Saturday, January 30, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: THE GENESIS OF SOUTH ASIAN NUCLEAR DETERRANCE - PAKISTAN'S PERSPECTIVE

PUBLISHED IN Daily Times 30 Jan 2010
Author: Naeem Salik
REVIEWED BY Afrah Jamal
Published under the Title: NUCLEAR PAKISTAN – SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT - AGAIN

Going Nuclear is a lifestyle choice. For the original 5, it was a vital symbol of power. For Pakistan, it is a necessary evil. With 3 nuclear powers in the region, Pakistan is the only one that gives the world sleepless nights. As their least favourite (aspiring) club member, Pakistan is used to being eyed with suspicion and treated with disdain. Naeem Salik believes that current debates on Pakistan’s nuclear stance are speculative at best and slanderous at worst. But since studies from Pakistan are rare, it is not always easy to counteract the negative propaganda and/or hysterical fear mongering. As world leaders eye Pakistan with increasing wariness, it would be useful to hear out the man once in-charge of the conception & development of a nuclear command & control system along with ‘contours’ of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine - post 1998.

The shocking story of how Pakistan deceived the West and the West played along has been covered in other books. By coming out of the nuclear closet, both Pakistan & India set certain events in motion. With widely differing agendas (prestige & power - India, security - Pakistan), staying the course leaves each at completely different junctures. A stranded Pakistan is trying to live down the accusations of dealing technology on the side while a driven India is trying to live up to its image of a ‘responsible’ nuclear power.

What we get from this well researched book is a comprehensive picture of India’s evolutionary nuclear program, the subsequent development of Pakistani technology and a multifaceted view of the Indo-Pak missile technology program. A.Q. Khan makes a mandatory appearance in Naeem Salik’s version of events but since this book is not just about the nuclear godfather, his exploits find place in another book by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark.

A.Q. Khan’s involvement in nuclear proliferation has been established beyond a shadow of a doubt. The writer asserts that Pak military was kept out of the (nuclear) loop till the 1990’s and remains unconvinced that Dr. Khan’s network was officially sanctioned. Given that Khan ratted out his accomplices in a letter, the international jury is still out on the subject.

The book constantly alludes to striking contrasts between the treatments meted out to both nuclear states: the first to break rules gets an indulgent nod, a civil nuclear deal and a rap on the knuckles (absorbed by friendly neighbourhood Russian aid) - the one to follow is left with disciplinary actions, sanctions, and a bad rep!

It also seeks to address some of the farcical evidence regarding our nuclear command & control. We are, after all, living in a neurotic society which is convinced that its assets are bound to be seized by allies while confronting a paranoiac world convinced of the same only in their scenario extremists do the seizing. He is rightfully resentful of the tendency to overreact and, by taking readers through some of the practices Pakistan has set in place to safeguard its assets, makes a compelling case that merits attention.

Naeem Salik’s made an appearance at Johns Hopkins/SAIS and gave a presentation about the quality of Pakistan’s command & control and safety arrangements. In the opinion of an American scholar on South Asia who has lived and worked in both India and Pakistan, this optimistic representation is shared - officially. While the scholar found Naeem’s arguments to be persuasive and his assertions went unchallenged by audience members, the international media however remains sceptical, especially given the increasingly precarious security situation and regional instability. This scholar also had the impression that confidence within US government circles has been shaken and conceded that a strong Indian lobby might have tilted the US in India’s favour and by contrast tarnished Pakistan’s image. He further adds that the shifting views “grow out of what seems to be revealed facts about Pakistan that run against the long-standing traditional view that US and Pakistani security interest have a great deal in common, and security influentials (sic) on both sides can be counted on to cooperate on those matters the same way”.

Pakistan’s credibility is at an all time low. Clearly, some serious damage control needs to be done. But embarrassing disclosures are not the only problem. There is also a lot of disinformation out there. Simon Henderson, in his article ‘Investigation: Nuclear Scandal – Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan’, published in Times Online (Sep 20, 2009) has referred to a “Khan directed copy of Korean Nodong Ghauri” (missile). The author clarifies that “Ghauri, in its current configuration, does not even remotely resemble the original Nodong system”. He also challenges claims of indigenous development of India’s missile program, as he combs through a plethora of statements given for their domestic consumption.

Brigadier General(R) Naeem Salik is an authority on nuclear proliferation and strategic/security issues. As a comparative study, his book does a fairly good job of reassigning blame proportionately. Moreover, it paints a reassuring picture of these immature nuclear powers learning to play nice by practising nuclear risk reduction tactics and CBM’s (confidence building measures). And when Pakistan’s recent resistance to signing Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FCMT) unless India was a fellow signatory is dismissed with an international headline (‘Pakistan Seen Undermining Prospects for Fissile Material Pact’), books like this assume an even greater relevance.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Milestones in a Political Journey

Thanks to Dost Publications for the review copy

PUBLISHED IN DAILY TIMES / 23 JAN 2010

Author: M Asghar Khan
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Published under the title: Snapshots of History

