MONETIZATION OF WAR IN TRIBAL AREAS

On 30 August, an armed and mobile column of about 225 soldiers disappeared in South Waziristan. As usual, state media was ambivalent about the incident. It is now learnt that these men were traveling in a convoy stretching over more then two kilometers, which was stopped by an armed Mahsud gang under Qari Hussain and taken hostage. Qari Hussain is a member of the outlawed Sipah e Sahaba. He received his religious education at Jamia Farooqia inKarachi and graduated from there in 2003. He and his group of 200-300 fighters are allies of Baitullah Mahsud.

It is incomprehensible how such a large convoy of armed men led by senior officers, surrendered without firing a shot or even asking for assistance on the wireless. Help was only minutes away.

 An incredulous and surprized friend asked:

Do you remember any other case in our military history, where such a large number of solders laid down their weapons and voluntary handed themselves to those who technically are their enemies?

No, I don’t, I replied.

My friend’s comment disturbed me because it opened a Pandora’s Box of possibilities. Subsequent inquiries may bring out many mitigating circumstances, nevertheless, the simple fact remains that the immobilization of so many armed men by fifteen or twenty hostiles has dealt a cruel and demoralizing blow to the military, who take pride in considering themselves amongst the best in the region.

The mind refuses to accept how such a professional army unit could be reduced to these straits in Waziristan. So what has duty in Waziristan done to the fighting machine that the citizens of Pakistan have built with so much sacrifice and hardship?

Subsequent analysis of the effects of change in the military’s recruitment rules, its motivation calculas, class composition, leadership qualities, pollution caused by involvement in politics and the impact of religious propaganda on members of the military will of course be made in due course.

This newsletter however fears, that the present strategy of fighting war in Waziristan is penetrated by money and war has been turned into a commodity. The aim and objective of fighting is secondary now. Waziristan and the War on Terror show signs of profiteering and rentier income making, which will negate peace and encourage the continuation of war.

Marx was not wrong when he said that most human acts were dictated by financial calculations. Making war is one of the basic attributes of our species and it is but natural that this process too, will be coloured by considerations other than strategy. He rightly concluded that once something was transformed into a commodity, it could be traded and at every transaction, a profit made.

If we superimpose this Marxian framework on the combatants involved in Waziristan, it will create a less than flattering explanation for the numerous kidnappings and agreements with the tribes and which occur with so much regularity. Secondly, this analysis provides a predictive tool for the war in Waziristan.

First, we take the premier player in Waziristan, which are Pakistan and its military. Where do they figure in the value chain of war? What benefits do they derive from the fighting in Waziristan?

By December 2001, after joining, the coalition against the War on Terror, Pakistan immediately obtained financial advantage, when the suffocating Pressler amendment was withdrawn. Foreign and US assistance began flowing into Pakistan. The arms embargo was lifted and economic assistance became available.

Pakistan’s annual GDP growth rate, which was hovered around 2%, received a boost after 9/11 from the flow of licensing fees and payments for the use of Pakistani military facilities and bases by US. The initial aerial war against the Taliban was launched from Pakistani airfields.

The multi and bi-lateral international donors became active and Pakistan’s GDP annual growth averaged between 5.5% to 6.5%. This was mostly due to external factors, rather than an economic or industrial turnaround based on Pakistani reforms. Annually, about $2 billion was received by Pakistan in military fees, and about $ 500 million was invested by the multi and bi-lateral organizations since 2002. Trade and commerce picked up, when Pakistan obtained favorable terms for the entry of its textile manufacture into the European and US markets.

From 2002 to 2007, Pakistan received approximately $14 billion in direct transfers and bilateral assistance. The benefits of preferential markets were transferred to the industrialists. Out of the approximately $14 billion transfer, $10 billion were from the license and facility usage fees paid by the US for operations in Afghanistan and tribal areas. It included fees for the use of equipment and the cost of movement of forces as well as compensation for injuries and deaths.

It is my surmise that large undisclosed sums were also paid for intelligence operations, which are contained in the US defence budget. Furthermore, the payment of ransom for kidnapping and placating the tribal hotheads as happened before the signing of the S. Waziristan agreement in 2003 and amounted to Rs. 140 million, also came from similar sources.

It is thus evident that, the structure of the economy largely remained the same despite the availability of large funds; Pakistan has changed only marginally in its economic and social aspects. This is our greatest tragedy and most serious criticism of the Musharaffan era. We had the money and assistance but we did not transform ourselves.

How many new technical universities or IT institutes did we build, how much new industrial capacity did we create, how many new dams or major hydel projects did we execute or how did we improve the livelihoods of the poor?

The Gini co-efficient has increased as compared with 2001. This indicates worsening income distribution and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. We do not have to believe questionable surveys to conclude that poverty has increased under circumstances where there was abundant money, resources and good will; we have wasted a golden opportunity!  

