|Daily Times - Site Edition||Saturday, September 08, 2007|
VIEW: Surrenders and frontier warfare —Shaukat Qadir
In the absence of any battle or casualties, the capture of such a contingent, followed by a smaller one, within the span of a few days offers no explanation other than that the troops opted to surrender. Admittedly, this is conjecture, but following the explanation offered before this conclusion is drawn, there appears no logical alternative
The recent incidents of soldiers supposedly ‘captured by’ militants in the tribal areas — 208 a few days ago, and another dozen a couple of days later, according to various sources — is a matter of concern for all citizens. This seemingly soft surrender becomes even more interesting when we consider that mountain warfare is taught at the Infantry School as well as the Staff College and is also practised during the War Course. Further, veterans of earlier operations in Balochistan or Afghanistan have had chances to apply these concepts in hostile environments.
Any convoy moving through hostile territory, whether vehicular or on foot, routinely occupies all heights along the route to prevent being ambushed. If a vehicular convoy has to meet a time limit then other troops occupy these heights and signal the convoy that the route is safe, thus allowing it to proceed speedily to its destination.
Alternately, if the convoy has to protect itself, then soldiers mounted on the vehicles dismount and clear neighbouring heights, permitting the convoy to proceed with caution till the next possible ambush site is reached, where the same drill is repeated.
Consequently, the explanation for these recent kidnappings offered by DG-ISPR raises more questions than it actually answers.
First, it is intriguing that a convoy of over a hundred regular soldiers and another hundred or so Frontier Corps men with a lieutenant colonel in charge were proceeding on leave. If the regulars were proceeding on leave with the FC personnel along for protection, which makes better sense, then why did the FC men remain mounted on their vehicles while passing through possible ambush sites? The latest suggestion that these soldiers had chosen to spend their leave as guests of the Mehsud tribe is absurd.
In all environments where it is not possible to differentiate between a hostile and a peaceful citizen, clear and unambiguous ‘rules of engagement’ are issued by the highest authority. In such a situation, any individual bearing arms would be assumed hostile and, though the rules of engagement should clearly state that such an individual or group is not to be fired upon unless they initiate hostilities, they would be apprehended and questioned.
In the unlikely event that a force in excess of 200 armed soldiers commanded by a lieutenant colonel were successfully ambushed by a smaller hostile force (of a dozen or so!), especially if routine SOPs (standard operating procedures) were not being followed, a battle would be expected where a large number of soldiers would be killed and wounded. But the rest would break through the ambush as anti-ambush drills are routinely taught and practised.
However, in the absence of any battle or casualties, the capture of such a contingent, followed by a smaller one, within the span of a few days offers no explanation other than that the troops opted to surrender. Admittedly, this is conjecture, but following the explanation offered before this conclusion is drawn, there appears no logical alternative.
Knowing the way militaries all over the world operate, it is a matter of certainty that the careers of the officers among the captured will come to a swift and untimely end, whenever they are repatriated. The other ranks will also be interrogated and while many of them may also be discharged, those who are retained will bear this stigma for a long time.
If the troops have indeed chosen to lay down their arms rather than fight against their own ‘brethren’, two conclusions can be drawn.
First, morale is low and the idea of killing own citizens, which has never sat well with any moral soldier, has become an increasingly difficult burden to bear. Some of us may recall that in 1977, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wanted to declare martial law in selected cities, including Lahore, three brigadiers refused and resigned in protest; which was the catalyst for the military takeover by General Zia-ul Haq.
Second, there is, among the soldiers and officers, either increased sympathy for the so-called militants or decreased sympathy for Musharraf’s policies; in all probability the latter. It is important to state at this point that those who have chosen to blame the captured soldiers, of whatever rank, for these incidents should perhaps pause and consider for a moment, for the moral burden of killing your own citizens can only be understood by those who have had occasion to do the same.
In either case, if even the rank and file of the army are disillusioned with Musharraf’s policies for dealing with the very real problem of religious militancy, then there really is no possible justification for him to continue in uniform, which he refers to as his ‘skin’, and none whatsoever for him to prolong his stay.
It is time for him to say his farewell to arms and political power.
The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)
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