Dawn News

In this picture dated on February 18, 2011, disabled military veterans at Pakistan's Armed Forces Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine (AFIRM) perform exercises in Rawalpindi. - Photo by AFP

RAWALPINDI: When Pakistan Army Sergeant Abdur Rehman hears America's oft-repeated demand that Pakistan do more to fight militants, he glances down at the stumps of his legs and wonders what more it wants from him.

A mortar bomb shredded him from the waist down as he led an advance against Taliban fighters in 2007 in Pakistan's unruly northwestern tribal areas on the Afghan border.

Instead of enjoying full retirement benefits, he underwent rehabilitation, was given artificial limbs and returned as a commander to a desk job in the militant-infested region where he was wounded.

“What more can Pakistanis do?,” asked Rehman, 35. That question has often strained ties between Washington and Islamabad, but it has been posed far more frequently since US special forces killed Osama bin Laden in May in a Pakistani town, where he had apparently been living for years.

Admiral Mike Mullen said before retiring as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last month that a militant group that had attacked US targets in Afghanistan was a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.

Then President Barack Obama put Pakistan on notice that it must go after militants or risk severing ties to the United States, the source of billions of dollars in aid.

Pakistan denies links with militant groups and says it has sacrificed more than any other country that joined the US “war on terror” after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Officials say more than 3,000 Pakistani soldiers have been killed, greater than the combined death toll among Nato forces in Afghanistan. Nearly 10,000 have been wounded.

“Imagine how the US would react if such a number had lost their lives and then comments would come from other countries, which said that, 'You are the problem, you are part of the problem',” Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said in an interview with an American radio programme.

For the relatives of soldiers killed in battles against the militants, the charges are especially outrageous.

Living on memories Captain Omerzeb Afzal Baig and two other soldiers died in the prime of their lives when their vehicle was blown apart in May 2009 by a remote-controlled roadside bomb planted by the Taliban.

His father sits proudly in the family living room beside a large photograph of Omerzeb in military gear, taken two hours before his death in a quick reactionary force mission he had volunteered to lead.

“Look at his smartness, look at the way he is smiling, right in the battlefield area. Look at the way that he is all prepared,” said Muhammad Afzal Baig, himself a retired colonel.

“Do you see anything like worries on his face? Not a single wrinkle. He is all prepared; he is fully charged, and that is what a Pakistani soldier is made of.”

The United States wants Pakistan to crack down on militants who cross its border to attack Western forces in Afghanistan.

But although it has one of the largest militaries in the world, Islamabad says its hands are full fighting militants who attack government and civilian targets in Pakistan.

At a military rehabilitation hospital in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, amputees are surprisingly frank about how vulnerable troops have become to the Taliban militants, described as masters of guerrilla warfare, with plenty of firepower and precision.

“You just don't know what to expect. When you launch an attack they can hit you from any side,” said wheelchair-bound private Zaheer Abbas, recalling how he flew up in the air after stepping on a home-made Taliban bomb.

“Everyday, they are growing in number. The situation is getting worse.”

Paralysis Critics say Pakistan is partly to blame for the chaos because it nurtured militant groups for years and used them as proxies in Afghanistan or against rival India - creating a Frankenstein in its own back yard.

Pakistani officials blame US policies - such as the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan - for the instability. Thousands of militants fled from Afghanistan to northwest Pakistan at that time and formed alliances with other fighters.

Nowadays, Islamabad complains that Washington is ungrateful no matter how many losses Pakistan suffers battling militants in the border region. Many of its soldiers are determined to see the battle through.

Ansar Javed for instance. During a three-hour battle to reach a Taliban position in May, the 24-year-old slowly made his way up a mountain, dodging incoming rockets and grenades.

Then, in an instant, a sniper's bullet struck the front of his neck, causing paralysis from the waist down. He is barely able to move his arms and has no control over his bowels.