The title is misleading. Unless the definition of milestones has changed — the events depicted here are the very antithesis of milestones. Maelstroms would have been a more apt description. When things went south during Asghar Khan’s political struggle, which they did a lot while operating under the destructive influence of dictatorship in the absence of political capital, a free press and/or leverage, speech making and letter writing were the two options left to peace-loving activists. The writer used them extensively. And this is what this misleadingly titled book is all about — Asghar Khan’s thoughts expressed via a collection of letters, speeches, statements and articles spanning four decades. Like many memoirs, documents and books of that era, there is the obligatory parade of dictators and despots — Yahya, Bhutto, Zia, Nawaz and Musharraf. These decades, tainted by the demise of democracy and the advent of hypocrisy, could easily be classified in the horror, thriller, and/or tragedy genre. Not surprisingly, as leader of his political party he has no love lost for dictators, scant respect for civilian stand-ins and little faith in the system. Surprisingly, he continued to write to them, perhaps in the hope of making them rethink their decisions.

Embedded within this (well mannered) rant are lessons that cannot be repeated often enough. Much of his views on annoying trends that are both inhibitive and ubiquitous (buying people/public transport for public meetings ruling party style, extravagant spending) sounds eerily familiar, thoughts on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB), appointing babes in the wood to lead parties, changing the exploitative socio-economic order so loved by all the king’s (party) men for instance resonate, some on a nuclear-free nation are likely to bewilder and still others that suggest 12 provinces for Pakistan will raise eyebrows. He minces no words, but throughout the tone is polite, for these are letters and/or articles, some written to the very objects of his ire, many of whom responded while others could not be bothered. Their responses have been thoughtfully included.

Coming back to the bewildering suggestions, Asghar Khan believes that India would settle for a conventional war if Pakistan voluntarily defangs itself. Nuclear deterrence has prevented both countries from going for all-out wars. This is why Pakistan has them in the first place. While the idea of a semi-nuclear-free zone seems perfectly plausible on paper, it could well be at the cost of Pakistan’s security. His fear of an inadvertent nuclear war triggered by madmen, however, is perfectly justified. The depiction of some equally disturbing alternate scenarios is chilling. These documents show how much Asghar Khan was tuned in to subtle shifts within society, if only the leadership was listening. As early as 2000, he pointed out emergent threats like Sufi Mohammad, the man who, as founder of the militant organisation Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), played a central role in trying to broker a faux peace treaty between the murdering Taliban and the peace loving Pakistanis, the same man whose son-in-law wreaked havoc in Swat.

Asghar Khan’s political career was marred by the peculiar nature of this environment where the concept of political prisoners thrives. His retaliatory moves involved filing petitions and addressing bar associations. Against an all too familiar backdrop, some new details surface: Zia silently goading Sunnis to carry out ethnic cleansing in Kohistan, and the northern areas of Chilas and Gilgit denying women/the uneducated the right to vote (charming!); Bhutto’s contempt for the people; an inspector general of Punjab police casually admitting that some 25,000 criminal record holders in law enforcement actually ran the show in the 90s (p185) (but of course!). In the midst of lectures where he admonishes the lawmakers and administrators for being lawbreakers at the behest of the ‘all-powerful’, he offers helpful suggestions on healthcare and educational reforms. The writer includes a statement taken from a former IG police that detail the tragic circumstances in the unsolved murder/suicide of his son Omar Asghar Khan, also a political activist, and identifies certain destructive patterns that could have served as early warning indicators. There is even a neat little Kashmir solution in there somewhere.

People reluctant to travel back to those decades might be convinced to do so by the writer’s erudite observations in this recap. Those who come for the history lesson could stay for the scattered trivia. And the next generation politician and/or dictator could choose to style their regime on a totally different set of parameters, given that ‘ten reasons (give or take a few) why our governments always flatline’ is out now.

Asghar Khan retired from military service, left active politics, spent years in detention, but did not relinquish his position as the moral compass of a nation mauled by dictatorship and democracy alike. Ironically, Milestones in a Political Journey begins with the writer renouncing awards and ends with him accepting one. Since this is not a book per se, it shifts tone abruptly, appears haphazard and is repetitious. There is no beginning, middle or end. There are no milestones either. Just some ‘stills’ taken from snapshots of history.

About the Author: Asghar Khan was the youngest to lead the Pakistan Air Force. He is the recipient of several awards, and led his party (Tehreek-e-Istiqlal) in spirit when he could not do so in person. He is also the author of other books, which include Pakistan at the Crossroads (1969), The Lighter Side Of The Power Game (1985) and the more recent My Political Journey (2008).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: FLIGHT OF THE FALCON Story of a Fighter Pilot by S. Sajad Haider

PUBLISHED In Daily Times / 16 Jan 2010 & the PROBE & Posted in CHOWK

Sajad Haider’s (SJ) name made headlines, both in war and peace. The former remains his legacy, faithfully revisited every September. The latter became a fleeting moment in history, which no one talks about. This story would be incomplete without either - its shock and awe value – lessened, considerably. But when Haider’s debut novel - Flight of the Falcon, sets out to demolish myths of Indo-Pak wars 1965 & 1971, several other fine illusions became collateral damage in the process.

