It was the third week of December 2001, and we had been mobilized. This large scale military mobilization would be remembered as ‘Escalation 2001-02.’ Indians called it Operation Parakaram and the Americans had a more fancy title for it – the Twin Peak Crisis. India following the 9/11 example had used the alleged attack on the parliament house in occupied Kashmir on the 13th of December by moving its forces to the borders to coerce us into submission. We had reacted swiftly and quickly reached battle stations before the Indians. We had beaten them in point of time. It was perhaps now too late for the Indians to cause us any harm. For the next ten months, we would remain in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation with Indian troops assembled across the border. The leadership of the two countries indulged in brinkmanship and exchanged nuclear signals.
At the tactical level we went through the contingency plans to be prepared for any eventuality. One cold winter day, I the brigade commander, along with my battalion commanders was out reconnoitring in the desert of Cholistan trying to assess the possible enemy approaches to blunt any Indian armoured offensive and discussing possible launching pads from where we could launch effective counter attacks. As we considered all the ‘factors’ of a military ‘appreciation,’ a local woman on a camel cart rode past us. She was a poor woman dressed in faded and worn out ghaghra skirt. Her arms were covered in traditional white bangles that went right upto her armpits, symbolising her marital status.
As she nonchalantly rode away in a cloud of dust, I wondered if it mattered for her if I and my comrades were Muslims? A lot of people in that area are Hindus. Under the circumstances, would she be comfortable with the thought that I was a if I was a Pakistani brigadier or God forbid I was an Indian general? Her she was in a barren land eking out a subsistence living for her children? Where did she graze her feeble and skeletal cattle? Did national security matter in her simple outlook to life? I didn’t have the time or gumption to ask her these questions. But I was never able to shake off the image of the simple poor woman wrapped up in her thoughts of how to make the next meal possible in a bleak and harsh environment. She was quite oblivious to us – a group of military commanders in their expensive jeeps and other trappings of modern war equipment (tanks, armoured personal carriers etc.) sent to protect her honour and defend the homeland.
This picture was in sharp contrast to the apparently clear cut notion of national security taught to us in the staff and war colleges. The mission statements were simple and straightforward. Typically it could be: Defend area from point ABC to XYZ with following resources (manpower and equipment) with the view to defend the territorial integrity of the nation. Sometimes there were caveats such as that the enemy will under no circumstances be allowed to go past a certain point or line.
At times, we were also told that we were also the defenders of the ideological frontiers. For the simple military minds these were vague ideas and difficult to decipher. What after all is national security? Is it defending each inch of our land and are we the true guardians of our ideology and values? Or is there something more profound to it?
In my opinion national security is all about the common man. The protection of the life and limb of a citizen is guaranteed in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Article 9 of Chapter II of the constitution explicitly states that “No person shall be deprived of life save in accordance with the law.” The constitution also provides for the freedom of movement and assembly, and certain other essential freedoms i.e. right to fair trial and protection from slavery and forced labour. It provides for freedom of association, freedom of trade, business or profession, freedom of speech, right to information, freedom to profess a religion and to manage religious institutions, provision of property and protection of property rights. The constitution declares everyone as an equal citizen, echoing the words of the founder of the nation (famous 11 of August 1947 speech), where he had declared that you’re free to go to your temples and you’re free to go to your mosque that has got nothing to do with the business of the state.
If the citizen of the country knows that the state cares for it and that it will ensure that no harms come to him or her and that system is fair and provides equal opportunities to all irrespective of cast, creed, colour or faith, the national security is guaranteed. The Bengalis chose to rebel and go their own way because they believed or were led to believe that we in the West were mistreating them and were usurping their hard earned foreign exchange from the sale of jute. Often I think that we have not learnt any lesson from history.
It is quite true that the military must defend the physical frontiers of the country but that is not all. National security is a multifaceted notion. It also means that the judicial system provides a fair trial to everyone and that that due legal process is followed without any pre-determined criteria and that law is above board and equal for all. The duty of the police is to protect the citizen from criminals and not abuse and exploit him or her. Nobody is above law. Neither will the rich always get away by committing murder, nor will the poor be held accountable for minor misdemeanours. If there is justice in the society the country will be secure. If not we will implode from within.
It is the fundamental duty of the state to provide its citizens his or her basic rights and if it is able to do it in a reasonable manner the nation is secure. If the nation does not have faith in the state and its leaders it is bound to go under without fighting an external aggressor.