State ReWorks Itself In Wana

In Wana the April outcome is vastly different from the March outcome. From the ‘happening area’ no declarations of victory and of defeat and above all no ‘body bags.’ No captures and no surrenders. March had brought 145 tragic deaths. Also unconvincing victory assertions. Instead on April 24th in South Waziristan an authentic ceremony registered an incipient ‘success’ for the State of Pakistan. While its tangible yield has to surface it’s a hopeful beginning. However to keep the deal ‘on’ Islamabad needs to rein its civilian ministers whose declarations of surrender and defeat of the tribesmen can certainly undermine the ‘deal.’

It is a welcome deal between the State and the tribal combatants. Men in battle during the March operation in Azam Warsak now embraced each other. Even the “most wanted.” Representatives, civil and military, of the State of Pakistan arrived in Shakai, for a brokered-reconciliation with the people of Azam Warsak . The deal brokered by the MMA parliamentarians on the basis of General Parvez Musharraf’s early March offer of general amnesty in exchange a accepting the law of the land.

Those engaged in battle announced peace. The 5 most wanted combatants of the Zalikhel tribe including Nek Mohammad embraced the Corps commander and presented him with symbolic gifts. The symbolism of daggers, pistols, the Holy Quran and prayer mats as presents at the huge jirga could not have been lost. Weapons symbolized peace and acceptance of authority. Prayer mats Muslim brotherhood. Speeches that followed were in-keeping with the moment of truce, not surrender. The “most wanted” regretted the March battle, lamented past misunderstandings and vowed loyalty to Pakistan.

In his attempt at confidence-building the Corps Commander spoke warmly, compassionately but firmly. He was entering into an unwritten yet crucial agreement with the combatants. Confidence-building through modesty and magnanimity was needed. He invoked brotherhood, praised their hospitality and commitment to national interest and shared his threat perceptions with the tribesmen. Major development initiatives were announced. These included laying of roads, medical care and school construction, medical care and above all linking the area to the outside would through television booster. The general also gave 500,000 for a madrassa. Support for houses destroyed during the March operation was also promised.

The Wana deal followed a whole range of multiple level negotiations with the combatants in which virtually all NWFP-based elements of the State and the political set up were involved. These included the tribal elders, two elected parliamentarians, the Frontier Constabulary , army regulars, special forces, political agent, governor, tribal agents, FATA officials and the President as well.

Also since end February top officials of security agencies were communicating with the MMA Chief Minister of NWFP on the nature of threat Pakistan faced incase the international concerns regarding existence of al-Qaeda networks in South Waziristan were not sufficiently probed. A concern subsequently repeated by the Corps Commander at Shakai when he reminded the grand jirga that Pakistan while protecting its own people, territory and sovereignty had to be mindful of the need to behave as a responsible State internationally. He reminded them that Pakistan could ill afford any “terrorists” operating from its territory given that while no Afghans were involved in the 9/11 attacks Afghanistan came under attack because its territory was being used by foreign combatants.

Clearly undoing structural wrongs with ideological underpinnings can never be easy. It calls for determined resolve yet flexible methods. Especially when the untangling of politico-military and ideological mess means confronting your own troubled past to define a confident future. You have to meet half-way without screaming ‘victory.’ Clean victories don’t come in these times that are born from a violence-laced womb. But settlements do come. Peace too can follow. As hopefully it will to Wana. The agreement between the wanted men of Wana and the Peshawar Corps Commander is perhaps the beginning of a wise process adopted by the State in resolving the lingering contradictions of State, sub-state actors and ideology sowed by the Pakistani State during the Afghan jihad.

Essentially the State, autonomous of external influences, devised a home-spun approach to settling the conflict with the wanted men of Wana. Despite its deepening security ties with the United States the Pakistani government has not worked with ‘derivative wisdom’ spawned by the US as if from the security paradigm’s Periphery importing wisdom from the Center. Admittedly to assure the world that it had altered its strategic vision and security practices, ironically encouraged originally ! by today’s foremost critics , Pakistan has had to busy itself ‘assuring’ others. Even at the cost creating misunderstandings at home. Indeed much of the course correction by Pakistan has been in self-interest. Yet the pressures from above all Washington and the mantra of “do more” has complicated matters for a State in transition. Expectation from the US of ‘indecent haste’ to “capture al-Qaeda” could prompt the Pakistani State to opt for ill-conceived and harmful moves .

After March a non-aggressive approach was adopted. The bloody March battle had driven both sides towards realism. April saw adoption of a determined but realistic methodology by the State. It factored in the centrality of dialogue in achieving the objective of engaging the tribesmen. The thrust was not to punish the militants but too seek veiled penance in a jirga that would guarantee future ‘good behavior.’ Hence the problem was appropriately contextualized. All this was backed by credible threat.