His legendary exploits during battle, notwithstanding, Haider’s fall from grace was swift. A recurring role in controversies (domestic and international) plagued his professional career. Refusal to conform caused its premature end. Out of these extraordinary, if unorthodox life experiences, is born a story that flaunts the unwritten code of silence typically held sacrosanct.

Haider saw action in both wars as commander of a fighter squadron (‘65) and a tactical fighter wing (‘71). Speaking from such a unique vantage point has advantages. It has been used to assess PAK military operations and political adventurism of that era. This fact finding mission clears away prevalent misconceptions about PAF’s alleged lacklustre performance in ’71 - indicts top leadership (military and political) for ineptitude – cross references claimed kills (aerial) against recorded data and berates the system for letting air-brushed versions of history become impediments. It does so by amassing a repository of previously documented facts and figures from both sides of the border in the hope that this serves as a catalyst for ‘deeper more incisive probes’ in the future.

To call them ‘sensational revelations’ would be inaccurate, for our war time fiascos have spawned many books and articles by local and foreign observers alike – neutral or otherwise. Exhuming carefully crafted fairytales is not uncommon. Treading what was once considered to be hallowed ground has been in vogue for quite some time. The puzzle – in this case our history - comes together more easily with so many pieces to choose from. The issue is separating true historians on a quest for truth from vindictive pseudo analysts trashing institutions for sport. Now, all these versions compete for attention with another that has a personal stake in resurrecting old ghosts as Haider re-lives painful memories of his incarceration in the final half of the book to identify the burgeoning turmoil within his professional life that became a precursor to witch hunts against the crème de le crème of our PAF. But there is more to this cautionary tale of lost opportunities and political decay. ‘Flight of the Falcons’ vividly captures these magnificent men in their outnumbered flying machines at their finest – as creators of The Falcons Four (world class formation aerobatics team) and champions of air combat (65/71) war. It is a fitting tribute to the unsung heroes, martyrs and regular men in service for accomplishing what they did with whatever little they had.

Haider’s journey, from his most triumphant moments to the bleakest hours plays out like a Shakespearean drama where, according to one observer, he is a ‘maverick, top gun and Casanova’ rolled into one, forced to go through an obstacle course laid with incarceration, intrigues, and tribunals. And while one-sided versions, however committed to the pursuit of truth, require the occasional suspension of disbelief when shades of grey are carefully edited leaving the ‘shining armour concept’ intact, they are no less entertaining.

The writers 8 years spent in the business world could spawn a sequel; one that will go after the wheelers and dealers, or as he puts it, ‘crocodiles and piranhas’, who define the underbelly of ‘the Pakistani business world’. Someone who once told President Zia exactly what he thought of his regime should have no qualms about putting up an encore performance. Back in the day, Nosey – as he is referred to by his peers - stepped on powerful toes. Today, his book continues the tradition.

Since its launch in May 2009, Sajad Haider’s book has sent ripples across the nation and garnered responses from different parts of the world. The second edition has already been sold out and a third, revised version of Flight of the Falcon is under print. The upcoming edition has been further amended to include additional comments by the author where he reiterates his views about the 1965 and 1971 wars; revisits 6th of September to analyze, what he labels as command failures at Mauripur and Sargodha, and their contentious decision making process that resulted in the ‘avoidable loss of Sqn Ldr Sarfraz Rafiqui and Flt Lt Yunus Hussain’ – jewels in the PAF’s crown. An incident about Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas has also been updated. The botched hijack attempt has now been replaced with one attested by Grp.Capt. Zaheer Hussain - President of Air Investigation Board, who was also the officer in charge of the original investigation. The revised epilogue has been topped off with some scathing commentary - and the nuclear Godfather of the nation - Dr. AQ Khan does not come off well when it is over. The third edition is expected be on the shelves in about two weeks.

Acknowledgement: Thank you Darakhshanda Khurrum for the maverick comment. It got me in trouble but hey...:)

UPDATE: The Urdu Version of this book called "Shaheen Ki Parwaz" will be available from 5 Oct 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

VIEW: GOING DUTCH (2008)

Published in THE POST May 18, 2008

What does Cadbury have to do with 12 sketches and a 17 minute film? Nothing, really. Cadbury is neither Dutch nor Danish. But by now most Pakistanis - if not all - have probably received a text message stating otherwise. And thus begins a boycott campaign of all things Dutch or Danish. The self righteous lot, in their overzealousness, would acquiesce willingly. Yet, few who have received an email or sms that proclaimed the success of this boycott and lobbied for its continuity - or witnessed the demonstrations meant to convey outrage against both Denmark and the Netherlands for their alleged laxity in safeguarding certain religions’ sanctity - will stop to reflect on the virtues of pushing a hostile policy intended to coerce but neglecting to convince. Fewer still will bother to dig deeper and corroborate details of such episodes.

