Dealing with militants
By Aqil Shah, Dawn, July 26, 2008
STATES are supposed to wield legitimate monopoly over the means of coercion in the territory under their control. That’s what makes them states.
In Pakistan, however, Taliban militants have successfully challenged and displaced state authority in many parts of Fata and even some settled districts of the NWFP. While the image of a state collapsing before marauding Taliban militants might be far-fetched, it is not a good sign when they can routinely kidnap and slaughter security personnel with virtual impunity and openly threaten the NWFP provincial government with dire consequences if it does not call off military operations against them. And their actions across the border in Afghanistan are creating grounds for US threats of unilateral action in the tribal areas.
What is the federal government doing about all this? In view of the prime minister’s forthcoming visit to Washington, the coalition principals’ meeting held on July 23 expressed the government’s resolve to tackle militancy through political means backed by the threat of military force. But we have heard that before without much concrete progress on the ground. No doubt suicide attacks inside Pakistan have decreased in frequency since the civilian government assumed power in March. But then the militants have shown that they retain the right to strike any time, anywhere in Pakistan.
Cross-border attacks in Afghanistan have also reportedly intensified in recent months. With 45 fatalities, June 2008 proved the deadliest month for US-led forces since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. Facing intense external pressure to plug the flow of militants into Afghanistan, the government designated the army chief as “the principal for application of military effort”, and ceded him the authority to command “the Frontier Corps and other law enforcement agencies for military operations”, and to “decide on the quantum, composition and positioning of military efforts”.
Giving the military an autonomous and expansive internal security mission only seemed to belie the government’s earlier claim that it was pursuing a coordinated political-cum-military anti-terror strategy in the tribal areas. Brute military force was tried in Fata and it failed, period. Whether it was a problem of capacity or strategy, or both, the military’s anti-terror operations carried out under American pressure did not achieve their main objective of flushing out militants from their hideouts. What is clear is that heavy use of force alienated the local populations which only helped fuel militancy.
The use of force in fact cost the security forces dearly in the form of deadly suicide attacks inside heavily guarded military installations. When faced with heavy losses, the military haphazardly struck peace deals brokered by the JUI-F with the militants. While these deals typically bypassed the civil administration, they achieved little in terms of peace.
Under the terms of the North Waziristan pact of September 2006, for instance, the government ceased military operations, released militants, returned their weapons, removed army check posts and agreed to allow foreigners to stay in the tribal areas if they renounced violence. The militants pledged that they would not challenge the state’s writ, and cease attacks on Pakistani troops as well as cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. They obviously had no intention of sticking to their side of the bargain and swiftly denied the presence of foreigners in the area. In the meantime, they continued to run Taliban-style parallel mini-states and gradually spread their influence to other tribal agencies and the rest of the NWFP. That much we know.
On its part, the Bush administration has made a mess of things in Afghanistan and, by corollary, in Fata. The administration’s diversion of military and intelligence resources from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003 allowed Al Qaeda and their Taliban and other allies to regroup, reorganise, recruit and train for the battle in Afghanistan. As America’s trusted ally, the military under Musharraf cooperated with the US in capturing Al Qaeda fugitives amid allegations that it was concurrently patronising at least the Afghan Taliban as an insurance policy against arch rival India’s growing influence in Afghanistan.
With the Taliban insurgency raging, Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been repeatedly pointing fingers at Pakistan for what largely appear to be his US-backed government’s governance and security failures. Karzai has accused the ISI of orchestrating the July 7 car bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul which left nearly 60 dead. The Indian government too has alleged that “elements in Pakistan” are behind the Kabul blast. Neither has yet furnished any evidence to back up their claims. In turn, Pakistan has blamed India for using its consulates along the Pak-Afghan border for stirring trouble in Fata (and Balochistan), again without providing any evidence.
As the India-Pakistan rivalry reaches deep into Afghanistan, it will not be surprising if attempts continue to deny India a footing in Pakistan’s ‘backyard’. There is no denying that we live in a tough neighbourhood. But because it is devoid of any serious input from the civilian political leadership or civil society, our national security policy has traditionally reflected the military’s deep organisational biases towards India rather than our broad economic and/or foreign policy priorities. But it is not the Indians alone that scare us. We are told that once the Americans are done with Iran, or even before that, they are coming for us. Their plan, apparently, is to slice up and denuclearise the only Muslim nuclear state. These are not facts, at least not as yet.
But here is an undeniable fact to consider: the tribal areas of Pakistan are being used by foreign and local militants to launch cross-border attacks on Afghan and Nato forces. And Pakistan is under international obligations to deny the use of its territory to terrorists. UN Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001), adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and hence legally binding, directs member states to “deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts” and “prevent those who finance, plan, facilitate or commit terrorist acts from using their respective territories for those purposes against other States or their citizens”.One can only welcome the stated determination of the coalition partners to disallow the use of Pakistani territory for cross-border militancy. But actions tend to speak louder than words. Only if the government implements its avowed policy can it reverse the perception that it has passed the buck to the military.
The writer, a PhD candidate in political science at Columbia University, is conducting doctoral research in Pakistan. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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