the Decline and Fall of East Pakistan, Page 116)

Myth: West Pakistani Army was the 'occupying force' whereas Indian Army was a 'liberation army'. Reality: “The Pakistan army is also constantly referred to in the Bangladeshi literature as an occupying force', or 'hanadar bahini' (invading force, raiders). This is a mindless misrepresentation of reality. In 1971 East Pakistan was a province of Pakistan, a country created in 1947 as a homeland for South Asia's Muslims, through a movement in which East Bengal played a significant role. The Pakistan army was present in the province as it was in other provinces of the newly created state. Bengalis served both in the existing units of the army and in the special Bengal regiments raised later. Just as West Pakistanis served in East Pakistan, Bengali officers were posted in West Pakistan. Bengalis who later decided they wanted to secede from Pakistan and fight for an independent country could have termed the Pakistan army 'shotru' 'enemy forces' whom they wished to eject, instead of resorting to pointless attempts to erase history by labelling them 'occupying' or 'invading' forces, as though they had suddenly appeared from a foreign land. Moreover, many Bengalis did not support the idea of secession and continued to consider the Pakistan regime the legitimate government, and some Bengali officers continued to serve in the Pakistan army, defending what was still Pakistani territory. There was only one 'invading force' in East Pakistan in 1971 that was India.”

(Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War, Page 163)

Myth: Bengali language was fundamental part of Bengalis nationalism. Reality: “The Indians began by painting a dismal picture of the subservience to which the Bengali-speaking Muslims of East Pakistan would be reduced in the event of Urdu being declared Pakistan's state language. The Bengali-speaking Hindus of West Bengal saw no threat to their identity in the adoption of Hindi as the Indian state language. This was perverse logic. We seemed to be back in the world of Humpty Dumpty. But the so-called intellectuals of East Pakistan failed to see through the Indian game and immediately took up the cry that Bengali had to be saved from the threatened onslaught. A myth was concocted almost overnight about a conspiracy against the Bengali language”………… “What, on the contrary, the Awami Leaguers, assisted by the left-wing journalists, fanned all the time was the cult of Bengali nationalism. Here again their dishonesty was transparently plain. They didn't contend that the entire subcontinent needed reorganising on linguistic lines, or that each major language group in Pakistan and India called for recognition as a separate nationality with a right to self-determination. The theory was applied to the Bengalis of Pakistan only. The Bengalis in West Bengal in India could stay where they were; the Marathis, the Tamils, the Andhras---all belonged to the Indian nation and nothing illogical could be seen in their union into a single State of the disparate language groups which inhabited India. The Nagas ethnically, linguistically and culturally differed from the rest of India but they received no support, although they had been struggling for secession since 1947; their leader Dr Phizo lived in exile in London, while Indian tanks, armoured cars, heavy artillery and bombs helped 'pacify' Naga villages. The disputed area of Kashmir was also left severely alone. No, India had a right to be one, and anyone who pleaded for pluralism either politically or culturally was a reactionary. But Pakistan with precisely the same demographic composition as India had to be viewed differently. Never in political history before has the jaundiced eye been so powerfully at work as in India and Pakistan, weighing the same problems in the two countries in different scales and insisting on different conclusion.”

(Dr Syed Sajjad Hussain, The Wastes of Time: Reflections on the Decline and Fall of East Pakistan, Pages 111, 213)