The cartoon controversy returned in 2008 – helped on by the aptly titled film ‘Fitna’- similarly denounced for its unflattering portrayal of Islam. The din of condemnation that followed drowned out a little known fact - that the immoral dispensation of personalized death squads for real and/or perceived insults provoked a re-run of the cartoon episode.

According to Al-Jazeera, Danish newspapers reprinted 12 images found distressing by Muslims in 2005 - as a mark of protest after uncovering an alleged murder plot against the cartoonist. “Regardless of whether Jyllands-Posten at the time used freedom of speech unwisely and with damaging consequences, the paper deserves unconditional solidarity when it is threatened with terror" claimed an editorial in Politiken and newspapers that refused to run these images 2 years ago, showed no qualms about doing so now. And just as the West made the resultant violence its cover story - so too has the East chosen to harp on the purely incendiary nature of the dispute.

The fact that Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende renounced the anti-Islam film at the Hague conference, stating that “it serves no purpose other than to offend”, rejected its interpretation of something that “equates Islam with violence” and the condemnation by Netherlands' Central Jewish Board who viewed it as "counterproductive" and "generalizing" has been conveniently left out whenever this topic is broached.

But if the cartoonist and filmmaker wittingly offended the Muslim faith, revered icons of Christianity have also been provocatively depicted. ‘An important piece of contemporary culture’ is how BBC perceived the contents of, ‘Jerry Springer- An Opera’, rightly seen by Prayer group ‘Christian Voice’ as a clear example of blasphemy. The producers came under fire for airing the highly sacrilegious show –that would be legal fire by the way and the Christian group lost the case. Recently, Col. Gaddafi - the Libyan leader- ruffled many feathers by questioning the authenticity of the Bible while addressing a Good Friday gathering in Uganda. No Christian group has put a price on his head yet.

Although EU refuses to develop any new laws against blasphemy, a recent resolution passed by the Pakistani Senate expects UN to step in and “take all necessary legal, political and administrative steps” to protect the sanctity of all religions. No doubt, a re-examination of the highly cherished ideals that govern free speech has become necessary, but repressing subversive tendencies harboured under the pretext of religious duty and let loose under the banner of Islam is a prerequisite. While 1 billion faithful may concede that their grievance is legitimate, radical verdicts are anything but. Some may even wonder why well known militant groups have a hard time making it on the mullahs top 20 hit list which obscure cartoonists from Denmark, obscure writers from U.K, and equally obscure filmmakers from Netherlands occupy so effortlessly. One can ask how such coercive tactics are any different from the ones adopted by terrorists. Soon Senator Dr. Babar Awan’s pro-Islamic film will join documentaries by two Iranian film makers, in an attempt to salvage the image tarnished as much by the deeds of those victimized as by architects of this scandal.

When Gandhi urged Indians to boycott all British goods, courts, institutions, elections, believing that the sheer scale of this movement would force the British to grant India self rule, M.A Jinnah observed that “… the weapon will not destroy the British empire… it is neither logical nor is it politically sound or wise, nor practically capable of being put in execution.” Replace Danish with British and the logic of his argument still hold true.

Public interest may wane in this boycott that has left many retailers in the Middle East with excess stock and consumers with no clear picture of its true impact. When that happens, the wrath would probably then be channelled at images of US Marines in an Iraqi mosque and the assignment of former U.S. Commander Guantanamo Bay - Jay Hood as the new US defence representative in Pakistan. Even before the General’s arrival, sms’s attributing every deplorable act in the infamous prison solely to him had been circulated; the visit of West Point Cadets who were on a hearts and mind mission in the Islamic Centre of Jersey City, and attended prayer services, was quickly buried by emails with graphic depiction of transgressions in war torn Iraq. Bridging the divide between East and West is hard enough without self-serving interests laying mines along the way.

Images Courtesy of: http://www.about-australia-shop.com/images/static-cadbury002.jpg

Thursday, January 14, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR – The Extraordinary Story of The Largest Covert Operation in History

PUBLISHED in THE POST FEB 09, 2008


Before details of the largest and most elaborate covert operation surfaced in 2003, men in suits were thought to be in charge in the real world while lone rangers saved the day in Hollywood. The new version of the Afghan freedom fighters struggle against the Russian occupation is one which author George Cirle believed “neither the United States government, nor the forces of Islam will want to be known”. This former producer of the CBS show ‘60 Minutes’, while covering the Afghan angle in the 1980’s, crossed paths with a maverick Congressman and went on to pursue what could have been the biggest expose of its time. His findings made the greatest story instead; one with all the makings of an epic.

While the second coming of Afghan Mujahideen is neither romantic nor pleasant, back in the day however, a Texas Congressman’s personal crusade against Reds found expression in the Afghan Holy War and an unlikely partnership gave birth to the modern jihad of the 1980’s. Secrecy was easier to preserve in those insular times and so, the mother of all covert wars in history fought in our back yard went on without exciting undue interest from our press. And though “Charlie did it” was President Zia’s historic pronouncement, from a Pakistani standpoint, Charlie Wilson’s historic role has remained the greatest story never told. Till now. Although in 1993, CIA did acknowledge that “Wilson engineered one of the lethal body blows that had wrecked the communist empire”; it would be 10 years for a book to exclusively document his singular association with that War and 4 more for a film and documentary to immortalize the character.