“We are doing everything we can. We have to finish them off,” he said, speaking from a hospital bed.

“We don't need anyone's help,” he added bitterly.

The tense alliance between the two nations is likely to come under more stress, with stepped up demands from the United States for Pakistan to take decisive action against militants.


Comments (17) Closed

Oct 13, 2011 02:23pm
They can start with being honest.
Oct 13, 2011 04:19pm
Pakistan will find answer within its boundaries
Oct 13, 2011 04:46pm
what is more honest than sacrificing ones life for a cause.Stop being cynic and appreciate the contribution of Pakistanis
Oct 13, 2011 05:32pm
The issue is in having less tolerance. i feel the nation started becoming intolerent to other religions. Now it went to the extent that amongst the same religion people started fighting, so now we are realizing the pain. Till we bring tolerence in our mind we will go on like this.
Dr Raghbir Dhillon
Oct 13, 2011 06:35pm
I agree.
Tanveer Khan
Oct 13, 2011 07:23pm
Absolutely. We need to stop playing both sides.
Oct 13, 2011 07:53pm
What they did earlier is well documented...also the role of the westerners too.Right now they are battling for their life;recalling the past is no solution;help them,maybe they turn grateful and stop repeating the same policies that brought them to this unhappy situation.
Oct 13, 2011 08:20pm
I would like to see similar photographs of the common man of Pakistan as well. Only then would the picture be complete. For far too long the soldier in Pakistan has been placed on a different pedestal as compared to the people they are supposed to protect. The questions posed in the article are best directed to the Pakistani army high command. These soldiers 9and by extension, the common people of Pakistan) have been used as pawns in the larger game that the so called Pakistani generals are playing (or at least trying to play). It amazes me as to how these generals cant see that their policies haven't worked for 30 years and they should be changed. Till the Pakistani army is made to see sense and change their policies and hopefully brought under genuine civilian control, more of such stories appear to be the unfortunate destiny of Pakistan.
Agha Ata
Oct 13, 2011 09:53pm
Yesssssssssssss. Just be honest with your partners and your own purpose!
Oct 13, 2011 10:43pm
The Americans want Pakistan to fight the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistani Army is fighting the Pakistani Taliban.
Oct 14, 2011 12:29am
Let's begin with adapting a secular mindset.
Oct 14, 2011 12:40am
Honesty begins with some self reflection...look in the mirror pakistan "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
Oct 14, 2011 03:09am
pakistani lives are considered so cheap by its military that they do no care if thousands of soldiers are sacrificed...there are plenty more poor chaps heading into the military without knowing anything...the double game being played by the pakistanis is going to result in their implosion...
R. Albuquerque
Oct 14, 2011 06:35am
I am sure we have all heard it before "you can't chase with the hound and run with the hare" Pakistan in simple words has been playing both sides and now you are getting hurt from both sides. A lesson hopefully is being learnt.
Oct 14, 2011 09:31am
Pakistan is reaping the fruits for nurturing and supporting the militant gruops of all faction. Now it is fighting against its own people tagged as militants. Allah save this country...
Oct 14, 2011 12:37pm
Here's my take on the contradiction of Pakistan's conflict with the Taliban. I truly believe the depth of commitment of the Pakistani soldier. Like his Indian counterpart he is both patriotic and motivated. He however lives in a feudal society, where the elite uses him to further a commercial and political purpose just as elites throughout the ages have used the common people to further their selfish aims. Its the foot soldier who is dying , not the top brass. They on the other hand, are busy doing deals with the US and the Taliban mostly to further their own interests. Hence , the contradiction of casualties on the ground and allegation of betrayal from the US. The soldier may think he is fighting for Pakistan. The generals know better. He dies for them.
Oct 21, 2011 03:39pm
>Pakistan denies links with militant groups and says it has sacrificed more than any other country that joined the US “war on terror” after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Yes, but Taliban is not in any other country and Bin laden did not take refuge in any other country.