Myth: Armed activities against non-Bengalis were carried out by Mukti Bahini guerrilla only and not the Indian Army. Reality: “Bengali accounts of the 'heroic' exploits of rebel fighter in the war are punctured by some accounts given by their powerful allies, the Indians. 'It can now be said', wrote Maj. Gen. Sukhwant Singh, 'that despite the Awami League's hold on the Bengali troops in the name of patriotism, Mujib's charisma and the professional contacts in the armed forces of Col Osmani, the organizers of the insurgency had not been able to draw up and implement an integrated plan... the revolt had no strong popular base'. Initially the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) supported the operations of the rebels, but 'Unfortunately, these efforts were not very effective'. 'The failure of the revolt and the poor results obtained by the rebel forces in their operations after crossing into India led to a detailed appraisal of the situation by the Indian Government in the last week of April'. According to Maj. Gen. Singh, '…the Indian Army was asked to take over the guidance of all aspects of guerilla warfare on 30 April…’” “The assessment of Maj. Gen. Lachhman Singh was similar: 'The Mukti Bahini fighter was not a dedicated guerilla... the Awami League leaders were reluctant to join them and face the hazards of military struggle. The guerillas had no safe bases for operations inside East Pakistan but could safely operate from camps across the Indian border'. In Singh's view, 'It was becoming clear by July that Mukti Bahini was unable to win the confidence of the villagers'. They also avoided direct confrontation with the Pakistan army owing to the heavy casualties they suffered. However, 'The propaganda machine worked hard and to good effect. Dressed in a Iungi and rifle in hand, the Mukti Bahini guerilla became an instant hero... The news-hungry press swallowed claims of fictitious successes which were widely believed.”

(Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War, Pages 146-47)

Myth: Pakistani soldiers carried out rapes of university student during Operation Searchlight. Reality: “None of the Bengali eye-witness accounts, nor the testimony to me of Pakistan army officers involved in the action, nor the evidence of the recorded radio communication among them, mention Rokeya Hall, the women's hostel of Dhaka University, as a target of military action. Yet a story had circulated in 1971, repeated to me by members of the Bangladeshi intelligentsia, about the women's hostel being attacked and girls jumping out of the windows. In reality, like the other hostels, Rokeya Hall had also emptied of its normal residents before 25 March, and did not seem to have been a targeted building. Similarly, as attested in Jahanara Imam's book by a terrified resident of Mohsin Hall, the army did not go to Mohsin Hall either.”

(Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War, Page 57)

Myth: Awami League and its associates were carrying out only a political struggle and were not involved in killings. Reality: “As has been shown in this book, the Bengali nationalist rebellion in East Pakistan was openly militant and quickly turned into xenophobic violence against non-Bengalis – Biharis, West Pakistanis and foreigners – of whom the Biharis, who arguably 'belonged' to East Pakistan the most as they had migrated from India to settle there, ironically suffered the most. In the ethnic violence unleashed in the name of Bengali nationalism, non-Bengali men, women and children were slaughtered, for instance in housing colonies in Chittagong, in the Karnaphuli Mills, in the jute mill colonies at Khulna, in the railway town of Santahar; West Pakistani businessmen were massacred in Jessore; in mutinous East Bengal regiments, Bengali officers and men killed the greatly outnumbered and even disarmed West Pakistani fellow-officers and their families in many units. The killing of non-Bengalis continued after Bangladesh became independent, as for example in the jute mill colonies in Khulna. As this study has shown, non-Bengali victims of ethnic killings by Bengalis numbered hundreds or even thousands per incident an indication of the scale of these crimes. Men, women and children were massacred on the basis of ethnicity and the killings were executed with shocking bestiality.”

(Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War, Page 166)

Myth: 93,000 Pakistani soldiers became POWs to India. Reality: “One of the most notable 'numbers' of 1971 in circulation is the assertion that '93,000 Pakistani soldiers' were taken prisoner by India at the end of the war. This statement has been repeated, virtually unchallenged, in practically every form of publication. It is a number about which one expects a certain precision – after all the number of POWs in India had to be an exact figure, not an approximation. Yet it turns out that 93,000 soldiers were not, in fact, taken prisoner.

In March 1971, the number of West Pakistani troops in East Pakistan was reported to be 12,000. More forces were brought in to cope with the crisis and Lt Gen A. A. K. Niazi, Commander of the Eastern Command in 1971 from April to December, wrote: 'The total fighting strength available to me was forty-five thousand 34,000 from the army, plus 11,000 from CAF and West Pakistan civilian police and armed non-combatants'. Out of the 34,000 regular troops, 23,000 were infantry, the rest being armour, artillery, engineers, signals and other ancillary units. How did 34,000 army personnel plus 11,000 civilian police and other armed personnel, a total of 45,000 men, more than double into '93,000 soldiers' who were reported taken prisoner by India in December?”

(Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War, Page 174)
The writer is on the faculty of National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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