As the State engages to ‘clear it self-created past mess, in the tribal areas, or elsewhere it cannot be about winning or losing. It is about settling disputes. It is about upholding rule of law and not about ‘draining out’ religion and religiosity. Hence a comment somewhat sensationally and dramatically attributed to Nek Mohammad in an english daily that he will not give up jihad needs to be viewed in perspective. Jihad, with multiple connotations has always been integral to Muslim sociology; only in the post 1979 phase a force infrastructure was developed to militarize this jihad. The Pakistani State is busy knocking down that infrastructure. Its foolhardy to either require or expect the operation to ‘drain out’ the ‘sociology’ of the people; the madarassa, light weapons and ‘jihad’ from their lives.

The Wana operation has been about upholding rule of law in an area where the State in partnership with the Washington, engineered its subversion first. Fed up by the March operation , the tribal elders in South Waziristan would tauntingly remind the soldiers that their former Chief Zia ul Haq had preached in the eighties that “all those who are Muslims must go and wage jihad in Afghanistan and the rest should go and jump in the river.” The misdirected military-led State of Pakistan, ’empowered’ by the US partnership, had popularized national security. For the Pakistani State Nek Mohammad represents its own creation, as much as of the State-Department international jihadists. The beginnings of today’s mess go back to the early eighties. Read The Afghan Jihad for chilling details. Hence there was both truth and sincerity in what Nek Mohammad ‘s words. At the reconciliation event he said,” We are loyal to Pakistan and are ready to fight in ! Kashmir or anywhere else if asked by the government. It’s a propaganda that we were terrorists.” The State has to re-lead. Its roll-back time now. But ‘easy does it.’ Quick-fixes back-fire.

Under the settlement brokered by the MMA the State agreed to release 50 of the 165 combatants arrested during the March. The military operations have ended but the troops will not be withdrawn. The tribesmen are bound in the open jirga to deliver on the following:

– One the local tribesmen will not provide protection to foreign militants engaged in attacking other

– Two the tribesmen will surrender their heavy arms to the local authorities

– Three ensure registeration of all foreigners who would then be given aamnesty and residence by the State

The army spokesman has already announced starting of military operation immediately after April 30. The April 30 deadline set for foreign nationals to surrender to the State and have themselves registered will be an important test of what this agreement can potentially deliver. Already the locals maintain there are no foreigners her. Also that no deadlines were set for foreigners to surrender. Movement on this front will not be smooth. The Pakistan army had maintained that there are around 300 to 400 ‘foreign’ combatants with links to talibaan and al-Qaeda hiding in the tribal areas. How reliable is the estimate and is it a static number or could some of them have escaped during and after the March operation.

Meanwhile broadly the basis for confidence building is ‘fair-play,’ Pakistani nation-hood, Muslim brotherhood. The basis for settlement is mutual accommodation between the State and the South Waziristan tribes making it collectively obligatory on the tribesmen to accept the writ of the State and to strictly abide by its edict. Finally the implementation of this agreement along with trust-building will also require a credible threat of force by the State.

Wana operation acquired national and international significance. Pakistanis were alarmed during the bloody March operation Many criticized the army for gunning for their own at the American behest. Others agreed with the objective to establish the writ of the State but advocated using ‘wiser’ means.

Internationally Wana became the acid test of Pakistan’s commitment to anti-terrorism.

Concerns about the deal amounting to the State giving in to the combatants is simplistic if not conspiratorial. Countering terrorism and establishing the writ of a reformed State is now in Pakistan’s own national interest. Part of the challenge involves demobilization of Pakistanis recruited for the popular international jihad of the eighties and nineties is underway. In Afghanistan the ISAF and US troops know the difficulties of demobilizati! on.

Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan are being promoted principally through commercial and trade links. Support to anti-Karzai forces is now viewed as a counter-productive policy with the State institutions. However what approach the State chooses to adopt to ensure that the State effectively enforces its authority has to be determined by the context in which it is functioning. Not by the speed with which an election campaign across the Atlantic may require results.

Built into the Wana challenge is also the broader challenge that the State faces. It is the challenge of substituting a label-loaded dialogue with one that is more credible. Wana underscores for the Pakistani State the naiveté of a label-loaded discourse even at the policy level. In the post 9/11 phase the uniformity of labels “Islamic extremist,” “Islamic terrorist” and “Islamic fundamentalist” in the political, security or sociological discourse is misleading. These labels cannot be! treated generically. They are context-bound holding different meanings for different power groups. They all have a context-bound subtext. Often different, as decided by the ‘user.’

These are critical considerations that defy both quick-fix blame and vulgar solution-mongering. The Pakistani State having first become party to the multiple dimensions, internal and external, of religion and the power construct is now on home ground, being practically pushed to appreciate and accept the complexity of the after-math of the act of deploying ‘Islam’ for various purposes. There is a lesson for the United States in all this as it deploys raw force to alter complex, chaotic and often self-created politico-military scenarios. In these ‘throw-back’ times of chaos the best option for the State is to opt for the magical three ! word panacea-rule of law. Leaving behind the verbosity that yields little and divides many, the State of Pakistan has to credibly and carefully work towards establishing rule of law in the mainland plus the tribal areas. This is our war on terrorism; against the “terrorism” that flourished as the State stood warped by its own architects.