Arun Shourie: Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Half of Pakistan’s territory is slipping out of the writ of Islamabad.
Pakistan has lost control over half its territory. In all probability it will regain that control at some time in the future. But the fact that half of the country’s territory is today outside the writ of the Pakistani state shows how far things have been allowed to fall.
Information that reaches India suggests that the troubles in Balochistan are much worse than what becomes public knowledge — a determined effort has been made to black out what is happening there. In the northwest, the Maliks and Khans were already losing out to the Taliban — the latter had begun replacing them even in governmental committees, a better way to route outlays to itself. Since then, these persons as well as the political mullahs through whom the area was being controlled have come to be viewed as instruments of the enemy. Hence, administration has crumbled. Two ‘accords’ and a third attempted ‘accord’ have come to nothing. Each ‘accord’ was seen as, and was in fact an acknowledgement that the Pakistani army was not able to contain the situation: in the Miramshah Accord, for instance, the most recent one to unravel, the tribals agreed not to attack Pakistani troops in return for the withdrawal of troops from the region. And in return for tribals being allowed to continue to bear arms, the government agreed to release 165 tribal militants and provide handsome ‘compensation’. Each ‘accord’ has been terminated at the will of the tribals and the army has been able to do nothing in the matter.
The sway of the Taliban has now spread to FATA. In this region, the three agencies most affected are south Waziristan, north Waziristan and Bajaur. But Talibanisation has started spreading from FATA to the adjacent ‘settled districts’ of NWFP. In places like Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Swat, and so on, the Taliban roam the streets freely and enforce their ‘values’. Barber shops and video parlours have been shut down. Men are required to grow beards. Music is banned. Girls have been prohibited from attending school: ‘the card’ is a dread — a postcard is delivered at the house with the photograph of a severed head on one side, and, on the other, a simple note: ‘your daughter XYZ, goes to school ABC, located at...’ Parents have to take their child out of school or risk her life or swiftly dispatch her to some other town...
To confound matters, the only instrument through which the areas could be retrieved, the army, is showing signs of strain. It has suffered major casualties and embarrassing reverses. In a series of the most telling events, large numbers of soldiers have ‘surrendered’. In the first instance, close to 300 were reported to have been ‘kidnapped’. They were led by a colonel at the time. There were four officers among them. Not one casualty occurred. The whole lot just got ‘kidnapped’ or they surrendered. Since then, the sequence has been repeated at least twice — with two differences: the tribals called the media over to photograph the soldiers they had captured, and, after making them swear never to fight fellow Muslims again, released them.
By now, the problem is structural. That is, it is not just the mistake of a Musharraf. A quarter of Pakistan’s army consists of Pashtuns. Not just that, major operations are being carried out by the Frontier Corps. This consists of locally recruited Pashtun soldiers, officered by Punjabi army officers. On the other side, earlier, the fighting was largely being done by foreign militants — Chechens, Uzbeks, Arabs. They were being supported by the Taliban. Now it appears that entire tribes and sub-tribes are rising in revolt against the army. Pashtun soldiers are chary of fighting persons from their own tribe, and just as nervous of fighting Pashtuns from other sub-tribes or tribes, for they know that doing so could well trigger a cycle of revenge, a cycle that will last for generations. Nor would sending units of Punjabis help matters: quite the contrary, doing so would transform the hostilities into an ethnic conflict — Punjabis killing Pashtuns will stoke the flames even more vigorously.
But this development should not cause surprise, as my friend, Sushant Sareen, who follows developments in our neighbours almost by the hour, points out. The army is itself steeped in the culture of jihad, and so will naturally be reluctant to kill those who are, after all, sacrificing their lives in jihad. Even in 1971, the situation was not as grave from a soldier’s point of view as it is now: in that war, he, a Punjabi, was killing Bengalis. Today Pashtuns are being set to kill Pashtuns. Moreover, unlike the Bengalis in 1971, these groups fight back: they are well-armed; they are very well trained; their motivation is stronger than that of even the indoctrinated Pakistani soldier; they are masters of their terrain; they are not ‘primitives’. On the contrary, they are extremely sophisticated in their tactics and strategy.
