What’s wrong with Pakistan’s Army? A former officer’s perspective


Earlier, I noted that the Pakistani military’s lack of response to the assault on Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi is going to have serious repercussions. A comment from a former Pakistani Army officer, passed along from my friend Ravi Rikhye at Orbat.com, drives the point home.

The note below was written by Agha H. Amin, a retired cavalry officer in the Pakistani Army currently working for a power transmission company in Afghanistan. Mr. Amin provides a scathing look at the Pakistani military and its inability to quickly and effectively respond. The military’s authority has eroded and is no longer feared by enemies within the state, Mr. Amin argues, and the effectiveness of the terrorist assault and the poor response of the unit guarding the headquarters and the officers within make the military look weak. Here goes:

The attack on Pakistani GHQ [General Headquarters] raises more serious questions about Pakistan Army’s military effectiveness and potency than answers.

The most crucial and grave question is that the Pakistani military seems to have lost in a great degree its coercive value and moral deterrence. Something which is the foundation of any political system and on which all agree starting from Freud, Aristotle, Plato down to Marx, Lenin, Mao, and Khomeni.

Once General Musharraf decided to make a U turn under coercion by USA the army lost its moral credibility in the eyes of a large section of Pakistani populace, not the majority but a sizeable minority far more effective in tangible potency than a far larger minority.

The first most serious question is not from where the threat originated but how did a small minority of a few handpicked young men developed the resolution to attack the citadel of Pakistani military, the GHQ ? Its an intangible question but far more serious than whether these men had their organisational centre in Waziristan or Afghanistan.

The second serious question is the response to the attack.Or one may say the lack of response !

If ten or so armed men can terrorise and paralyse a half a million plus army’s headquarter for 22 plus hours the issue is strategic rather than tactical ! If ten civilians trained by irrational mullahs can penetrate a citadel hitherto considered impregnable and impenetrable and 1600 officers inside it are like chicken in a barbed wired coup at mercy of ten armed and highly motivated men then the situation is grave, not routine. A witness states that the attackers held some 4 to 6 officers from major to colonel rank hostages and also offered them their dry rations.This shows that the attackers wanted to deliver a message and did not want to inflict fatalities on the Pakistan Army.

In a nutshell the serious aspects of the issue are :–

1. The most serious threat to Pakistan is internal and not external.

2. The military has lost its strategic and coercive deterrent value.

3. That ten armed civilians penetrated a military headquarters guarded by an infantry battalion and a similar number of DSG soldiers [Defense Security Guards] is a serious strategic imbalance.

4. That 6 plus armed men were roaming the GHQ for many hours and had the opportunity to kill many generals, an opportunity that they for some mysterious reasons chose not to exercise is a cause of grave strategic concern.

5. The fact that the perimeter guarding battalion 10 Punjab although it killed some four intruders failed to hold the few attackers from penetrating the GHQ is a grave matter.

6. The fact that the battalion plus DSG soldiers although armed with G 3 and SMG rifles just bolted away is a grave matter.

7. The fact that it took more than 18 hours and the fact that SSG troops had to be brought from some 70 miles away to redeem the situation is ironic par excellence.

8. The fact that Pakistan’s enemies both state and non state are so ineffective still is the only consoling part of the issue.

Here is a case of a military machine :–

1. Fighting a civil war with serious internal fractures.

2. A military machine which has lost a great degree of its coercive value.

3. Lack of initiative in the officer rank and lack of forethought in not allowing the some 1600 officers in GHQ not to carry weapons.

4. The primacy of non state actors in Pakistan.

Sad is the story. Hilarious are the praises being heaped on the military’s response. Where is the honour and dignity of danger in overcoming six well motivated irregulars by a commando force outnumbering them by 100 to 1. This is not a criticism. I am not a paid journalist. This is a call for reflection .Serious reflection and serious inner thinking that may be the spur to serious reorganisation in the Pakistani military. The enemy is not in Waziristan or Afghanistan. The enemy is our own damn inefficiency and complacency. It merits serious thinking at all plains, tactical, operational and strategic.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • ArneFufkin says:

    There are times when the Pak army makes “F Troop” look like Task Force 88.