Who prompted Charlie to go off the beaten track to the Afghan refugee camps of Peshawar and grace the corridors of power in Islamabad, and the role socialites, beauty queens, and desperate housewives played in this noble mission is admittedly unorthodox; but then, so is the entire premise of this drama. Subsequently, the dynamic duo of Texas Congress man, Charlie Wilson and a streetwise CIA operative Gust Avrakotos converted CIA’s apathetic involvement into a full blown endorsement of the Afghan War. The extremes this Congressman went to in his single-minded pursuit of a vision and the diverse cast of characters and oftentimes questionable ethics enlisted to achieve the impossible make this one the most provocative stories of recent history.

The raw depiction and gritty dramatization rides roughshod over the niceties, marking the moral ambiguity – an unofficial trademark of such enterprises. This approach also captures the inherent cruelty of Afghan psyche that struck fear into the enemy, even without the benefit of modern weaponry. How Charlie circumvented the system for the Afghani resistance is astonishing – some even thought it admirable at the time - but a glimpse into the gruesome mindset of these mountain warriors and their passion for retribution is, nevertheless, chilling.

If the notion of a nuclear armed Pakistan was discomfiting to the world, the creeping threat of Communism weighed far more heavily at the time. A frontline state then as it is now, Pakistan’s involvement enables readers to explore the depth of an alliance impervious to our nuclear ambitions, the extent of our involvement that nearly led to a head on confrontation with Soviets camped at the doorstep, and the level of an ISI-CIA collaboration that helped transform a medieval fighting spirit into a modern militia capable of taking on the mighty Red Army.

The age of the hapless mujahideen may be over; toxic residue left over from Charlie’s War and the trajectory of change it initiated, held responsible for the eventual fallout of 2001, has also introduced a more complex regional dynamics. This portal into the past, while alarming opens the doorways of understanding the present – which is equally worrying. Deconstructing an Afghan resistance from its eccentric beginnings to the frenzied end would be incomplete without Charlie Wilson’s War – the extraordinary story of the largest covert operation in history.

Images Courtesy of: http://www.iwp.edu/imgLib/20100809_CharlieWilsonsWar20074576_f.jpg

http://www.mexicanpictures.com/headingeast/images/charlie%20wilson.jpg

VIEW: PAF - Both Sides of the COIN

Published In HILAL (Military Mag) Jan 2010

As gleaming multi-role fighters taxi down the runway, their occupants are ready for the looming battle yet, the war they are now about to embark on is unlike anything their predecessors have experienced. If taking on an enemy with a (non-existent) airpower capability and a pervasive hold over Pakistani territory is PAF’s latest mission; seamlessly transitioning from defenders of the skies to defenders of the soil – is its biggest challenge. As a conventionally armed air force adds another dimension of counterinsurgency (COIN) to its formidable list of specialities, the reshuffled priorities have revealed zero collateral damage as a guiding principal, and an intensive inter-services planning with PAK Army high command as a mandatory element of its COIN operations.

While an impressive armada of conventional weaponry is on standby for the long term threat, a more immediate danger puts PAF’s COIN capability to the test. And as the PAF carries on a limited, albeit pivotal role in close support of the army, it must do so without compromising its conventional forces reserved for the Eastern front, without collateral damage and without a COIN doctrine - an interesting dilemma, and a heavy responsibility.

By now PAF is engaged in a full fledged COIN campaign and it is more complex than eliminating a few ragtag Afghan marauders. A ‘65 war veteran reminiscing about the few scattered missions undertaken as part of his border patrol duties sees a mini Vietnam/VietCong in present day COIN operations : Rah-e-Raast (Swat) and Operation Rah-e-Nijaat (S. Waziristan). While these three could not be more different in terms of terrain, the targeting difficulties are the same. Pakistan Air Force and Army have carried out joint operations where the PAK Army Cobra Helicopters go for soft (moving) targets and the PAF concentrates on precision targeting using laser guided bombs (LGB) in ‘collateral damage rich environments’ and for taking out reputed safe houses/meeting places. Mavericks with TV guided heads are prone to errors but LGB’s with their higher penetration capability are suitable alternates. PAF acknowledges that such joint operations have been successful in reducing reaction time, providing heightened accuracy with absolute minimum collateral damage.

Air power puts a premium on accurate ground intelligence for precision targeting in this kind of warfare. COIN operations within ones own territories are not without some advantages. In cases where ‘shrubbery’ would be the pilots first guess upon catching sight of a flash of green in a sparsely populated area; ‘crude camouflage’ would be the assessment of a HUMNIT (human intelligence) familiar with the lay of the land.