Could there be more than just morale here? Could it be that because of its pervasive involvement in the economy and administration, because of the enormous collateral perquisites that are given to officers — from plots to control of ‘heavy’ enterprises — the army, in particular its officer class, has softened? The performance of the army in Kargil, in Balochistan and now in NWFP certainly suggests that this is possible. The main debility, however, is different: the army has been reared to kill and prevail over ‘imbecile kafirs’, and it must balk at killing fellow Muslims.
It is often suggested that after 9/11 and his decision to join the American war, Musharraf cleaned out the bearded generals. He may have shunted out some individuals. But the American war and joining it have certainly put the ‘moderates’ in the army on the defensive. The Islamists have been proven right. One minor indication of this was visible in the Lal Masjid incident. Here is a mosque not in the far away, wild tribal areas, but in Islamabad itself. The entire country is under army rule. The ISI as well as intelligence agencies of the army itself are in each nook and cranny of the country. How could such a vast armoury have been accumulated in the mosque and the adjacent madrassa without the complicity of elements inside these organisations?
So, we have, on the one hand, half the territory going out of the writ of Islamabad, and, on the other, the one instrument through which it would have to be wrested back, drooping.
To compound matters, the Taliban are a very different force from what they used to be. They have metamorphosed. Their modus operandi are now very different from what they were: as has been correctly noted, today, Pakistan is second only to Iraq in suicide attacks. Similarly, the Taliban used to hit and run. Now they engage in extended, fixed battles. More important, the aim of the Taliban now is not that of a local militant group. Nor, as Sushant Sareen writes, is their aim to undo Pakistan. Their aim is to take over Pakistan and Afghanistan, at least large parts of these. And from these areas as a base, to carry forward the jihad to convert lands farther and farther away that are today the dar ul harb into the dar ul Islam. Hence, there can be no doubt at all that, after consolidating their position in the trans-Indus regions, they will extend their ideology and operations into Punjab and Sindh. And recent attacks and explosions show that they already have the capacity to reach into the very heart of Pakistan. Incidentally, this has been a major strategic mistake of the West, one of many that is, to have shut its eyes to the fact that the Taliban was getting revived and transformed, and, instead, to have allowed itself to be diverted by the few ‘Al Qaida’ operatives that Pakistan has from time to time handed over.
There is an even more ominous transformation for Pakistan: the Islamic zeal of Taliban has got fused into Pashtun nationalism. Few of us realise that while there are 12 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan, there are 25 million in Pakistan. Historically, leadership has rested with the Afghan Pashtuns. But this is shifting to Pak-Pashtuns now — contrast the sway of warlords in FATA and NWFP with the shrunken, tenuous existence of Karzai: they roam freely, they dominate their areas while Karzai is confined to Kabul, and, even within Kabul, he is dependent on the Americans for even his personal safety. The Pashtuns have never accepted the Durand Line as a divide. Successive jihads — first against the Soviets and now against the Americans — have erased it on the ground. Even de jure, no Afghan government, not even the Taliban government that was the creature of Pakistani agencies, accepted it. In any case, the hundred years for which it was delineated are long gone. The Afghans have long demanded that the line should be further south, as far south in fact as Attock.
A potent mix: a Taliban fired by the zeal to establish Islam by fomenting the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ that others dread; Pashtun nationalism demanding a Pakhtunistan with territory from both Afghanistan and Pakistan; a quarter of Pakistan’s army and almost all of the Frontier Corps deployed in the region, Pashtun. And that is just one problem in one arena.
