President Karzai in his recent visit to Pakistan gave a list of Taliban leaders, who he says are in Pakistan mainly in NWFP and Baluchistan. President Musharraf says that this list is misinformation planted by Indian intelligence services. Pakistan, is thus in denial and if the lists are the work of the Indians then they have succeeded in provoking bad blood between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Our denial places us in the category of harbourer of Afghanistan’s enemies. There are also reports of a rise in the level of violence within Afghanistan, with more casualties amongst foreign forces in that country. The British have recently deployed a large force in Helmand, Afghanistan; their infrastructure plan points towards accommodating a much larger presence on a permanent basis in the future. Simultaneously, NATO plans an expansion into the southern Pashtun belt in the next few months. Force size increase indicates the intent to launch operations to flush out Osama and other militants. This is going to be a bloody summer for the Pashtuns indeed.
In Waziristan matters are getting worse and the army is finding it difficult to subdue the resistance. Political control in Waziristan has all but vanished. The bazaars and the population centers are in the control of these new forces it is a misnomer to call them Taliban; they are the unemployed pressing into use the Taliban discourse for resistence, with a whiff of Pashtun sub-nationalism added for aroma. This phenomenon is an indication of the introduction of sub-nationalism allied with religion. Are these the constituents of a new identity? Maybe, because identities keep on changing, but it definitely is the bye product of the use of force as the only solution to the problem. The networking of these forces with the religious MMA government in the NWFP installed many believe with the blessings of President Musharraf and the intelligence services has been evident to most observers.
The economic situation in NWFP and tribal areas is not good. Employment has shrunk and is at levels below those in 2000. Crisis of public finance and management has reduced investment in health and education, and the number of those living below the poverty line has increased to a whooping 44% of the total population in NWFP (NWFP Poverty Alleviation Paper). If this is not political and state failure then what is?
On the other hand Pakistan, on an average receives $ 100 million a month as security fees from the US, for its cooperation in the war on terror. How much of that amount is spent on the education, health, employment and skills development in the heartland of the troubled regions of tribal areas, North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan is unknown, because no information is provided.
Karen Hughes, President Bush’s close confidant, has been tasked to organize a media strategy, which focuses on the Pashtun areas. A powerful TV station and radio service is on the cards. The US perception is that Osama is in the tribal belt somewhere. It is immaterial whether this is correct. But by implication the range of US reactions in Pakistan, can be gauged with a fair degree of accuracy.
This summer we will see a marked increase of violence in the tribal area and in Pashtun belt of Afghanistan and Baluchistan. The virus of Waziristan will enter Tank, DI. Khan and the other southern districts. Its transformation into an Islamist wave and introduction into southern Punjab is only a matter of time. Karachi, has a core of such supporters already. The impact on Pakistan can be imagined.
In order to defuse the situation, what instruments are available to Pakistan and US? Use of ethnicity to puncture the evangelism of Islam is very likely to be one such response. One would see more US support for the ethnic parties both in NWFP and in Baluchistan. This will be the foreigner’s response and not a Pakistani preference. We should plan a deeper policy intervention coupled with economic, political and constitutional reform for the mid-term.
A short term approach with high dividend will be the launching of a bigger onslaught against poverty by creating jobs; it would require investment in education, vocational training and skill development. A third objective must focus on increasing the mobility from one class to another. Education of course is the preferred course; it takes time. Other political constructs are available to achieve the same effect. One wonders why this has not been conceived and implemented as policy so far. At the minimum it will entail the drafting of a national industrial policy and an incentive package for this region, which will be trans-national in its approach and consider the commonalities of NWFP, tribal areas, Baluchistan and Afghanistan. There are many options available to do this.
Policy makers will be worried with the rise of ethnic nationalism. Military planners care two hoots for Baluchistan; unfortunate but a fact of life. The Pashtuns, since they compose about 21% of the armed forces, is a different kettle of fish. Violence in the Pashtun belt has the danger of radicalizing the army on ethnic lines. A night mare for a commander.
One of the justifications floated for the past Islamization of Pakistani society by Ziaul Haq, was that it placed on hold the ethnic demands from Sindh, Baluchistan and NWFP. This was a typical lazy man’s response to problems of ethnic nationalism; statesmanship demands discussion and relief by placing poultice on the inflamed federating unit. It requires a deeper examination of the situation. A minimum will be to re-visit the constitution and amend it to take into account the new realities. According to the discussion amongst political leaders prior to the ratification of the 1973 constitution, it was decided to make amendments after 25 years to further reduce the federal list in favour of the provinces. The former law minister Hafeez Pirzada and Dr. Mubasher Hasan are both in the knowledge of such a commitment.
Oppressive measures to reduce demands for provincial autonomy will harm Pakistan. We waste more time in alleging foreign interference in our region rather than trying to resolve those issues, which allow entry to outsiders in the first place.
If the future is going to roll out in the manner described why not do something about Karzai’s complaint? I recommend that we should launch a joint criminal investigation with Afghanistan into its allegations. If there are contradictions in the allegation let us prove them legally and jointly instead of by newspaper reports and interviews. This will embarrass the Indians if they are behind the list. Since the Afghans doubt our credibility; this may be the best way to indicate our honest intent. It will be a confidence building measure and will bring us together.
Politically, the government must permit the entry of major parties into the electoral arena; it will diffuse the religious unilateralism, which has taken over our polity. For the President it may be a bitter pill to take. However, in it lays Pakistan’s salvation. A true nationalist will not rubbish such a suggestion