The Flip Side of the PAF COIN

In order to judge PAF’s COIN capability one must consider the following. In the absence of a ground-to-air threat virtually any type of combat aircraft can do the job. But manned fighters are costly to operate. Of the four variables in COIN equation (surveillance, reconnaissance, air attacks and air mobility), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)’s or drones as they are affectionately referred to, have been deemed perfect for surveillance, their armed counterparts Predators/Reapers are ideal for their rapid response to emergent threats. But first PAF’s sorority sisters, (in this case – the USAF) need to be convinced that handing over such an advanced technology is in our joint interest. It would give the PAF 24/7 surveillance capability for one. It would provide the lightning quick ability to react as soon as the target or his hidey hole is identified. And more importantly, it would take the heat off the sovereignty issue.

Analysts agree that dedicated slow speed ground attack aircraft (A-10 Warthog, Marine Harrier), gunship (AC130), would give the much needed loiter time. The Warthog is a rugged COIN bird, cheap to operate, easy to fly, with longer loiter time; and it can take off/land anywhere; the complete opposite of the magnificent F-16, in fact. While preference has been shown for the AC-130 gunship - a potent COIN weapon with accurate direct fire weapons which minimize risk of collateral damage, it is the more powerful gunship helicopter that one defence expert would put at the top of the wish list.

The protracted nature of COIN warfare puts a heavy demand on resources. The continuity of these operations is inextricably tied to a guaranteed logistical support. Heavy reliance on Western assistance can be a double edged sword. PAF Mirages and F-7’s already serve as makeshift COIN aircraft. And if the PAF were to completely rely on its own resources, some even believe that an old faithful (A-5) can take over; and if they cannot be equipped with LGB’s, they do not need to be for not every target requires an 18,000$ SMART bomb. Sometimes, kinetic weaponry (dud bombs) make just as effective missiles.

Is the PAF COIN capable? According to one PAF personnel, PAF is as COIN capable as the next fella. The F-16 from our current inventory with its dedicated air-to-ground capability comes in handy when the quarry is a fleeting target of opportunity. Lockheed Martin has reportedly been contracted with the upgrade of 34 F-16A/B Block 15 fighters with modern weapons and sensors . The fleet of F-16 Block 52’s has been scheduled for delivery. An advanced weapons package has been requested and an indigenously produced, cheaper version of F-16, the JF-17 proudly waits in the wings. Ultimately, the JF-17’s will be integrated as the main workhorse.

While the PAF may not be waging a textbook COIN campaign, its presently evolving doctrine is customized around the peculiar operating environment. By making COIN an integral part of its recently held annual war games ‘Saffron Bandit 2009-10’, PAF joins in to wrest the initiative away from an enemy that has a clear head start. High Mark 2010 – a joint exercise scheduled for next year will take the PAK Army-Air force partnership up a notch. The battle for Pakistan has begun in earnest. And it is a fight to the finish.

Acknowledgement: Air/Cdre (R) Sajad Haider & Air/Cdre(R) Kaiser Tufail

Images courtesy: http://www.mysargodha.com/images/videos/jf17thunder.jpg
http://pakistaniat.com/2009/10/16/pakistan-f-16-paf/

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http://0.s3.envato.com/files/383585.jpg

http://www.pafwallpapers.com/gallery_JF-17/paf_awacs_linkup.jpg

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-lwGLewaLHgw/T-l-YHeTshI/AAAAAAAAGys/_tRRbnTGdxc/s640/Drones+can+be+hijacked+by+terrorist.jpg

VIEW: The Persian Inquisition

Published in THE POST SEP 29, 2007


“It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas or our naiveté about the very real dangers inherent in such ideas”; Lee C. Bollinger, President Columbia University pointed out, as he launched into a 19 minute invective against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; the speaker for World Leaders Forum, held at Columbia University on 24 September 2007; thus sparking the controversy that Ahmadinejad had been expected to ferment. While these words illustrated the sentiments of the university administration, they were merely a sample of the brutal character assassination that followed soon after.

Lee Bollinger may have been just a professor and the University’s President, as he put it but his diatribe lacked the finesse expected of an academics or the decorum exhibited by Americans on global platforms. He did, however, attack like a true politician. Crossing the line between candor and contempt, his statements referred to matters damning on their own and had he simply allowed recorded facts like Iran’s alleged human rights abuse for instance, to speak for themselves, a far stronger moral foundation could have been set up for debate.

As it is, valid concerns got mixed up with invalid personal attacks in an introduction that seemed more befitting for Hitler, Jack the Ripper or perhaps Osama. Bollinger hogged Ahmadinejad’s airtime as he labeled him to be some one ‘who exhibits all signs of a cruel and petty dictator’, whose denial of the Holocaust renders him ‘uneducated’ and ‘ridiculous’ with a parting shot that Ahmadinejad would lack ‘the intellectual courage to answer the questions’ praising the nation that does have emotional courage to confront the ‘mind of evil’.

"I should not begin by being affected by this unfriendly treatment." It was not a raving lunatic who finally took the stand to utter these words. He, admittedly tap danced around many thorny issues but remained mildly reproachful of the insults and pointedly observed that Iranian culture respects invited guests as does America. While answers were evasive and not always convincing, he attempted to skip controversy on the Holocaust, merely asking for more research of that phenomenon.

