The heroics of the Pakistan Armed Forces in the 1965 war against India are now part of folklore in the annals of history. The undeclared attack by an enemy, several times bigger in size, on Pakistan’s international frontiers was not just resisted, but repelled during the 17-day war.
Even after the passage of 52 long years, memories of this conflict continue to inspire the new generation of men and women in uniform as well as civilians. These memories have been woven into our national fabric, uniting the nation against its enemies.
They help us understand the ethos of our nation, which possesses the courage, determination and drive to stand-up to the enemy when attacked. They explain the difference between “us and them” and define the national character that refuses to give-up despite the biggest of odds.
Every September, Pakistan commemorates sacrifices and bravery of its martyrs and veterans of war. On Sept 6 – Defence Day – Pakistanis renew the pledge to defend their motherland and stand up for its ideals, including their unrelenting support to the freedom struggle in Kashmir, come what may.
The generation, which fought and witnessed the 1965 war, is now aging, but that does not mean that those who came after them have lost connection with those momentous events. Those moments live in our collective memory; they have been passed on from father and mother to sons and daughters; they live in our literature, national songs and poetry. They tell us about the “raison d’etre” of Pakistan and explain the meaning of freedom, which is worth living and dying for.
These memories continue to expand as our mighty hearts and brave sons take on our internal and external enemies in the 21st century Pakistan, rendering huge sacrifices similar to those made by the heroes of 1948, 1965, 1971 and the mini 1999-Kargil wars – all fought against Pakistan’s number one enemy, India.
Today, Pakistan faces its traditional enemy on its eastern borders and an estranged neighbour in Afghanistan in the northwest as well as internal enemies operating on its soil in various shades and colours.
Ideological battles will overshadow armed conflicts in the wars of the future
Among the internal enemies, there are violent extremist groups misusing the sacred name of Islam to carry out terror attacks. But in fact, these extremists are killing mostly civilians and security personnel as they try to weaken the world’s lone Muslim nuclear-power state.
Then, we also have a minuscule number of well-heeled individuals, including politicians, media persons, activists of foreign-funded non-government organisations, who are trying to destroy national cohesion by resorting to anti-state propaganda and undermining state institutions. To achieve their nefarious designs, they sometimes operate under the garb of narrow, intolerant nationalism, weakening the country with rhetoric on freedom of speech and even democracy.
Both these sets of internal enemies – though small in number – are lethal for Pakistan. They create conditions that benefit the external enemies. As a nation, Pakistan has to act against both and deny them the space to operate.
The Pakistan Armed Forces have already scored major victories against the first set of internal enemies – the extremist groups – through a series of operations including Zarb-e-Azb and the ongoing, holistic Radd-ul-Fasaad. This has brought a sharp decline in terrorist attacks across Pakistan and deprived the violent non-state actors of the space to operate freely.
The remote mountainous regions, including South and North Waziristan, once outside the state writ, have been cleared at great human and financial cost. Yet, the final victory remains elusive as these violent non-state actors have the ability to regroup and reorganise themselves in shadowy cells. These cells can be formed and sustained in any part of the country to carry out sporadic terrorist activities, as well as big attacks.
Defeating this elusive internal enemy requires concerted efforts, including the implementation of the 20-point National Action Plan in totality. While the armed forces have managed to do their share of work and scored decisive victories by rendering huge sacrifices, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government needs to improve its game and ensure the implementation of the NAP on a priority basis.
First and foremost, the government should push for reforms in the education system, including seminaries, to win the ideological battle and defeat the extremist mindset. The educational reforms should be carried out in tandem with the police and the judicial reforms, a crackdown on the ideological nurseries of extremism in Punjab, blocking terror financing, preventing the spread of hate-material and stopping the misuse of the pulpit.
Developing a counter-narrative to the extremist ideology should also be high on the agenda. A lot of lip-service has been given to this cause, but practically little has been done on this front. The civilian leadership must take the initiative to counter extremist ideologies on every platform – on the mainstream and social media, as well as mosques, seminaries and modern educational institutions through religious and political literature.
Today’s conflicts are no more just an army versus another army, but a nation versus another. It is not the clash of the men in uniform alone, but the war of economies, ideologies and narratives
However, the past four-year performance of the PML-N government hardly gives one hope that those in power even recognise the urgency and necessity of moving in this direction.
The continued political instability also crushes such hopes especially when key members of the federal cabinet and government officials are busy giving protocol duties for the disqualified premier Nawaz Sharif and dancing to his whims.
No state can stand up to external enemies, without resolving its internal contradictions and establishing its writ in every nook and corner of the country. The threat on the frontiers intensifies when there is discord and instability within the country.
The strongest of states can implode if an internal strife prolongs. Therefore, state institutions must end internal conflicts as early as possible to deny India and other hostile nations a chance to exploit them using their proxies, their agents or the confused misguided youth.
The second set of internal enemies use fashionable causes and modern slogans to divide the people and damage the state. Our civil society, especially intellectuals, academia, writers and media persons have to take the lead and counter the propaganda and false narrative targeting Pakistan, its freedom movement and the armed forces.
On its part, the state should help in this cause by ensuring reforms in the educational sector, regulating curriculums from the primary to higher educational level and barring foreign investment in the media – even in the name of journalists’ education and training – both for the mainstream and social media platforms.
There are some countries, which are investing a lot on these fronts in an attempt to influence opinion-makers to impact and divide the society.
Pakistan also needs to put in more effort to monitor and regulate the operations and sources of funding of foreign-backed non-government organisations. The government has already taken some steps, which need to be expanded and sustained.
No state can stand up to external enemies, without resolving its internal contradictions and establishing its writ in every nook and corner of the country. The threat on the frontiers intensifies when there is discord and instability within the country
Most of Pakistan’s challenges are manageable and can be overcome provided the leadership acts in a decisive manner. The modern day security paradigm doesn’t revolve around the armed forces alone. Even before firing the first shots on the battlefield, wars are won and lost.
The enemy attempts to weaken a state by sowing dissent, through cultural invasion and triggering internal discords. And we can see our enemies zealously at work on every front in Pakistan. To defeat the internal and external enemies, the entire nation needs to stand up as a single unit, with a deep sense of purpose.
Today’s conflicts are no more just an army versus another army, but a nation versus another. It is not the clash of the men in uniform alone, but the war of economies, ideologies and narratives, of media and educational institutions and above all the will to win and prevail as a nation.
For this, heroics of the 1965 war should serve as the guiding spirit – not just on Defence Day or the first and second weeks of September, but 24/7, 365 days a year without a break.
The internal and external dangers for Pakistan have indeed compounded with the passage of time, but like the generation of yesteryears, this generation too, has the ability and capacity to overcome and prevail upon them. We just need to free the mighty spirit of Pakistan.