Air Commodore M.M.Alam (1935-2013)

Tribute by Brig. (Retd) Usman Khalid

Air Commodore M.M.Alam with F-86 Sabre fighter that shot down five Indian aircraft in one sortie.

This is the third time I am writing a tribute for a departed friend. The first time it was the death of an icon Mr Justice Safdar Shah when I wrote under the title of Death of Hope. The legal fraternity did not rise up against General Zia ul Haq at that time in response to the call of Mr Justice Safdar Shah. But it did rise to the occasion in 2007-2009 when General Musharraf dismissed the Chief Justice and many more judges of the Supreme and High Court. It would be no exaggeration to say the defiance of Mr Justice Safdar Shah set the stage for defiance of Musharraf by the legal profession. Today, hopelessness has given way to hope and Mr Justice Safdar Shah has emerged as an icon of standing up for justice and rule of law.

The second time it was the death of my dear friend Major General M. Imtiaz Ali, Defence Advisor (Minister) in the first cabinet of Benazir Bhutto, who is an unsung hero who very few people know as the real father of the missile programme of Pakistan. But he also played an important role as Military Secretary to Prime Minister Bhutto in doing the right thing in the face of diverse political pressures. Most of what he did will for ever remain outside public gaze but there is one thing of importance that I will reveal now as it concerns Air Commodore M.M.Alam who died on 17 March 2013. Alam was my course mate (6TH JSPCTS) and a life long friend. He is more than an icon; he became a legend in his life time a symbol of fearless valour. He shot down five Indian aircraft in one sortie in less than a minute a world record. If I remember correctly the total number of Indian aircraft he shot down during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War was fourteen (14).

Air Commodore M.M.Alam hailed from East Pakistan. His family migrated from West Bengal in 1947. He would often tell his friends that when travelling from Calcutta to Dhaka, young boys took great pride in overwriting the names of cities on milestones in Urdu. It was taken for granted, he would tell, that Urdu would be the common language of both East and West Pakistan. But then politics came in the way. It was considered prudent by Bengali politicians most of who spoke Urdu at home and could not read or write Bengali, to demand that Bengali be a state language. He was one Bengali who was Pakistani first and was completely at home in West Pakistan among brother officers. He always stressed that it was the need of Bengali Muslims more than West Pakistanis to be accepted as a part of the mainstream. He has since been proved right. Separated from West Pakistan Bangladesh is being Hinduised and is in danger of becoming absorbed by India.

Recognising the foreign enemy is an essential part of crystallising national personality. Some times, recognising the internal enemy is even more important in order to preclude subversion. In East Pakistan, the Hindu minority were the obvious potential fifth column but because of the practice of caste apartheid by them its role was confined and limited. But in West Pakistan that minority was the Qadiani community which had supported the PPP led by Mr Bhutto in 1971 Elections. Upon assumption of office Prime Minister Bhutto had appointed a Qadiani as the Naval and Air Force Chief. General Tikka was the Army Chief but the next senior most General in the Army was a Qadiani. I remember that we often used to joke that the country was one heartbeat away from being taken over by the Qadianis. M.M.Alam had a direct and personal experience of what that meant. There was an attempted coup détat by middle rank officers against Bhutto Administration in 1972. Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry, the Air Force Chief at the time, felt so threatened by the widely revered, popular and outspoken M.M.Alam that he included his name among those involved in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. Alam was arrested and put behind bars in an Air Force cell. There was an outcry in disbelief and Alam had to be released.

I had met M.M.Alam again in Ankara (Turkey) where I was the Principal Staff Officer to General Akhtar Malik in CENTO and he was commanding the first Mirage Squadron which was being ferried from France to Pakistan via Turkey. I had remained in touch with Alam ever since. When he got on the wrong side of the Air Chief he came to see me at my house in Gulistan Colony in Rawalpindi. I went with him to General Imtiaz who was then MS to the Prime Minister. He listened attentively to Alam, asked us to wait in his office and went to see the Prime Minister. He came back after several minutes and asked who would be a good Chief of the Air Force. Alam named Air Commodore Zulfikar who was the senior most but was on leave pending retirement, (LPR). We left not knowing what might be the decision. The next day the news was splashed all over that the Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry had been relieved and Air Marshal Zulfikar promoted and appointed Air Chief. Clearly, General Imtiaz had tied all the loose ends.