Today, even as the Pakistani army is sent out to combat them in FATA and NWFP, Pakistan continues to aid the Taliban in their forays into Afghanistan. And for the obvious reason: it is convinced — who would not be? — that the NATO forces, in particular the Americans will leave sooner rather than later; Pakistan would want its agents to take over Kabul and thus reacquire the ‘strategic depth’ vis a vis India, the acquiring of which a few years ago it had hailed as one of the greatest feats of its strategic planning. But Pakistan is not the only source from which the Taliban get aid. Information we receive suggests that, though they are fervent Sunnis, they are getting help even from Shia Iran. And for this too the reasons are obvious: for Iran today, any and every group that will hobble the US today is a confederate; second, while they are at it, Iran wants them to eliminate those of its dissidents who have taken shelter in southwestern Afghanistan. More than the aid they receive, the Taliban today have become self-financing: as has been pointed out in General Afsir Khan’s important journal Aakrosh, the Taliban are being much more nuanced about opium and heroin this time round. In their earlier reign, they had banned hashish, not heroin, as the former is what the locals were consuming. This time round they are allowing greater latitude in regard to both as they have realised that drugs provide income to farmers and thus relieve the Taliban of a responsibility, and at the same time, the produce are an unfailing source of revenue. Contrast this with the dilemma that hobbles American and NATO forces: they are not able to provide alternative sources either for employment or for income to the local population but if they stamp out opium cultivation, they alienate farmers; on the other hand, if they allow it to grow, they help finance the Taliban.
Thus, Pakistan is today feeding with one hand the Taliban it seeks to crush with the other; second, the Taliban receive aid and acquire resources from other quarters. But the main problem is different and goes deeper. With what legitimacy can the government in NWFP, FATA, Islamabad crush them? All that the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah-e-Mohammadi is demanding, after all, is that the shariah be enforced: with what face can parties that have come to power in the name of Islam in NWFP — the religious parties — crush them for this? Indeed, Pakistan having been proclaimed an Islamic state, shariah courts having been set up since Zia’s time, with what legitimacy can Islamabad move to crush the cleric who is enforcing the shariah in FATA? As it moves to kill them in any case, Musharraf’s army becomes an instrument of ‘the enemies of Islam’.
That problem goes beyond Musharraf and his army. It permeates every pore of Pakistan. Pakistan having declared itself to be an ‘Islamic state’, the ‘moderates’ on whom the West rests its hopes, as do the wishful in India, just cannot stand up to the mullahs: the latter have to merely keep reciting verses from the Quran and repeating hadis; they have merely to ask, as they do at every turn, “if the object was to establish Pakistan as a secular state, as a state indifferent to Islam, as one in which not the shariah but some alien law shall rule, what was the point of creating Pakistan, what was the point of partitioning India?” “How can preaching religion be terrorism?” they demand. Moreover, the ‘moderate’ politicians are themselves seen as nothing but, as has been correctly observed, ‘democrats of convenience’ — for each of them without exception has in the past turned to and been propped up by the army and ISI. Each has been as corrupt as the other. Each has turned to and struck deals with religious fundamentalists — and this includes not just Musharraf in whom our commentators discern so much secularism; it includes Nawaz Sharif and Benazir. The lawyers did not keep politicians away from their agitation without reason.
In a word, the Taliban are not the cause of the Talibanisation of Pakistani society. They are the result. The madrassas are not the only ones that indoctrinate their wards in extremism; as the excellent studies by the Pakistani historian K.K. Aziz in the early 1990s, and by Islamabad’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute more recently have shown, government schools indoctrinate students no less — from class 2 onwards — in the blessings and glory that accrue from jihad and shahadat.
It is obvious that Musharraf’s ‘emergency’ has had nothing whatsoever to do with the real problems that Pakistan faces. First, he has contributed as much to inflaming them as anyone. Second, if terrorism in the NWFP and FATA are the target, why remove the judges? Why throw human rights activists into jails? Third, look at what he and his ministers began saying the moment Bush and others called him: elections in February 2008, of course I will give up my uniform, ‘emergency’ will be ended within weeks — is it any one’s case that the tribals in NWFP and FATA will be brought to heel in a few weeks?
So, his ‘emergency’ has been just to save himself from the Supreme Court. But equally, for the kinds of reasons enumerated above, removing him is not going to solve the problems in which Pakistan finds itself today. Most certainly not for India.For Pakistan is today a dictatorship in the grip of the army and ISI because of the neglect of institutions over sixty years. Pakistan is today a Talibanised society as the culmination of a choice it made sixty years ago — of being an Islamic state. Once the dust kicked up by Musharraf settles, whoever is in power in Islamabad will gravitate to the old, accustomed conclusion: there is only one way of coping with the jihadis — deflect them to India...