Open rejoinder to the open letter to Gen. Kayani

It is no secret that the retired colonel referred to in the article Imagining the Taliban is Col.(rt) Harish Puri who had written the open letter to Gen. Pervez Kayani.

I was quite unaware of most of the hullabaloo, mainly due to being away from the Net.

Mine was not a rejoinder to his piece in The News except to underscore a certain point about joining the Taliban bandwagon. It seems to continue if you follow media reports.

Most of you have read that letter. You will find the complete version here. There are a few points I had wanted to respond to even then.

These are excerpts and my comments:

A Pakistani soldier that I met in Iraq in 2004 lamented the fact that the Pakistani soldier in Kargil had been badly let down firstly by Nawaz Sharif and then by the Pakistani officers' cadre. Pakistani soldiers led by Indian officers, he believed, would be the most fearsome combination possible. Pakistani officers, he went on to say, were more into real estate, defence housing colonies and the like.

This is true. The armed forces, especially in our part of the world, are as given to corrupt and on-the-side dealings as anyone else. One must question the sagacity of using a conversation that the colonel had with one Pakistani soldier to paint a broad picture of the Pakistani Army. Soldiers complaining about officers is not a new phenomenon.

As I look at two photographs of surrender that lie before me, I can't help recalling his words. The first is the celebrated event at Dhaka on Dec 16, 1971, which now adorns most Army messes in Delhi and Calcutta. The second, sir, is the video of a teenage girl being flogged by the Taliban in Swat -- not far, I am sure, from one of your Army check posts.

This is my major grouse against this letter - the comparison being drawn between the “celebrated event of Dhaka” and “capitulation in Swat”.

Is there no difference between a war and civil strife?

I am told that it is difficult for your troops to "fight their own people." But you never had that problem in East Pakistan in 1971, where the atrocities committed by your own troops are well documented in the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report. Or is it that the Bengalis were never considered "your own" people, influenced as they were by the Hindus across the border? Or is that your troops are terrified by the ruthless barbarians of the Taliban?

There is not only one way of looking at it. Most Pakistanis agree that atrocities were committed during the Bangladesh war. Why, even Yahya Khan had said, “Kill three million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands”. It is puerile to reduce this into a “hindus from across the border” issue because while the colonel and all of us claim to be a secular democracy, there is an attempt to make it into Us and Them. The more important question is how did India enter into the picture? And even more important is why did Indira Gandhi not ask for the return of our POWs when the exchange took place? Surely, the colonel is aware that the families are still fighting to get their loved ones back? Has he got involved with this process?

This “yours” and “mine” argument really does not wash. What inspirational speech could Gen. Kayani give his soldiers when a senior bureaucrat had told me in mid-2007, “The Punjabi does not want to go to Waziristan. The Frontier Constabulary is made up of Pathans and they are reluctant to kill their own villagers who are fighting for jihad; they are not terrorists.”?

The Taliban are not the only internal forces creating havoc within Pakistan.

- - -

Some of my other arguments are in the piece and some I am not qualified to respond to.

There have been several letters. I shall try and upload them over the weekend.


  1. I am a bit confused when I look at these lines: “I am told that it is difficult for your troops to "fight their own people." But you never had that problem in East Pakistan in 1971, where the atrocities committed by your own troops are well documented in the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report.”

    General is giving a reason taken as childish by writer. Now, we make another example? Suppose atrocities did happen. What about: “But battles are won and lost – armies know this, and having learnt their lessons, they move on.”

    What about lesson learned?

  2. Most lessons are never learned. I agree with you about the confusing parts...it seemed that the writer was trying to do the typical 'balancing' role, which had never appealed to me in this sort of context.

    When individuals do not move on easily, how can we expect nations to?

    And, as I implied, the issues are vastly different and we cannot apply the same standards.

  3. Farzana steps up to defend her country's honor..

  4. Thanks for the running commentary, Arjun, but really you must not embarrass me with such encomiums.

    Btw, are you in S. Africa for the IPL matches?


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