I would reassert my thesis that this is ‘Pakistan’s Past, Present and Future War’. The modern battle field has transited from a conventional battlefield to an invisible theatre where Operations Other Than War (OOTW) are far more lethal than military manoeuvres and firepower. These operations are planned and executed by countries and non-state actors. 

In recent times the categorisation of militants and terrorists in this category has diminished and eclipsed the full sense of the word. These comprise financial institutions, non-governmental organisations, banks, corporates, multi nationals, agro industries, political parties, cartels, interest groups, religious organisations, media, broadcasters and the list goes on. 

In Geostrategy, the military strategy is supplemented by these invisible and apparently harmless non-state actors. Unlike the enveloping and penetrating military operations, these permeate into the very womb rendering the target moth eaten. With the almost successful conclusion of counter terrorism operations and exclusion of military operations through dissuasion, these insipid elements have acquired more importance and notoriety.  Defeating these forces of disruption is Pakistan’s next ‘Future War’. 

We cannot ignore that the situation in Middle East, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Indian occupied Kashmir shall continue to impact. This will keep happening in tandem and Pakistan will continue to forge cooperation of convenience. 

There is a lesson from history and Pakistan’s political and military establishment must not ignore. How East Pakistan became Bangladesh, how Pakistan was cut to size? The lesson we need to learn is to counter such hybrid threats. 

Military operations in East Pakistan had concluded by May 1971. The government was fully in control right up to the international border with India. The bayonet strength of the army was less than 20,000 and major reinforcements from West Pakistan had not yet arrived. India was re-quipping with Soviet equipment and would not be ready for battle before end August-September 1971. Political dialogues had been stalled and the major political party from West Pakistan had made it a ‘US versus THEM’ issue. There was complacency in General Head Quarters and the political section created therein had isolated field commanders from the military chief. 

In East Pakistan, there was not only a lull, but also an operational void. But India was not complacent. Assistance from Soviet Union was fast and furious. The CIA franchised Tibetan Liberation Army was being rebranded into Mukhti Bahini. The propaganda against West Pakistan was venomous and effective. Bengali youth was being systematically brain washed and drawn into militant camps on the Indian side. The surge came in massive killing of West Pakistanis and Biharis. The civil war had begun. 

GHQ hastily pushed in reinforcements but it was too late. With influx of Mukhti Bahini behind the lines, there were no exterior or interior lines to sustain a war. The acquiescence of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with his leftist agenda was betrayed treacherously by Soviet Union. The scenario had not been ‘war-gamed’. Around 30,000 bayonet strength had no option but to dig and fight out the multi directional onslaught led by invisible forces. Finally the safe exit became a military surrender. 

If DNA testing of mass graves in Bangladesh is ever carried out, it will reveal genocide of West Pakistanis and Biharis killed by Tibetan Liberation Army-Mukhti Bahini and Indian Army. Propaganda and perception were stronger than realities. This is how the East was lost and non-state actors played a major part in it. 

So what are the similarities and how Pakistan should be battle ready for the next phase? 

Unlike 1971, Pakistan is geographically contiguous. The defence forces are well equipped, trained and battle hardy. The enemies cannot win this phase kinetically. So the only options left are non-kinetic or hybrid forms of war in which the defence establishment will be under severe criticism and confrontation. 

These pincers would focus on internal vulnerabilities. These are economics, sub nationalism, ethno nationalism, parochialism, sectarianism and subversion through propaganda and narratives. Political parties whose leaders are being subjected to accountability will be vulnerable to such disruptive forces. PMLN and PPPP will have to charter a clear course in national interests to disassociate themselves from corruption by individual leaders. In this context intra party transparency, democracy and accountability could play a major role. 

Social contracts between interests groups and individuals are built on economics. Economics is the magic bond that gels diversity for common mutual interests. 

Unfortunately, the economic situation is far from satisfactory and provides ripe grounds for forces of instability. With the rising cost of living, a very slow economy and a very harsh revenue policy, attaining bare minimum growth targets in real terms will be no less than a miracle. Devaluation, inflation, discounts, high interest rates and price escalation will take a heavy toll on cost of living. 

For those subsisting on rural barter, the downstream agro and chemical industry (with all its perks and subsidies) will remain a major tyrant. Deepening and widely spread pockets of poverty will be most vulnerable to exploitation. One of the major thrust of this hybrid threat would be to bring people on the streets and create a bloody mess. This confusion will be exploited by terrorist groups for sympathy and mayhem. The mission will be to bring people face to face with law enforcement agencies. Handling urban unrest if it ever comes to that will be a new ball game.

The armed forces have proved their efficiency in counter terrorism operation with lives and blood. The nation recognizes these sacrifices. What’s more is that the armed forces have voluntarily foregone any increase in defence budget. In terms of purchasing power this means at least 26% decrease corresponding devaluation and more till the rupee stabilises. At the going rate it could end up in more than 1/3 decrease. 

Unfortunately, the federal and provincial spending does not replicate the noble gesture displayed by the armed forces. Is it business as usual or worse? The political segment is not cognisant of such sacrifices. The team of cuckoos, albatrosses and west trained experts is least bothered over the war game being played on Pakistan. Monsoons and floods could add a strategic stretch.

In all likeness, a regrouping for this short but intense phase of the conflict is inevitable. The military is already straddling itself for such an eventuality. The government could also go through on-field substitution. 

I wonder if this would signal change or would we live to see ‘more of the same’.