Towards resolving FATA conflict
Many Pakistanis are at a loss to understand the underlying reasons for the diminishing mandate of the state in the tribal areas and the NWFP. It is now arching into southern Punjab which was the main recruiting ground for the Kashmiri mujahedeen. Recent statistics from the conflict areas show that the losses in manpower suffered by militants are not only quickly recouped but additional volunteers exceed the losses. Secondly, now that Pakistan has been dealing with militancy as a security threat for years, it remains a mystery why the current military doctrine fails to remedy our repeated failure to hold territory retrieved from the possession of militants after intense fighting and sacrifices. Both these facts are indicative of problems within our planning process. The planning deficit in turn is the result of certain ambiguities in our mind which leads to ambivalence and a weak response to those who confront the state.
It is the perception of an average Pakistani that his country was created in the name of Islam. It is so stated in the Constitution of Pakistan and this mantra of nationhood has been taught to every Pakistani child in school. Every nation has to create an archetype; Pakistan’s history provided this principle. On the other hand large numbers of those who attended madrasas were not only imbued with the Pakistani national narrative but also received a heavy over-layer of the Islamic chronicle. However, both the routes ended in producing individuals who are nationalists and religious. For those coming from the madrasas stream, nationalism is dwarfed by Pan-Islamism; they are driven by the larger Islamic concept which defines the whole Muslim people as one nation. These conflicting identities have resulted in producing split nationalism. It is this divided nationalism which is at war with itself and is tearing the country apart.
The war on terrorism has brought to the surface our identity crisis in full force in two ways. On the one hand there is a large number of Pakistanis who challenge the policy of the government for aligning with the West in this war. On the other hand there are those in government, especially in the security services who are fighting against their own brethren! This creates a dilemma for an average Pakistani. For instance, whereas it will not create any problem of conscience for a soldier to fight an Indian or an Afghan, however, his mind suffers from doubt when he is asked to fight in Swat, Bajaur or Waziristan. That he fights his countrymen is troublesome enough, but the dilemma becomes unbearable when he is ordered to attack someone who is considered to be fighting for Islam. Remember our military is taught that it is an Islamic force!
On the other hand, a percentage of the militants fighting in Pakistan carry in their minds a firm belief that in battling the West and its ally the Pakistani government they are protecting Islam. For such militants, Pakistan is an apostate state; those who fight for the government are considered non-Muslims to be dealt with barbarously under the doctrine of takfir.
The Pakistani soldier’s ambivalence and his confrontation with a fully motivated transnational belief driven Islamist movement thus causes severe dilemmas and to my mind is the main reason for the military’s mixed results in fighting the present conflict.
Pakistan’s intelligence services are blamed for having secret dealings with militants. First of all, it appears that here is a case of double standards here. Even in World War II and at the height of the Cold War there were contacts between the parties to the conflict. Secondly, how can one expect zero contacts when channels need to be open for purposes of state? Pakistan has been involved with many of the key players in this drama since the 1980s, and more especially since 1996, after the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. It used to be the hallmark of a good political officer in the tribal areas to have secret contacts with the most hostile elements in case back channels are needed. The correct thing here would be to have strict oversight over such contacts.
I think the ambivalence of the alliance also becomes clear when one finds the presence of multiple Indian consulates in Afghanistan. What purpose can they possibly serve except to play an intelligence role? In the same vein, one also questions the grant of refuge in Afghanistan to Brahamdagh Bugti, who is wanted in Pakistan. Under these circumstances Pakistan would not wish to lower its security guard and will most probably continue to keep all its channels open.
It may be noted that for fighting the war on terrorism it is essential to create doctrinal theory to suit the security options. We have seen repeatedly that the military occupies areas in Waziristan and Swat after intense fighting and sacrifice. Yet it is often the case that the areas revert to the militants soon after the military’s withdrawal, thus wasting all the effort and hard work. It clearly shows that we have not thought through the complexities of an operation before undertaking it. Experience indicates that stabilisation and reconstruction need to work hand in hand to keep areas permanently and calls for very good civil-military coordination.
One week ago the government decided to reassert control in Bajaur agency by re-occupying the Loesum Frontier Corp position by deploying a force of more than 150 men. It is sad to note that although the men were placed there, they are now isolated and surrounded by the militants, who are attacking it vigorously. All attempts to rescue or send supplies to Loesum have failed. Many of those who were captured or were left behind injured were later found slaughtered. One only hopes that the Loesum group survives and is rescued in time. One fails to understand why it was found necessary to occupy a post if it could not be held or the necessary support to back it up was not available. If there is a debacle now, not only will the troops suffer demoralisation but the government’s control over this region would disappear.
Let us now consider the position of agreements and their relationship with a policy of deterrence. Although the government has a policy of dealing with militants which includes the signing of agreements, yet little thought has been given on how to achieve effective agreements and to enforce them. We have seen many agreements fade away as failures. The tribesmen, on the other hand, argue that agreements are killed in infancy because of Predator strikes, and according to them the Predator attacks are a serious barrier to peace. One can conclude that no peace deal can really be effective unless it has the support of the allies.
Secondly, even if a peace agreement is signed its future depends on the circumstance which brought it into effect. If the government reached an agreement because of appeasement it will not last. If an agreement is the result of the threat of deterrence then it will survive. But it presupposes that a deterrence strategy is in place. However, we lack a deterrence doctrine. Thus agreements now will be weak.
It would be difficult to remove the ambivalence created by a split national identity. This cannot be retooled; we have a large population with different identities within the same country now. We cannot go back to the drawing board, but some progress can be made through a vibrant communication strategy and improved messaging. On the other hand, dealing with the ideological transnational side of the militancy is difficult and would need a visionary strategy; such ideologies do not compromise. If its focal point remains in Pakistan it can only be dealt under deterrence.