This email arrived in my mail box on October 21st underscoring the human tragedy and the security threat we confront in the tribal areas and also beyond. "..dear sister because of a ramshackle power supply regime in waziristan i could not write u early. anyhow, as i came back the sensitive south and north waziristan agencies were tense and mournful on the eve of Eid as hundred of people in latest military offensive in north waziristan were either killed or migrated to down towns. there prevail throughout a tension in our Shakai valley as no person except children were seen wearing new clothes or celebrating Eid with fervour….. hailing from the militancy-haunted south waziristan agency sister, i will be here for u for any information regarding mayhem in the tribal belt. it is for ur information that the so-called war on terrorism in waziristan and other tribal belt is changing into some sort of war of liberation as more and more people are joining resistence force who lost their near and dear in the military operations. your pen likely force the authorities to halt the operation."
Obviously pens don’t alter policy but they must document the anguish of our times. Lingering close to the bloody threat of terrorism, which robs us of our precious Pakistanis of all ages lives, is the anguish of the many. The debate and accusations are unending. There is much sound and fury about how Pakistan is fighting Washington’s war on terror, on how Pakistani soldiers are being killed, on how Pakistani soldiers kill their own brothers and sisters in the tribal areas, on how Quaid-e-Azam promised Pakistani troops will never enter the tribal areas and so on. Conversely there are those who insist on how the government is not sincere about confronting terrorism and how enough force is not being used to fight the "terrorists" the extremists or the talibaan. There are those who argue that the mishandling of the Lal Masjid has prompted increase in suicide bombings. Shouting as if from roof-tops their contesting positions, policy makers, politicians, policy analysts and concerned people, fill newspapers, airtime and cyber space. Political proponents of violence can be multiple, ranging from Baluchistan to Waziristan and even from individuals in politics to those in power.
Lost in this passion and fury, is the complexity of the problem. We are not facing a straight forward problem of ‘bad’ guys versus ‘good’ guys. Taking in troops to kill and planes to bomb is no solution. Its a complicated challenge with at least three different dimensions. One is of tackling the armed militias gunning internal and external targets. Armed militias battle with State forces- the army, the levies, the Frontier Constabulary-killing more than a 1000 troops. The numerical strength and the ability of the militias to inflict damage remains intact, if not enhanced. Two, the missionary men, dictate social morality by using force in public spaces. This includes the closing of music and barbers shops, women’s hospitals etc. They define the collective way of being by taking law in their own hands. State institutions are unable to serve as a deterrent to actions violating law.
Three, there also is the broader contextual dimension that flows from the strategic situation. Blundering US policies in Pakistan’s neighborhood, coupled with continuing proliferation of weapons and intolerance, has made it easy for armed militias to attract individuals. Angered by, what many believe are Washington’s ‘immoral, anti-Muslim and unjust’ policies, young men seek revenge from the ‘evil’ enemy. Superimposed on all of these causes are of course issues that flow from bad politics and inefficient government which provide little hope to the society’s economically disadvantaged and which perpetuate apartheid between the have and the have-nots.
All this no doubt generates a growing chaos within and fear outside. Perhaps the most disturbing political picture of current Pakistan has been sketched in the recent issue of Newsweek by Ron Moreau. In his story In his story ‘The Most Dangerous Place?’ Moreau argues that Today no other country on earth is arguably more dangerous than Pakistan. It has everything Osama bin Laden could ask for: political instability, a trusted network of radical Islamists, an abundance of angry young anti-Western recruits, secluded training areas, access to state-of-the-art electronic technology, regular air service to the West and security services that don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. (Unlike in Iraq or Afghanistan, there also aren’t thousands of American troops hunting down would-be terrorists.) Then there’s the country’s large and growing nuclear program. Quoting a former NSC official Bruce Riedel he writes, "If you were to look around the world for where Al-Qaeda is going to find its bomb, it’s right in their backyard."
Hence the reality of our own multi-dimensioned causes of internal security dovetails into both genuine fears and strong prejudices of the Americans. Aided by the mainstream media the dominant western wisdom identifies Muslim behavioral patterns and religiosity largely as root causes of terrorism. The resultant policy has been flawed for its primary focus on use of force and its inability to reorient current US policy in the region beginning with Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.
Pakistan’s response to growing violence and terrorism has been flawed and inadequate. The government has failed to consistently engage the local jirgas, talibaan and parliamentary members. Often Washington’s pressure has prompted Islamabad’s knee-jerk reactions of abruptly ending local Accords, handing over militants to the US and Afghan governments or suddenly launching major military operations. Information dissemination by the government on the state of the battling zones too has been selective and sporadic. Committed media men covering the story have also lost their lives. Meanwhile the Opposition political parties use the growing problem of internal violence and terrorism as a point scorer against the government. The government believes it can secure opposition’s cooperation on its own terms. All this makes for a fragmented and conflictual response by Pakistan’s State and politicians. This dynamic of response further divides and confuses society. It also strengthens those who lead violence and promote terrorism.
For Pakistan the problem of internal violence predates 9/11 as does the US influence on hwo we tackle it. If Nawaz Sharif, under US pressure agreed to clear a ‘kidnap OBL’ plan in July 1999 which was being implemented by the ISI using ex-Pak army commandoes and Musharraf opted for complete and overt support post 9/11. Nawaz Sharif opted for force to counter growing sectarianism. Sharif the politician’s policy was subtle, locally collaborative and home-grown. Musharraf the military man adopted the aggressive and hence alienating tone. Both clearly knew the dangers of growing internal violence in the name of religion.
Pakistan needs to get the locals involved in a dialogue process at the community level. Without local support no peace will return to the tribal areas. Only a measured use of force as a last resort will work. Caving in to terrorists cannot be an option but dialogue with those who enjoy peoples’ support cannot be avoided. Yet both ideas and guns need to be carried. The government’s renewed effort to engage the local jirgas is a positive step. But it needs to be sustained and sincere. Keeping the local political forces including the politicians on the margins will not make return peace possible. Neither will any clever-by-half policy of trying to use the ‘terrorism’ card to keep genuine democracy at bay.
Unless there is a complete consensus within Pakistan’s ruling Establishment that the conflict in the tribal areas must not be prolonged, no half-hearted attempt will succeed. Today Pakistan is no closer to resolving the growing threat of internal violence. Pakistan needs to go for a grand reconciliation involving the PML factions, the PPP, smaller parties and high profile men like Imran Khan. But someone needs to take the lead.
Only a serious grand national reconciliation move will tell the world that in Pakistan only Pakistan’s home-grown policies, indeed factoring in genuine concerns of other countries, will be pursued. Ultimately such an approach alone can put the US pressures on hold. We can roll back US pressures by unleashing our own dynamic of genuine reconciliation and resolution.