Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tackling Taliban

Romancing the Taliban
By Adil Zareef, Dawn, September 17, 2008

PAKHTUNKHWA is in flames. Suddenly, we are at the epicentre of a conflict — and there exists a feeling of total helplessness.

Suffering is writ large on the handsome faces of ordinary folk at the mercy of raging gunfire, bombs and explosions for no fault of theirs — except for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Such is the pitiless hand of fate.

With repeated US threats and incursions into Pakistan’s tribal territories, GHQ’s sound and fury has become a whimper, reflecting both the limits of power and the odds confronting Pakistan. An unequal patron-client relationship exists between the US and Pakistan. Democratic niceties apart, the Bush administration always considered it expedient to carry on business with its chosen strongman military dictator, at the peril of the long-term national interests of both countries.

In a calculated move, when the nation’s economy and foreign policy became totally bankrupt, Gen Musharraf went away. What did the elected leaders inherit? Plundered national assets (privatisation, deregulation) a destabilised Afghanistan, and worse, a militarised state with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan unleashed on the Pakhtunkhwa landscape. This is not the first time Pakistan has been ditched and all’s fair in love and war. Two lovers turned antagonists is not novel. So why then are we cursing our stars and the US?

What has actually touched our hearts is the human suffering. The helpless non-combatants have nothing to gain from the shenanigans of the merciless powerbrokers in Washington D.C. or Islamabad. They have everything to lose. It is yet another numbers’ game for the US. What with Iraq, Afghanistan and the bloody trail of human tragedies America has inflicted on one civilisation after another in its quest for unbridled power, it is not surprising that we are now at the receiving end.

What makes matters really worrisome is the national discourse on terrorism and our outright rejection of the global opprobrium being heaped on us. From Kashmir to Delhi and from Afghanistan to the capitals of Western Europe, the footprints of Islamic militants have been traced to Pakistan and Afghanistan hinterlands. The jihad policy of various governments in Islamabad, with regard to the destabilisation of Indian-administered Kashmir and Afghanistan, has been flawed. Surviving on monthly IMF rations, Pakistan cannot afford to have grandiose ambitions. The jingoism and bravado instilled in the minds of common Pakistanis by successive governments, whether democratic or otherwise, have proved self-destructive.

While ANP’s central leadership was consumed by Zardari’s presidential elections, innocent Pakhtuns and their party activists and local leadership were being killed brutally in the Swat valley by Taliban fanatics. Their homes, hujras and livelihoods were being blown up. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced in Bajaur as the Taliban advanced towards Dir and Buner. Hangu and Kurram have become irredeemable. A worthwhile effort against this onslaught is seen lacking by both Islamabad and their Pakhtun coalition partners.

Credible reports confirm that most high-value Taliban leaders remain unharmed, while the fleeing innocent population bears the brunt of guns and bombs. It seems that the establishment, led by the agencies, is now earnestly clinging on to its pipe dream that the home-grown Taliban will defeat the advancing US forces. This policy of ‘strategic depth’ has not waned, despite changed actors, and the ‘cloak and dagger’ policy remains intact. Governor Owais Ghani lashes out at the Taliban as enemies of the state, but also tells the BBC that Afghanistan has to come to terms with the Taliban as ‘a legitimate political force’.

This double-dealing discredits the entire military operation. The fumbling anti-terrorist policy is marked by a disconnect among several state agencies, often working at cross purposes and creating confusion. As one policy expert said, the federal government, intelligence agencies, provincial government, Fata administration and the military are not on the same wavelength. Under these circumstances, quite naturally the brunt of militancy and the military operation is borne by the population.

Take for instance the operation in Swat and Bajaur. Reportedly, the military is not targeting hideouts of the Taliban as it should. When Taliban fanatics were killing the family members of ANP legislator Waqar Khan in Swat, blowing up their homes and hujra, military personnel, according to some reports, were present across the hill near a government school. The extremists walked over, ordered the victims to stand in a line and then mowed them down. Evidently, no military personnel came to save them. Meanwhile, Mullah Fazullah still roams around freely and so do other leaders of the TTP openly addressing the media.

Likewise in Bajaur, the Taliban leadership remains as elusive as ever. The refrain of government functionaries blaming RAW and KHAD agents takes one back to the Afghan jihad period. With millions of dollars pouring in to hunt down the militants, if the intelligence operatives cannot trace the Taliban leaders and perhaps a handful of hardcore militants who are responsible for countrywide bombings and suicide attacks witnessed almost on a daily basis, then they need to quit their jobs.

Writer Ahmed Rashid has graphically described the involvement of our jihadis in the “comprehensive destruction” of Afghanistan. Most vexing is the role of the ulema and religious parties who refuse to openly disown these dastardly acts of terrorism. In the same vein, enlightened representatives like Imran Khan by terming the entire TTP movement a reaction to the US presence in Afghanistan, and absolving Pakistan’s policy blunders, are trivialising a serious issue.

The question of ‘national sovereignty’ becomes irrelevant each time a drone hits a Taliban sanctuary inside Pakistan territory. As we have miserably failed, despite gobbling up billions of dollars in this “war against terror”, does not our defence of the ‘borders’ become tenuous?Having jettisoned an independent judiciary that is meant to promote transparency and credibility in the affairs of the state, the role of the political parties has become questionable. Without checks and balances, the discredited and personalised politics of the Musharraf period persist. And so will the Kafkaesque ‘war against terror’.

Also See:
In Pakistan, sympathy for the Taliban By Mustafa Qadri - Asia Times

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