When his previous statements about the destruction of Israel were brought up, Ahmadinejad claimed to respect all nations and that Palestine needed to decide its own fate. He also thought ‘Iranian women were respected and free’ and served in high government positions when asked about lack of human rights. Perhaps some responses were thought to be unsatisfactory and others ludicrous; nonetheless, women in Iran can hardly be more oppressed than other Arab women so this particular accusation was perhaps, unfair.

Contrary to the City Council speaker’s opinion, it was not the Iranian who stood out for any “hate-mongering vitriol” given that Mr. Bollinger’s abrasive remarks made the initial headlines. As to what prompted Mr. Bollinger to lash out at a not so honored guest; well it could have been the fear that after the media has built up such a terror of the Iranian regime and hatred for its agenda, Ahmadinejad may come across as benign and bring up actual valid talking points. Or, it could have been to appease the numerous critics opposed to the Presidents visit.

Sadly, this belligerence merely serves as an indicator of possibly opening hostilities with Iran in the near future and not “to help us better understand this critical and complex nation in today’s geopolitics.” as was the university’s intention even as an admiring foreign publication confers the dubious distinction of ‘U DA MAN’ on Bollinger. Just this once, there is little to separate the men from the boys.

Academics believe that the invitation, whether courted or willingly extended, will ultimately hurt the university’s fund raising capacity with rich donors. According to ‘The New York Sun’, talk of legislatures reducing capital funding and financial assistance to the school has already begun.

To date, according to the CNN poll, some 65% consider the harsh introduction to be well deserved and 35% believe that it was out of line. Since then, many Americans dismiss Bollinger’s remarks as a brutally frank statement of truth; others believe that the vilification of Ahmadinejad served to elevate his stature among Iranians while demeaning US standing in the rest of the world. Already Iranian Jews have joined with American voices to express their outrage and while Salt Lake Tribune may not be a fan of Ahmadinejad, it does applaud Colombia University for granting him a forum, and condemns Bollinger for yielding to pressure from Jewish activists. Ahmadinejad and his historic visit may have faded from memory but for Bollinger’s conduct which has immortalized the Iranian as ‘the gentlemanly adversary’ for some in the Columbia round.

Images Courtesy of: http://www.columbia.edu/~rlh2/low4.gif

VIEW: The Prince and the P***

PUBLISHED 30 Jan 2009 Muslim World Today(California)

‘Our little friend Paki’:

A four-letter word in this innocent sounding dialogue between Harry and his handheld camera hit an already frayed, overtly sensitive nerve of the Pak-British community in general and some Pakistanis in particular. Had we watched Prince Harry’s infamous video in Pakistan, without the accompanying howl of anger, would we still have noticed anything amiss? Maybe. May be not. The fuss over this sound byte was the first intimation for many Pakistanis that Paki was a racial slur, not a nickname used when convenient, not a prefix to be tacked to all things Pakistani and definitely not a term of endearment for their compatriots. And this revelation came as a surprise to folks who pleaded guilty to using the term often, both in earnest and in jest, with foreigners and without. Its usage is more common that one would think.

The same argument does not exempt foreigners apparently, which is why the case against Harry went to (media) trial, and the verdict was racist. Since Brits have coined the meaning – if not the term – Harry, must be aware of its meaning if not the implication for fellow cadet Ahmed and therefore, was not let off the hook this easy. A lynch mob (tabloids, Pak - British community, Ahmed’s entire family and an uncle) rearing to take down the politically incorrect Royal made sure of it. 3 years after making their short film debut in a very personal video diary, Ahmed and Harry were dragged back in the limelight. Neither could have foreseen that a private banter would end up on a public forum and footage never intended for commercial production would become the most talked about 3 minutes of Royal filmmaking circa 2006.

Harry’s swift apology did not deter an unforgiving media from exploiting and advertising the Royal quest for redemption to the accompaniment of disapproving looks and relentless critique. The Pakistani family’s response did not help. While Ahmed seemed to have no problem with Harry 3 years ago and probably has none today, the father’s reaction was excessive, when instead of graciously accepting the Harry’s apology, he asked for another; one that was to be bigger, better and more public. The family called him cowardly for hiding behind an official spokesperson while an Uncle crawled out of the woodworks with a desire to see ‘sorrow in Harry’s eyes’. A news report now claims that Harry has straightened things out with his ‘little’ friend on the phone.

The racism charge appears to be more of a gimmick to feed the insatiable appetite of media inspired witch-hunts of twentieth century than an actual pursuit for justice. For the footage that set out to capture the escapades of a certain officer cadet and his merry men was, perhaps not a production masterpiece or a shining example of humor in uniform, but that was the extent of its crime. The statute of limitation on racism may not have expired but given that Harry’s slip was probably more asinine than Freudian, before he risked his life for his people, his verdict should be Time Served.