There were four witnesses of that event. Prime Minister Bhutto, General Imtiaz and Air Commodore Alam are all dead. I am the only one alive. If I do not tell the story the truth would never become known. I have to tell this story because M.M.Alam was much more than just brave. He was a true Mujahid who stood up against the internal as well as the external enemy. He never married and his legacy is not children or property. In his later years he was a true Muallim, who never tired of speaking what others are afraid to speak about. Sheikh Mujib was a traitor who was an enemy collaborator as bad as Mir Jaffer of Bengal and Sadiq of Deccan. We secured our freedom from British rule because we called Mir Jaffer and Sadiq as traitors. Bangladesh would get deeper into the clutches of India if its people did not put Sheikh Mujib alongside Mir Jaffer and Sadiq. More important, if Sheikh Mujib continues to be celebrated as a hero and liberator, there will be more of them in Baluchistan, Sindh and elsewhere in Pakistan.


The Endgame in Syria is Near

By Saeed Qureshi

The Syrian civil war between the incumbent besieged Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad and the rebel forces inter-alia, the Syrian Liberation Army, the Syrian free army and other anti regime fighting forces might be drawing to a close. In 21 months (since March 2011) this war has taken a toll of some 50000 Syrians on both the sides.

Unfortunately the Syrian president did not learn a lesson from the tragic and humiliating end of the Libyan president Col Qaddafi. Bashar has used the full military might of the state to crush and kill the anti government fighters and protesting civilians but has not been able to subdue them. Now the tide is turning in favor the rebel forces reported to be making gains, seizing military bases and fighting for control of suburbs around the capital, Damascus.

Syria is under severe economic sanctions from the United States and several European countries. Also the United States, Britain, France and at least five other major nations have expelled senior Syrian diplomats. There have been high profile defections that seem to have paralyzed the smooth and effective functioning of the state especially the military and the police. On 28 December two air force generals and 3 state TV journalists defected to Turkey. Last week, Syria’s military police chief Major General Abdelaziz al-Sallal defected, becoming the highest ranking military defector to defect, after the defection of the Chemical Weapons department’s head, Major General Adnan Sillue.

There is clear-cut writing on the wall that Bashar Assad will have to relinquish power sooner than later. It is doubtful that the peace mission undertaken by the Algerian envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to draw Syrian officials and rebels into negotiations and to revive a plan for a transitional government and elections would make any headway.

Now Russias foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says after meeting Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdada in Moscow that his country endorsed the peace plan originally crafted in the summer, and that Syrians on both sides of the 21-month conflict needed to engage in a dialogue. It should be recalled that the resolutions tabled in the Security Council to end the violence In Syria were vetoed by Russia and China in emboldening Bashar Al Assad regime to keep on killing his people. Had these two countries agreed then there could have been a smooth transition to the new set-up with a possible safe passage for Bashar.

The war in Syria is going to take an extremely horrendous sectarian form as those fighting against the minority Shia Alawite regime would hunt down the Syrian soldiers and common Shia population with vengeance.

In Iraq where the Sunni-shia sectarian animosity is equally strong, the sectarian war was averted because of the presence of the American forces. Moreover Saddam Hussain went into hiding and thus a substitute government was put in place that is still functional. The government of Al-Maliki controlled the sectarian strife and formed a democratic government. In Libya it was not sectarian war but a national movement to oust a ruthless tyrant. That change came as a part of the Arab springs sweeping across the Middle East.

Iran is hard-pressed because of backbreaking sanctions and the isolation spun around her by the United States and the west European countries. Iran, therefore, cannot come all out to save the sinking Bashar regime. Even Hezbollah fighters and Palestinian refugees cannot help sustain the tottering Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad.

One shudders to imagine what would happen to the minority Shia population that has been in power for over forty years now and has kept the majority Sunnis at bay by inflicting unspeakable barbarities and spine-chilling afflictions on them.

During his barbaric rule of 30 years, Hafiz al Assad the father of the incumbent Syrian president ordered at least six massacres in which several thousand Syrians were killed. One such gruesome massacre known as scorched earth operation was carried out in Hama village in February 1982 in order to quell a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood. In that military onslaught, roughly 20000 residents perished, their houses bulldozed and the ground leveled off.

During the ongoing civil war, countless Syrians have fled the country and taken refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. Their return to homes and resettlement would be a gigantic challenge for the new establishment that would supersede the Alawite regime.

Hopefully the anti- government factions that are battling the official troops would agree on such measures that would usher Syrian into an era of democracy, respect for human rights, open society, right to vote and travel, and national reconciliation.

