For a military commander, there is, perhaps, no better platform to share his wisdom, concerns and anguish than the podium of his alma mater, and no better audience to express his vision than the impressionable young officers waiting in the wings to march out as commissioned officers. When the Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, addressed the gathering of young cadets at the Pakistan Military Academy, or PMA, Kakul, on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of Independence Day, one could feel the weighty challenges leaning upon the seasoned General. The loneliness that a soldier at the pinnacle of the chain of command must feel where his under command rank and file are engaged in the entrenched fight against terror, regularly embracing Shahadat in the service of their nation, was only too evident. The prognosis was objectively realistic and the pointers to the future were pragmatic and practical. It was an address that candidly explained the grave situation and called upon the young cadets to gird up their loins for the challenges that awaited them within a short span of time as and when they left the gates of the hallowed PMA behind them to enter the realm of practical soldiering. The message in General Kayani’s address went beyond the gathering of lithe and smartly turned out gentlemen cadets; manifestly taking into its reach a larger circle of audiences - at home and abroad as well. In a typically direct and soldier-like manner, the speech summed up the situation succinctly. The loud and clear message was that the mess, which the country found itself mired into, was primarily a sum total of our own making and we alone had to bear the responsibility of cleaning it up, notwithstanding that outside forces were taking advantage of the emerged fault lines and whetting their own subversive ends. Whatever foreign linkages it bore, the war on terror had drawn Pakistan into a situation where a national response - not only a military campaign - was needed to take the threat by the horns. He also explained the difficulties of launching military operations against own people where surgical operations by the military needed to be inevitably followed by a campaign to win hearts and minds of the local population to wean them away from the chimeras surrected by the extremists. In a nutshell, the civilian setup, both at political and administrative levels, must come forward to take overall charge of the campaign, if the war against terrorism has to be won. The message was of reassurance, calm, resolve and hope, asserting that the nation must gird up its loins to face the challenge that was threatening it to tear our fabric asunder. This was a remarkable and pragmatic assessment of the situation, hardly providing any room for disagreement. But a campaign started in sections of media, which suggested that the speech was a precursor to the launching of the army operation in the North Waziristan Agency, or NWA; for which the US civil and military leadership had been insisting for quite some time. The US Defence Secretary also gave a fillip to such a speculative onslaught by saying that Pakistan stood committed to the launching of military operation in NWA. Thus, the categorical assertion by the Army Chief of the need to fight terrorism tooth and nail as the gravest of threats posed to the security of Pakistan was construed by a few as bowing to the external demands by launching an operation in NWA under compulsion. A small minority even chose the pretext to indulge into targeting the Army Chief by raising malicious issues bearing no relevance to the PMA address and indulging in a smear attack with obvious linkages and backing by vested interests. In war or in peace, the army looks to its Chief for inspiration and guidance. And such uncalled for slandering insinuations were barely concealed attacks on the institution of the army itself, stretched full in its fight against terrorism, and nation’s bulwark against the overbearing threat posed by terrorism. With the entire country bleeding from wounds inflicted by acts of terrorism, it is hard to rationalise how could anyone interpret action against terrorists motivated by subservience to foreign interests? The war on terror is our own because the terrorists are hell bent upon usurping the soul of the nation in the name of Islam. It is our war because our children, families, soldiers, politicians and the entire society without exception is bearing the brunt of this brutal no-holds- barred bloody onslaught. Schools, mosques, shrines, bus stands, and bazaars, are all fair game for the terrorists, who hold the nation ransom whenever their “safe havens” are under threat. It is the blood of the soldiers and civilians of the Pakistani nation that is being spilled by the extremists; how could this blood be traded for serving foreign interests and diktat, is simply incomprehensible. The Pakistan Army is the only institution that stands in between this pestilence and the peace-loving people, and is thus the terrorists’ primary target. Agreed that this war was not started by Pakistan and is a fallout of the US hawkish tactics in Afghanistan and Fata; yet, it now faces us squarely in the face and we have to tackle this threat head on if we wish to live the life envisaged for us by our forefathers. North Waziristan has veritably become a network of terrorist stronghold from where the attacks are being planned and launched into the country’s hinterland. The Pakistani army has already undertaken operations to neutralise some of the most vicious of these terror nodes, yet the need for a major search and destroy operation is lurking around the corner. Even as the NWA operation, if and when undertaken, is dictated by purely indigenous considerations, it has become the rallying point of Pakistan’s detractors at home and abroad. If its operational necessity is being insisted upon by the US at all levels of political and military leadership, then it is coincidental without overriding national priorities. The decision to launch operations in NWA will be taken by the Government of Pakistan and not the army alone and, that too, after evolving a national consensus. The interpretation of General Kayani’s address at Kakul by some writers as an indication of an imminent change in Pakistani army’s strategy in the war on terror at USA’s behest, is plainly out of touch with reality and possibly driven by motives to appease vested interests.

The writer is a freelance columnist.