A decorated soldier like Ahmed battling insurgency in his homeland has taken worse hits than this since. He will survive this setback. Second Lieutenant Harry, who carved a similar path of glory by going incognito to the heart of battle in neighboring Afghanistan, has been in worse jams. He will get through this one, but for future reference, he needs to weigh his words carefully (both on and off camera) because media trials have a way of making you eat them later and alleged slurs leave a bitter after taste.

Images Courtesy of: http://www.princeharry.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/prince-harry.jpg

Saturday, January 9, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Three Presidents and an Aide - Life, Power and Politics

Published in Daily Times / 9 Jan 2010
Author: Ambassador Arshad Sami Khan SJ
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

MY DEAR COUNTRYMEN - three ‘nation altering words’ followed by some standard lines that come from an equally standard speech typically associated with the beginning or ending of a takeover. In Pakistan anyway. It is an increasingly familiar pattern, an unfortunate legacy and a well acted performance from otherwise green actors – that every generation gets to experience, analyze, dread and crib over for the remainder of their lives. It is also one that they seldom understand fully, can never challenge and forever speculate about. The camera eventually pans away from the triumphant or vanquished knight in fatigues! – the haze of mystery surrounding the men who wielded a nation’s fate in their hands oh so casually, remains.

What happened next – is always more interesting than scripted moments of history.

As an Aide-de-Camp (ADC), Arshad Sami Khan was perfectly positioned with an all access backstage pass into 3 presidencies. He witnessed the skilfully manipulated rise and cleverly orchestrated fall of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto - as their ADC and glimpsed the inner machinations of the Prime Ministers House as Chief Protocol Officer of Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister. Aided by notes and an innate gift for story telling, Sami Khan proceeded to arrange his experiences in the form of a book. With 6 years of service in that high profile appointment, he had a treasure trove of stories. But even though this would not be classified as an expose per se, being a relatively tame account by comparison, the book still took ten years to see the light of day.

Now that it has – we finally get to know what these three – Ayub and Yahya in particular, were up to when they were not leading news at local gossip columns, planning disastrous Operations (Gibraltar) or watching the dismemberment of Pakistan from their lofty perch. Their ADC is privy to all the details – after all, aides are there to ‘assist the senior officer’ 24/7 - a glorified nanny, if you will. But while he manages to keep the readers interested without vilifying his bosses or delving into scandalous details, even going so far as to change a few names, it is still hard to keep true natures from surfacing now and then, however unwittingly.

Flt. Lt - Sami Khan (SJ) had flown maximum combat missions in 1965 War while in the PAF. As a war veteran, he takes us back to the 1971 War from a military mans perspective and as an aide he provides a unique insight into the political wrangling preceding the fall of Dacca and following the aftermath. As he saw the Federation crumble away in the East Pakistan debacle, Sami Khan has his own interpretation about what (not who) exactly was responsible for the ultimate break-up of Pakistan. And, according to him, it is not the oft reviled Yahya Khan. Sandwiched between the amusing anecdotes is an incisive examination showing why religion is not enough of a motivator to prevent countries already divided by geography, from getting torn asunder with just a little prodding. Excruciating as it to relive that horrific phase, these chapters are worthy of attention. Crisis after crisis rocked Pakistan – just as it does now. The era was defined by insurgencies, intrigues, war, sugar hikes and remembered for reshaping the political landscape.

The history lesson is an added bonus and there are enough light-hearted moments to relieve the tension. The writer takes pains to clarify the especially sleazy rumours, as he entertains with titbits like Yahya Khan’s escapades a la ‘Roman Holiday’ fascinates with a kaleidoscope of imagery taken straight from the ‘photo frame of history’ and shocks with Mr. Bhutto’s itinerary during ‘71 War/debacle. There is also an amusing little episode concerning our Friends not Masters! when books and movies about ‘The Ugly American’ were making international rounds and the living example was doing the local circuit.

Though those were dark times and none of the presidencies had happy endings, Sami Khan keeps the book from getting pulled into a black hole. The 280 page long narrative flows smoothly but the story ends rather abruptly and on a curious note. The writer is discomfited by how much Libya’s Gaddafi seemed to be in sync with Pakistan’s internal (and often secret) affairs but does not explore this bizarre interest further, leaving the reader disturbed , concerned and a tad frustrated.

Ambassador Sami Khan joined the diplomatic service in later years. His 6 year record as an aide remains unbroken to this day. An ADC is regarded as a trusted friend of the family. Such is the nature of his relationship with the Head of State. That trust has not been misplaced. The Curtain fell on the men he served long ago. Sami Khan also passed away in 2009.

His book would be a valuable addition to the archives. These 3 Presidents have been cast as heroes in their own story, play arch - villains in their rival’s edition and tyrants/traitors/victims depending upon which version of history one chooses to believe. Fortunately for them, this ADC extraordinaire was loyal to the end. Sami Khan’s book gives them a new identity, as ordinary men in extraordinary positions - who messed up. ‘Three Presidents and an Aide’ is the closest one could come to feeling some empathy for an otherwise controversial set of characters. And that is something!