But if the sectarian war erupts, it would push Syria into another spell of gruesome infighting entailing genocide of the Shia community. That frightening situation must be stopped and any new government that succeeds the Bashar regime should take the sectarian harmony as the foremost and the most urgent undertaking that any other issue. One cannot foretell what could be the fate of Bashar al-Assad.

The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.

Misperceptions about defence budget

Brig. (Retd) Asif Haroon Raja

Military capability is required to protect the country from internal and external threats, while political stability and economic prosperity is essential for development. The three components help in protecting the sovereignty, integrity and security of a state as well as well-being of the people. The three are interlinked and cannot be separated from each other. It will be ideal to concentrate entire energies of the state towards economic prosperity and to build up democratic institutions attuned towards welfare of people. An ideal state should be bestowed with sound system of justice where cheap justice is available at doorsteps, one law applicable to all, negligible gap between the rich and poor, the society free of curses of corruption, bribe, nepotism, favoritism and jobbery, equal chances for social growth irrespective of the social status. This is not only idealistic but also subject to geo-political environment in which the country is placed.

Pakistan is among the few states whose existence was not accepted by India and from the day one it conspired to reabsorb it into Indian Union. It succeeded partially in 1971 when it broke Pakistan into two and converted its eastern wing into Bangladesh. It is now conspiring to further truncate Pakistan. On its west is unfriendly Afghanistan, which has traditionally remained pro-India and anti-Pakistan. Of late, India and Afghanistan have become strategic partners and India has increased its influence in Afghanistan manifold. Perpetual hostility of India and deceitful behavior of Afghanistan has kept Pakistan on tenterhooks and in a constant state of insecurity. It was essentially the factor of insecurity which impelled Pakistans earlier leaders to gravitate towards the west and seek security in western defence pacts. Although alignment with USA helped Pakistan in building its armed forces, but it was certainly at the cost of development of Pakistan and welfare of the people. Above all, western pacts didnt help in reducing Pakistans security concerns or in preventing breakup of Pakistan in 1971.

An influential lobby in Pakistan at the behest of detractors of Pakistan has all along been critical of armed forces and its defence expenditure. It sells a mischievous misperception that but for 60% of national budget getting consumed in defence; Pakistan would have become a prosperous state. Maulana Fazlur Rahman alleged that one days Army budget is the combined annual budget of education and health. He forgot that one day corruption in Pakistan comes to Rupees eight billion as disclosed by Chairman NAB. He also forgot that unlike military run institutions which are welfare oriented, they pay taxes and are running in profit, all public sector enterprises are running in losses and second largest portion of budget gets consumed in keeping them afloat. Losses incurred by them can meet the needs of defence. Another falsehood in circulation is that the military consumes a very big portion of government expenditures. The reality is that in 2012/13, defence affairs and services consumed only 17% of all government expenditures. Largest amount of budget is spent on domestic debt servicing.

Those propagating curtailment of defence expenditure to be able to develop economy forget that militarily weak Pakistan will tempt adventurers to either step in or destabilize it from within employing covert means. Economic prosperity is possible only when the country is free of external and internal threats, or is militarily in a position to thwart the threats, or has abundant mineral resources. All economic deals and bilateral trade agreements will remain mutually beneficial if the deals have been signed from a position of equivalent or near parity military strength. Diplomatic and political clout will be of some substance if one has military capability matching the hostile neighbor wanting to have its way.

China couldnt have made such an impressive progress in its four-point modernization program and turned into an economic giant on the strength of its economy alone. While pursuing an overall defensive strategy, it never ignored the growth of its military potential to keep its adversaries at bay. There was a time when it was militarily weak, Britain imposed opium wars on China to force it to buy and consume opium from it. Learning a lesson from history, China has been spending huge amounts to build its military might, both conventional and unconventional to deter its enemies.

Likewise, Indias military muscle enabled it to extract benefits from the current and former super power as well as western world, Muslim world and Japan. The US is keen to make India a world power and a bulwark against China because of its military and economic strengths. Indias expanding military prowess motivated China to push border dispute on the backburner and to forge trade and cultural ties with India. India couldnt have pursued its hegemonic policies against all its neighbors in South Asia on its economic strength alone. Its vast military capacity propels India to nurture grandiose plans of converting India into Mahabharat stretching as far as Afghanistan and Indonesia including Pakistan.

