CAPITULATION and submission are not unknown circumstances in the world and so if we took the road from Kargil to Washington - which seems to have been the only road open since we have it on the authority of the nation's supreme leader that there is no road from Kargil to Srinagar - it is not all that surprising.

Whatever our pretensions, and we can be an awfully pretentious people, what the Kargil affair and its aftermath have confirmed is our essentially tinpot status. When the heat was on and the tension became unbearable the political and military leadership cracked and as a consequence sought the fig-leaf of Clintonite intervention to cover its pusillanimity.

Our soldiers, it is important to remember, did not crack. Small in number, they withstood the might of the Indian army and performed truly heroic deeds. That they were badly let down, their sacrifices gone to waste, is not strange. Since the 1965 war there has been one constant thread running through the history of the Pakistan army: bravery, often great bravery, at the lower levels; a failure of nerve, vision and leadership at the top.

Even so, the point to note is that if at the crucial hour the Pakistani leadership thought a headlong retreat to be the better part of valour, it was not doing something unusual in history. There is nothing novel about weak leaderships submitting to a will greater than their own. All the same, there is a vital distinction which should be kept in mind. Capitulation can either be unquestioning and absolute as that of France before Germany in 1940. Or it can be tied to a larger purpose as we have been seeing in the Middle East since the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

Sadat of Egypt and Assad of Syria started that war because they wanted to break the strategic stalemate which had taken hold in the Middle East since the comprehensive defeat of the Arabs in the 1967 war. In this aim they succeeded. While Israel was not defeated, the Egyptian and Syrian armies proved their mettle.

Furthermore, the oil-producing Arab states (for the first and probably last time in their history) slapped an oil embargo on the western powers. As the price of oil quadrupled overnight the West suddenly faced the spectre of an oil shortage. The Americans were finally convinced that if peace and stability were to return to the hub of the Middle East they must take an active interest in peace-making. Thus was laid the groundwork for Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy and the first security agreements between Israel on the one hand and Egypt and Syria on the other.

But as time went by Sadat got restless. Impatient for the dividends of peace, he broke ranks with Assad, flew to Jerusalem and under the auspices of President Carter signed the Camp David accords with Menachem Begin. For the West this was not pragmatism but statesmanship. At the popular level in much of the Arab world, however, Sadat was reviled as a traitor who had betrayed the collective Arab cause. When he died at the hands of an assassin in 1981 the West was shocked but many people in the Arab and Muslim world thought he had received his just deserts.

Still, for the policy choices he made Sadat had something to show. The US treated him as a strategic partner, second in importance only to Israel. It underwrote the Egyptian economy and replaced the Soviet Union as Egypt's chief supplier of arms. Egypt also got the Sinai back from Israeli occupation. Sadat is dead but with Egypt firmly committed to the path charted by him, his legacy survives. Hussein of Jordan trod the same path and Yasser Arafat is doing the same.

Thus Sadat gained something and lost something by his war and peace policies. Issue can be taken with the direction he chose but for better or worse he had a vision before him. What strategic vision blazed before the helmsman of the heavy mandate as he dashed off to make his hurried attendance at President Clinton's court, or rather its annexe since Blair House is across the road from the White House? Clueless in Kargil, wide-eyed in Washington: this about sums up the performance of Pakistan's leadership in this critical hour.

Much is being made of the contents of the Washington declaration. The truth is that if the Americans were to have drafted a more empty document they would have faced no difficulty in getting Pakistani signatures to it. Defeated armies can still be rallied; when the will of a nation or a leadership collapses there is no last line of defence.

But more amazing than the Kargil fiasco itself is its business-as-usual aftermath. If anything like this had occurred in any self-respecting country, questions would have been asked, accountability would have been insisted upon and heads would have rolled. The leaders responsible would have had nowhere to hide themselves. In pre-World War Two Japan (admittedly a far-fetched example) the samurais in charge would have committed hara-kiri.

It might have been supposed then that for this shambles there would be some remorse in high places. But this is not Japan. This is the land of Tiger Niazi, the hero of East Pakistan, and here shame and contrition fall to the portion of ordinary mortals, not to the nation's fearsome leaders. It is scarcely surprising then that although the Pakistan army has lost some of its finest officers and men on the mountains of Kashmir, so tangled a web of confusion and lies has been woven around this affair that we are neither able to acknowledge their deaths properly nor pay them the honour their undoubted heroism deserves.

Only in driblets is news coming in of our fallen men. A funeral takes place in a far-off village and word of it is carried in newspapers. But no consolidated list of fallen officers and men has been issued by GHQ. Nor has the nation been told of its living heroes. The pick of our fighting men deserves better than this. The higher direction of war may have been an unmitigated disaster but our fighting soldiers, living and dead, have nothing to be ashamed of. Against fearful odds they upheld the honour of their arms.

What international censure our conduct invited we have already faced. There is no further point in keeping a hugger-mugger shroud over the valour of our soldiers. The nation knows of the jokers who have compromised its honour and fair name. Why cannot it be told of the exploits of its fighting men? This knowledge would assuage to some extent the pain caused by the failure of leadership.

But to expect any sense from the country's good and great is a near-hopeless undertaking. With the nation still pain-stricken, one of its chief thanedars is more concerned about his unpaid loans. Naeemuddin, a UBL director and brother to the Mueenuddin who was imported as CBR chairman till he fled this country's confusion, was hauled up for a day last week because he was not being sufficiently helpful about this mighty gentleman's outstanding loans amounting to, hold your breaths, almost a billion rupees. Later the hapless banker was let off, presumably after being suitably warned.

Incredible but apparently true. Consider the nation's concerns and the priorities of its leading sharks. And to expect that this crew will feel remorse for the nation's sorrows.



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