  • T Ruth says:

    Good on Mr Amin to raise his hand and his voice. The good officer says: “The most crucial and grave question is that the Pakistani military seems to have lost in a great degree its coercive value and moral deterrence.”
    And he is, in all probability right. On the point of moral deterrence, might i add the C-word, which is pervasive and rampant across-the-board in broke state of Pakistan. CORRUPTION.
    In recent years as the Pak Army has been drip-fed by the US military budget, it is no exception, although the heady power that the army enjoyed even pre-2001, ensured that corruption was endemic and part of the culture of the army. The authority and credibility of the army command has thus been irretrievably eroded, obviously and severely.
    One really has to question the level of motivation of the ordinary soldier when you know the the top guns are on the the take (big-time; clue: missing millions). When you know, and see, that politics is being played every day, all around you. When you know that there are “elements” within the organisation that are in bed with “elements” of the Taliban, one day good and another day bad. When you know that retd generals are being bumped off from orders above. When you know that a key reason why you are working is to make a living and provide for your family in a corrupt state where jobs are few. When you know that you are in a civil war and are being asked to kill your compatriots. When you know you signed up actually to fight the Indians, but your team has never won anything off them. (And anyway those lucky indians across the boreder get a legit rum or whiskey to keep them warm on those cold nights, just like your generals.)When you believe that your enemy is probably less corrupt than your own top brass, save that they are jihadists and you think maybe there’s something in it. When 80% of your countrymen hate the Americans, why should 80% of the military be an exception.
    The bottom-line is simple: corruption, like cancer, weakens the body (and your ability to respond) and eventually kills, from within.

  • Spooky says:

    This is what happens when Pakistan obsesses over Indian invasion (which has only ever happened after Pakistan throws the first punch). The military was never allowed to grow in terms of capability after 1971, originally by Z.A. Bhutto’s regime out of fear of another coup and later because Zia discovered the lure of state-sponsored terrorism could be more effective than conventional warfare, especially after their enemy developed nukes in 1974 with Smiling Buddha….
    Many people will hope they wake up now. As for me, I say let them falter. Things have to get worse before they can get better, and removing them means the artificial state that is Pakistan goes with them. Then we can take FATA/NWFP and give it back to the Afghans, who have never accepted the Durand Line, and maybe use an independant Balochistan to get our supplies instead.

  • Gill Qaiser says:

    Dear all,
    when was Pakistan army brave enough to fight any other army???
    Pak army could fight poor armless Kashmiris was That enough to tell the world that were brave
    But its not true
    Even Kashmiris Blochis are not friends of Pakistan ,Bengalis are the case of past
    Good luck to Pakistan bening a sceond beloved child of USA

  • Gill Qaiser says:

    Dear all,
    when was Pakistan army brave enough to fight any other army???
    Pak army could fight poor armless Kashmiris was That enough to tell the world that were brave
    But its not true
    Even Kashmiris Blochis are not friends of Pakistan ,Bengalis are the case of past
    Good luck to Pakistan bening a sceond beloved child of USA

  • Bing says:

    So, questions arise, what would happen in a similar situation in the Pentagon or any other major US base stateside?

  • Civy says:

    Not since the Russians got their butts kicked by the Finns in ’39-40 has such a lopsided balance of military power been on display. Stalin purged his general staff after that debacle, it is high time Pakistan did the same. The Pakis would do well to remember that Hitler was encouraged to tear up his treaty with Stalin and attack Russia because of their disastrous showing in Finland.
    Does Blackwater (XE) have a recruiting office in Pakistan? There must be many thousands of trained soldiers in Pakistan who wish to fight. Perhaps they could be enticed to fight the battle for Pakistan from the Afghan side?

