This may initiate some soul searching about one of the little known effects of the 1971 war but for the bone deaf and genetically dumb, those who have steadfastly refused to learn from their mistakes, are unwilling to identify the country’s archenemy and too eager to hug those who wish to see this country succumb to the level of Dalit-like abject servility. After what Mr Modi admitted in Dhaka, Jinnah’s prescience and political foresight in demanding Pakistan looks like an act of divine providence. The searing signals coming from New Delhi are highly regressive, to say the least.
It may come to many as a surprise that the nation and, unfortunately, the army at that time, both showed hardly any desire to know what really happened in East Pakistan during the 1971 war. That means there was a collective determination not to learn from our defeat. On repatriation from the Indian prisoner of war (PoW) camps we were taken to an officers’ mess in Lahore Cantt and given papers for recording our version of what passed over us. I got down earnestly to writing a detailed account and, many sheets later, someone picked up those papers. I turned around to see and was pleasantly surprised to see my ex battery commander (Major Riaz) who hugged me passionately, took me aside and advised, “I know what you are writing is the truth, but none here are prepared to listen to hard talk. This write up will not see the light of day but you will not be cleared for the rest of your career.” He tore up those papers and asked me to write just flat.
I am grateful to his timely advice, as many of those who wrote what they must were hounded for a long time, sidelined and finally either left in disgust or were chucked out of the army. I am quite unhappy with myself for having buckled in. He said, “Your parents have already lost a son in war (my elder brother, Major Anwaar Mohi ud Din, was killed in Shakargarh Sector), if you are victimised, it could be too much for them.” I gave in and feel sorry till this day. It is easier to philosophise but difficult to face reality.
In the units and formations we were known as ‘returnees’, more as a measure of refusing to face the bitter reality of defeat and surrender and less as politeness towards us. An otherwise decorated division commander in Sialkot refused publicly to accept returnees in his formation. This was perhaps the unkindest cut of all but also arrogance unlimited. Fellow officers in the units kept a discreet distance from us and dubbed our enthusiasm to train hard and burn the midnight oil for the outfits under our command as crazy. One could almost hear their derisive whispers. I was issued at least 35 warnings for poor discipline in the space of a year by a unit commander who considered the traditional military way of doing things as threatening and naturally went on to join the civil service sponsored by a ruling politician. He rose to become a heavyweight federal secretary.
Meanwhile, the service had already begun to become partial towards the returnees. Except for posting them near their home stations after repatriation, hardly a serious attempt was made to make up their loss of years in captivity when pitched along with their course mates who had been in West Pakistan and did many professional courses and appointments in the meanwhile. There were very damaging gaps in our professional grooming and profiles, as a result of time spent in Indian captivity. This shortfall showed itself when we reached selection ranks and competed for prized appointments here and abroad. Many officers were seriously disillusioned once again. Despite this handicap those few who rose to senior ranks were either extraordinarily talented or very lucky. Lieutenant General Imtiaz Warraich (then Lieutenant Colonel) was one such officer — the rest were mostly wasted.
The army’s culture as also that of our society was changing for the worse, it appeared. Those with elastic ethics seemed to be getting the better part of the system. Hard working, matter of fact and conscientious officers were at a definite disadvantage, given unglamorous and tougher tasks to perform. Cheeky favourites were being projected in service circles, rewarded unduly and preferred over hardcore officers.
It was during the delusional post-1971 war period that the late General Zia’s deliberately adopted spurious religiousness, duplicity and other unmilitary practices became tools for promotions and cozy appointments for many, severely damaging our honourable military values. This despicable courtesan culture along with the refusal to face consequences and the lessons of the 1971 war was to cost us dearly during the entire proceedings of the Kargil debacle. The then commander Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) was an outstanding specimen of the patronising, falsifying and shadowy culture thus officially sponsored in the army. Like the 1971 war no one is sorry for the awful military-diplomatic embarrassment caused to the country by the undertaking of the harebrained Kargil misadventure. True to our pervasive moral squalor, most of those responsible were rewarded and promoted.
After the 1971 war, our civil society also underwent shattering convulsions under the impact of horrible defeat and a Machiavellian political leadership in the country. There was an overwhelming sense of confrontation and irresponsibility in the air. There was a visible standoff between students and teachers, parents and children, peasants and landlords, labour and the factory owner, subordinate and the official, investor and the government and various other strata of life. The entire social structure was in the grip of a terrible commotion. That was evidence of society falling apart and the spreading chaos in a country that was not able to rise to the reality of its breakup as a result of aggression and intrigue.
On a private plane most married returnees suffered severe psychological stress as PoWs when their domestic worries caught up with them. Some marriages broke up, others tilted at dangerous angles and eventually collapsed on return. Children who grew up without their fathers during a crucial period in their lives drifted astray and became either school dropouts or criminalised. Some wives could not adjust to the brittle mental state of their returnee husbands and the household became a living hell for both. Over-focus on religion in adversity led many of us to excessive religiousness and eventual bigotry, making them social and service misfits on return. Nobody had educated society that returnees needed time and understanding to adjust back to normal life. One is not sure but some suicides or grievous physical injuries might also have occurred. There was no institutionalised counselling available or thought to prevent this unnecessary social friction among returnees and their immediate families.
It has taken a lot of time for the army to recover from the twin menace of destructive self-deception after the 1971 war and the most unfortunate character corrosion set up immediately afterwards by General Zia’s duplicitous practices. General Pervez Musharraf could be considered as the last of the Zulus produced by the Ziaist faking forge. By the time of his exit, the army’s rank and file were passing through a kind of self-examination from the failure at Kargil. A serious wave of retrospection was set up after General Musharraf’s departure and has been fairly well institutionalised by now. Much is still needed to be done and one is sure will be done. Battles are not won on the prayer mat or by mere bravado. Soldiering is not the province of the fake and the tinsel. The sooner we get rid of them the better it would be for the army and the country.
The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan army and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org