Highs and lows on strategic, internal fronts
Hallmarked with renewed commitments, reprioritised relationships, invariable highs and sinking lows, Pakistan’s defence sector had been the centre-stage of dramatic turn of events in the year 2012.
Not only the external strategic pressures but the challenges from within as well predominantly marked the chronology of happenings on the defence side.
With the standoff between Islamabad and Washington over the Salala incident in November 2011, the last year began on a tumultuous note. Exchange of hostile statements went along side the reports of expected resumption of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) supplies, blocked immediately after Salala incident, as both the sides locked horns over apology row. A major breakthrough to this deadlock came in June last year during the visit paid to Pakistan by General John Allen, the Commander (International Security Assistance Force), to meet General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. This followed rendering of a ‘soft’ apology by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and resumption of the NATO supplies during the start of July.
At home, the civil-military row on the Memogate Scandal saw culmination of the hostility following the sacking of the secretary defence. In the early days of January 2012, the then Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani had sent packing the then Secretary Defence Lieutenant General (r) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, upon his ‘non-compliance’ with the government’s policy in the Memogate scandal. Lodhi was later ‘compensated’ by means of his elevation at the Fauji Fertilizer Company (FFC) as its Managing Director (MD).
On external fronts, the issue of drone attacks remained unresolved. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 46 drone attacks were reported from 10 January to December 23 in North and South Waziristan Agencies. As many as 334 people, mostly militants, were reportedly taken out in these attacks that are said to have been carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with the ‘consent’ of Pakistan’s military establishment. Last year, 59 drone attacks had killed 548 people, mostly militant suspects, according to SATP.
In addition, during an informal interaction with some journalists last Friday, Secretary Defence Lt-Gen (r) Asif Yasin Malik had reportedly ‘disclosed’ that the US and United Kingdom were opposed to Pakistan’s nuclear programme and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was working in coordination with other foreign intelligence agencies to conduct undercover operations in Pakistan. The ‘revelations’ had sparked ripples here. The next day, the secretary retracted his reported statement on the nuclear programme and CIA.
At the policy-making level, the renewed strategic commitments between Pakistan and the United States during the last month’s meeting of the Pak-US Defence Consultative Group (DCG) that has followed the release of $688 million payable to Pakistan under Coalition Support Fund (CSF) comes as a major event. Other worth mentioning events are: The meeting of the Pakistan-France Joint Security Commission (JSC) in Islamabad last month following defence deliberations between the defence secretaries of the two states, the visit of Indian Defence Secretary Sashi Kant Sharma to Pakistan to participate in the 12th round of the secretary-level dialogue between Pakistan and India on outstanding issues including Siachen in June, the additional defence secretary-level talks in New Delhi (in June) and the recent India-Pakistan experts dialogue on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) on nuclear and conventional weapons (in New Delhi).
Other pertinent details for the last year concerning defence sector organisations are as under:
Ministry of Defence
The defence budget for the fiscal year 2012-13 is allocated at 545.386 billion rupees. As many as Rs 264.073 billion are earmarked for army, air force: Rupees 114.211 billion and navy Rs 52.727 billion.
Two ministers and three secretaries have headed MoD last year. Before the arrival of the incumbent secretary defence in July 2012, Nargis Sethi had the Acting Charge for the same slot. She oversaw the ministry’s affairs since the removal of Khalid Naeem Lodhi in January. In June, the government had swapped the portfolios of the then Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar and the Minister of Water and Power Syed Naveed Qamar. Qamar heads the defence ministry since then.
The audit report on the accounts of defence services for the fiscal year 2011-12 finds that Pakistan’s defence organisations misused funds or violated prescribed rules during spending of funds exceeding 5490.961 million rupees. The report also revealed that over 25 billion rupees in Pakistan’s defence sector were being administered through unsound and weak financial management and internal controls. The Nation printed the detailed stories on the audit report on August 31 and September 1 last year. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has taken notice of the misuse of funds in the defence sector the matter is pending with it
Pakistan Army confronted an unprecedented challenge in April last year when its 137 soldiers were fatally buried under tons of rubble after a deadly avalanche swept their base camp in Gayari (Skardu). Majority of the dead bodies has been recovered in the operation since launched, while some are yet to be found.
Furthermore, after the settlement of Pakistan Army-NATO dispute over Salala incident, the commanders from Pakistan, ISAF and Afghanistan held respective meetings on border coordination. In November last year, Tripartite Border Coordination Mechanism was signed between the three sides during the 36th meeting of the Tripartite Commission (TPC). Earlier in May, General John Allen had visited Pakistan to hold deliberations with the military authorities over resuming NATO supplies but the deadlock had persisted then. In February 2012, the generals from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the ISAF had met in Torkham to attend Border Coordination Committee meeting, in their first interaction after Salala incident.
In addition, army’s six three-star generals retired in 2012 including the high-profile Director General Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Earlier last year, Pasha was likely to be appointed as Director General Strategic Plans Division (SPD) but the move was shelved reportedly owing to controversies that had followed Pasha’s tenure as spymaster.
The trial of some retired generals in the superior courts, which did not go well with the military leadership, drew implied contours of military-judiciary tussle in November last year. Apparently directed at judiciary, the army chief’s ‘tough’ statement that “No individual or institution has the monopoly to decide what is right or wrong in defining the ultimate national interest,” was perceived as a ‘warning shot. It came at a time when nine former generals were facing serious allegations of financial scams. The military-NATO row, the military-government standoff and the military-judiciary confrontation shaped some of the key external and internal patterns of working concerning the army command in the year 2012.
Pakistan Air Force
The PAF faced a mega security challenge following attack on the Kamra Base in August last year. Although, the attack was foiled, two PAF personnel had lost their lives while a jet aircraft was destroyed at the base. Another attempt to attack PAF Peshawar Base was also foiled last month. No loss of life to any PAF personnel or the armed forces’ property was reported in the attack while six civilians were reportedly killed. From January 17 to November 22 last year, 12 PAF aircraft crashed due to reported technical problems. They included an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), a surveillance drone. Following the retirement of Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman in March 2012, Tahir Rafique Butt has taken control of the PAF as Air Chief.
The inauguration of Naval Strategic Force Command (NSFC) in May last year was one of the major developments at Pakistan Navy. The armed force also signed a series of bilateral agreements with other states on maritime and regional cooperation.
Pakistan International Airlines
The PIA remained in the news but for all the wrong seasons. The airline now needs a financial ‘injection’ of Rs 45 billion to recover from its unprecedented losses. The cases of massive mismanagement and corruption in the PIA are pending in the Supreme Court. Earlier last year, the European Aviation and Safety Agency (EASA) suspended the safety licence it had awarded to the PIA. The licence has not been reinstated yet. The PIA’s post Hajj (pilgrimage) operations saw frequent flight delays with one-third of its flights been delayed. Captain Nadeem Yousafzai was heading PIA as its MD till March last year. Rao Qamar Suleman replaced him. He later became Chairman PIA Board of Directors (BoD). He stepped down reportedly due to health reasons. Presently, Junaid Younis heads the airline as its MD while Secretary Defence Asif Yasin Malik is its Chairman.
Civil Aviation Authority
The incident involving the tragic deaths of 127 passengers who were boarding a Bhoja Airline’s Islamabad-bound flight from Karachi was the severest challenge the CAA faced in April last year. Although, the incident seemed to be a case of pilot error, the detailed report on the air crash is yet to arrive. Yousafzai remained MD PIA till March last year before he was made DG CAA to replace Air Marshal (r) Khalid Chaudhry. Chaudhry was re-appointed as CAA’s head in November last year.