  • Scott says:

    Almost 20 years ago I worked with a former Pakistani army veteran. He told me then that he thought Pakistan could not afford not to be corrupt. He gave me a brief but naturally convoluted explanation why. That converstation didn’t go on much after that, as I had no counter response that would satisfy him.
    Who really knows where the Obama administration’s afpak’s strategy is headed? What we do know is the Taliban and Al Qaeda are serious in finding weak points and exploiting them. We also know from recent past history much of the resources we give the Pakistan government and military will be misused or used against us.
    The Pakistan military and the Pakistan central government are looking less and less relevant. Neither need our aid, they need resolve. Unless that changes, the US military should stop taking Pakistan’s western border seriously.

  • ramesh says:

    pakistan army was the strongest arm of the troika which has run the country since its independence.the attack on the GHQ shows that this arm too has withered away.Moth eaten nee corruption bedevilled organisations often run themselves aground.having lost public confidence for myraid reasons especially for trampling democratic norms and canoodling with the west,the pakistan army”s image has taken a beating with this attack.

  • GRH says:

    Let me count the ways:
    1. Obsessed with invasion by India, which will never happen, unless in response to Pak attack or the real threat of loose, uncontrolled, unaccounted for nukes.
    2. Long-term support of Kashmiri irregulars to try and pry the region from India. The US is reaping some unhappy consequences to the relationships built and funded during the Cold War to bleed the USSR in Afghanistan. The ISI is at the center of the problem.
    3. No sense of reality. Whenever I engaged a Pak military officer they could not and would not deal with facts that did not fit with their view of reality. In the early part of this decade I could not get any Pak officers to admit they had terrorist operatives inside their country. I admit there are many terrorist operatives inside my country.
    4. Constantly blaming outside forces for their problems. This is a trait throughout much of the sub continent, save for a few bastions of critical thinking within India and Sri Lanka.
    5. The Paks “true”

  • Scott says:

    You bring up a good point. When a West German flew under Soviet radar and landed his plane in front of the Kremlin, Gorbachev sacked his military’s air command. When our air force couldn’t keep track of the nuclear bombs it was flying around, Robert Gates fired the Air Force Chief of Staff. If the Pakistani government can’t roll some heads over this, then clearly they aren’t in charge.

  • Spooky says:

    Not for lack of trying mind, but its Kiyani that cals the shots. Which is why things will become very interesting a year from now when he is supposed to resign, because then both he and Zardari will try to place their own successor into the position or Kiyani might try to stay on longer. And thats if the situation remains as it is right now. Pakstani politics are very fluid, so Zardari may not even be president in a year, especially if their SC throws out the NRO created by Bush and Musharraf to keep the latter in power while allowing Benazir to start taking over.

  • davidp says:

    Either Mr. Amin or I have been listening to propaganda.
    – Were the attackers “roaming the GHQ for many hours” or were they contained in a building and holding hostages to protect themselves?
    – Were SSG troops brought from 70 miles away because of incompetence by the GHQ guards, or were they waiting for hostage rescue / siege breaking experts to reduce the number of hostage deaths and friendly casualties ?
    – Is it wise to have 1600 officers, doing other jobs, carrying weapons around the offices, or would that lead to more deaths due to accidents (and the occasional mutiny or disturbed officer running amok within GHQ) ?
    On the subject of “coercive value”
    – After 3 failed Waziristan operations, retreat from Swat, etc. did the Pakistan army look powerful? I’d have said those failures cost it much of its “coercive value” except against city dwellers. A shambles of an army that mislays entire units into Taliban hands doesn’t take too much extra resolution for suicide attackers to attack. I guess I’m agreeing with Mr Amin here.
    – In healthy countries, the domestic coercive force used by the government is the police, not the army. I am wondering whether Mr Amin is mourning the Pakistan army’s reduced ability to rule Pakistan by threat.

  • MuLe says:

    what’s wrong with Pakistan army is the lack of professionalism you can tell that when they’re out in the streets the tend be not so vigilant, and their behaviour is almost similar to the civialians on the street, or they be like someone looking randomly at the thin air. that’s just on the street behind the barracks there has gotta be some problems too… I believe that little things like that make a huge difference when it comes to achieving confidence ad well disciplined control.


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