On 16 November 2012, Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar on the occasion of his book launching ceremony at Dhaka, Beyond the Lines, held the partition of subcontinent fallacious and expressed his utopian desire of reunifying the countries of the subcontinent to single entity of Akhand Bharat. He advocated formation of South Asian Union on the lines of European Union, which is yet another Indian floated idea of confederation. It gives a fair idea that even after passage of 65 years Indian political leaders and elites have not given up the hope of undoing Pakistan and Bangladesh and establishing mythical Akhand Bharat.

Indias ambitious force modernization program has been at the cost of 70% Indians living below poverty line. Despite such a high a rate of poverty and illiteracy, there has hardly been any dissenting voice heard from within India objecting to lavish defence spending. No demand has been made to cut its ever increasing defence budget each year. But for the huge defence budget allocation of $40.44 billion, India couldnt have employed over 1500,000 security forces to combat insurgents and separatists in its 19 states including occupied Kashmir where 700,000 troops are deployed since 1989. Its military which is in illegal occupation of Siachin Glacier since June 1984 couldnt have sustained a corps size force for that long. But for its military clout, India which remained in the Soviet camp from 1947 till 1990 would not have been gladly accepted as a strategic partner by the sole super power and let it regain its lost influence in Afghanistan.

Had Pakistan not striven to maintain military balance with India at the cost of economic development, Pakistan by now might have got fragmented or turned into a satellite of India. One of the main contributory reasons of political chaos and economic meltdown in Pakistan has been the meddlesome role of India, which has been impeding its economic and political growth through intrigues and coercive tactics. Although Indian military has outpaced Pakistans military with a big margin, Pakistans minimum nuclear deterrence has restrained it from embarking upon high-cost risky venture. It is Pakistans nuclear capability which impelled India to resort to indirect strategy. Having put on the mask of friendship, it has been involved in covert war in concert with its strategic partners since 2002 to destabilize, denuclearize, de-Islamize and balkanize Pakistan.

Pakistan has been deviously embroiled in the futile war on terror imposed by USA which is eating into its vitals. Pakistan military resources are progressively dwindling in fighting this war with no end in sight, impacting its operational, technical and administrative fitness for war. Despite being so heavily engaged in this war for a decade, which is termed by some as an existential war, and despite being faced with three dimensional threats, it is indeed surprising that Pak Army has curtailed rather than increased its annual defence budget. Yet it is being propagated that military expenditure have been constantly on the increase. This is far from truth. Since 1990s, there has been a steady decline from 3.6% of GDP to 2.5% of GDP in 2012/13.

Current Armys expenditure is at the lowest in history of Pakistan. While Pakistans total budget for the financial year 2012/2013 is Rupees 2960 billion, defence budget is Rupees 545, that is, 18.4% of total budget. Defence budget for Army, Navy and Air Force is 50% (Rupees 272 billions), Navy 25% (Rupees 136 billion), and Air Force 25% (136 billion). Army gets only 9% of total budget and not 60% as propagated. Further slashing the defence budget would be at the cost of compromising our defensive posture with crippling effects. Another myth which has been given publicity by US media is that the Army pocketed $ 10 billion Coalition Support Funds whereas in actuality it received only $1.8 billion as reimbursement for services it rendered.

Pakistan military would have certainly drastically cut down its defence budget and even its force structure had India been willing to do the same. Or India had given a written commitment that it wouldnt resort to covert or overt war and would live as a peaceful and friendly neighbor. The US which is continuously preaching that India poses no threat to Pakistan has also not given any guarantee. Even if it gives a guarantee, it will have little value since it didnt honor its 1959 agreement in 1971. Pakistan could have given up its weapon grade nuclear capability if India had reciprocated to Pakistans suggestion of making South Asia a nuclear free zone. Indias plea of upgrading its military potential because of threat from China is frivolous.

Given the hostile track record of India, bulk of strike formations poised against Pakistan, its Pakistan specific Cold Start doctrine, its refusal to resolve longstanding disputes of Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek, its resort to water terrorism to dry up Pakistan, its heavy involvement in FATA and Balochistan, its efforts to isolate and strategically encircle Pakistan and make it a failed state, it will be utterly foolish to suggest downgrading our defensive effort. It is like joining hands with enemies of Pakistan and fulfilling the long cherished desire of our arch enemy which misses no opportunity to harm Pakistan. Willful misperceptions by a handful of misguided politicians, journalists and pseudo intellectuals about defence budget to misguide the people and to defame and undermine the Army must end. Its huge sacrifices under extremely adverse conditions must be acknowledged and lauded.

The writer is a freelance columnist and a defence analyst.

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