Our false sense of satisfaction is actually only a swallow’s flight away from disaster, our foreign exchange reserves of $ 12 billion will vaporize in three months, if the helpful external environment is modified.

However, since the military and Pakistan’s ruling clique is having an abundant supply of funds and a good time as a result of the policies in the War on Terror, they are not seeing the larger picture.  At the ground level the other major beneficiary in this war are the radicals. What is the economic benefit they are deriving out of it?  

Life in the tribal areas is difficult even without the war. There is hardly any employment; the unemployment rate will be more than 45%; and this mind you is a conservative estimate. The youth bulge of the 15-35 years old will be about 75% of the population. There are no other resources to engage this young population in productive activity.

Let us now examine the impact of war on the tribesmen.Tribal areas is thus an honour based society where employment is scarce and there is an expanding youth bulge in a war zone which according to its internal rhetoric is  fighting foreign forces in the name of Islam. This is a highly inflammable combination; a Muslim honour society which is also armed and tribal!

It is noticeable that the flow of private charity and contributions reaching the radicals from abroad exceeded the amount sent during the years of the Soviet Jihad.

The waring parties under different factions in the tribal areas are well armed and they provide good employment opportunities to the youth. According to an informant, a foot soldier receives Rs. 5000 p/m basic pay besides a share from the sale of captured weapons and articles.

Tribal society respects those who take part in Jihadist operations. On the eve of their departure suicide bombers are treated like saints and their blessings obtained by the tribesmen with plenty of fanfare. The family members of a suicide bomber are revered and held in high esteem. In most cases, the families continue to receive stipends and benefits from the new fighting establishment.  The social security provided to families of suicide bombers in districts is greater. Islamist parties have created foundations to look after the parents and families by providing them livelihoods.

Some of Taliban leaders in North and South Waziristan have established an aggressive design where the level of violence can be calibrated by creating a fa’ade of virtual peace through agreements.  The makers of these non-performing agreements include the militants and the political agent as parties. Tribal representatives, who are politically aligned with religious parties in the legislative assembly, broker them. The blessing of the military is also there.

Large sums of money are then paid under the garb of compensation to the militants and some others, who have suffered genuine collateral damage.

It is noted that after each such agreement there is relative quiet for a couple of weeks, till another chain of events is repeated. The axiom derivable from observations is that the larger the number of agreements, the greater the extraction of money – which ultimately may have to be paid by the US as War cost of military operations.

The existence of this value chain in the war in tribal areas has turned it into a commodity. Trading takes place at various levels and today warring pays high dividends to one who is able to negotiate through it.  If war is a commodity, how has this affected the institutions administering tribal areas?

The tribal system of administration is based on the principle of recognition of merited tribesmen. They received eldership and become interceders on behalf of their tribe in jirgas and for influencing government policy and recruitment in favour of an individual. The elder and his family in turn became the elite.

Nowadays, the traditional tribal elite have been challenged and about 270 killed by the Taliban. They are no longer an elite. Their place instead has been occupied by the Taliban leaders fighting the state.

It is reported that some political agents now use the Taliban to help in the management of their agencies. Thus, the system of traditional management of tribal areas has fallen apart and has been hijacked. It looks like a surrealist painting!

The impact of commodification of war on the military has been extremely harmful. The ordinary rank and file is not only deluged with Islamic rhetoric for fighting an anti-Islamic coalition but by doing so it is involved in the murder of their co-religionists.

The soldiers also see that what they have won on the battlefield is negotiated away through treaties. They rightly ask:

 Why should I risk my life which may be bargained in the future?

This attitude has resulted in the multiplication of a new phenomenon. Large group of military surrendering to radicals. They are normally released after the agreement unless some unlucky soldier has to have his head cut for the making of a gruesome video. In most cases, money is paid under under a garb for what is really ransom.

The military is suffering a very serious crisis of discipline and has lost the will to fight because of this flawed policy.

It is apparent that the extensive use of military in tribal areas over a long period has fortified the radicals with new skills, funding and morale. The result is that they are now far stronger in challenging Pakistan than before its move into tribal areas.

Commodification of war at the apex level in the US, Afghanistan is also occurring, and far abler minds like Professor Cohen have highlighted the bane of such policies. Are there any solutions? One of the obvious one is to improve the army’s disciplinary chain. Why are there no dismissals of persons for failure in the field?

Secondly, payments of money outside legitimate and traditional usage must be stopped.

Thirdly, the Scouts or paramilitary forces in tribal areas should be made stronger and the military withdrawn.

However, there is another horizon, which is getting disconcertingly nearer. If the radicals continue to grow stronger, it may force the US to retaliate. Such a reaction would be welcomed by Al-Qaeda. The fall out from such a possibility has a calculus of its own and one would not like to think about it.

The fighting in the tribal areas is making the radicals stronger and which is rapidly exposing the weakness of the military strategy. This fighting also has a strong ethnic dimension, which will be brought down if the military is withdrawn.

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