Skip to content

Terrorism and tribal dynamics

THE ‘war on terror’ and the long-drawn-out violence that shows no signs of giving respite has taught Pakistanis a number of important lessons. One of these is that violence seems to grow in proportion to the amount of violence used.

It could be that the approach is faulty. However, those whose job it is to plan strategy are offended when they are cautioned and advised to find other methods of dealing with the situation.

Was it also a case of a ‘war on terror’ when the Faqir of Ipi launched his jihad in Waziristan against the British who conducted military operations there for almost six years? Was it a clash of civilisations in 1893 when an Abdur Rehman Khel Mahsud gang killed Kelly, a British SDO in Balochistan? The commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan, Bruce, ordered a Mahsud jirga to surrender the five murderers. They were arrested and delivered to the commissioner and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment each. Jaggar, on the advice of Mulla Powindah, reacted to the British success and killed some of the maliks who had obtained the arrest of the offenders, in the same manner as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan have been eliminating maliks since 2003.

Bruce wanted to punish the Mahsud by sending an expedition, but the government of India refused, arguing that since the Durand Agreement was under negotiation, an expedition was imprudent. Pakistan did the same in 2003-04, citing the war in Afghanistan as the reason for the soft handling of repeated tribal intransigence.

In the first case the government of India’s poor decision in the matter of Jaggar led to years of trouble; what could have led to the containment of the Mahsuds ended in creating a precedent of violence and challenge to the state that continues to fester.

Likewise, failure to deal with Waziristan in the post-November 2001 period caused much pain nationally and internationally. The reason behind the creation of the problem was to bypass the principle that the tribal areas are best handled by political authorities. This was ignored on the presumption that with the presence of the Pakistan military in Fata that would prevent attacks on US forces in Afghanistan, the political handling of the tribes was unimportant.

The results of this flawed assumption lie before us. The militant problem has not gone away even though we have more control over territory. This is a flash in the pan and it is a moot point whether stability can be expected to last. Clearly, there is no substitute to the political handling of the tribes; this is not a task that can be dealt with cursorily, from a security perspective alone.

The result of such a policy disconnect was that not only were the militants (tribesmen) radicalised by the presence of Al Qaeda and Uzbek cadres, their presence also jeopardised peace inside Pakistan. The lack of vigour in implementing a zero-tolerance policy against foreigners led to the creation of TTP safe havens and fiefdoms.

In short, poor policy diagnosis led to incorrect remedies. Holding the current disempowered and allegedly corrupt political system responsible for the consequences of decisions made by those at the helm of affairs in 2001 is therefore unfair.

The tragedy of Pakistani statecraft has been that one institution creates a problem and then expects another institution to solve it. Statecraft solutions are often quite complex, but in terms of what to do they can be quite simple. Civil administration is a civilian task and the military should not override it.

The handling of Jaggar a century ago has many similarities with how we handled the TTP and Al Qaeda in Waziristan in 2003. In both cases the elimination of the threat was the mandate of the political agent rather than being the responsibility of the military, as it was assumed in our case. Because we decided to give a low priority to enhancing security in Fata and instead prioritised border control (dealing with the symptoms rather than the disease), many difficulties were created for the Pakistani state.

On the one hand we lost control within Fata and on the other, the presence of armed groups within our territory led to Western accusations that Pakistan is complicit in supporting some of the Taliban groups. This was the result of the compulsion of coexistence rather than complicity.

The examples above show that historically, Fata and much of eastern and southern Afghanistan have functioned best as loosely administered areas through the influence of local elders and administrators. Both countries have, during their peaceful periods, relied mostly on political rather than military management of the areas.

If it is more advisable to fight anti-state elements in Fata through non-military means, why did Pakistan and the US rely so heavily on a military approach? The answer lies in the realm of speculation, but one would not be wrong in holding the Pentagon responsible for designing and then leading an approach that was made on the presumption that US-Isaf military dominance with Pakistani military support would result in victory.

It is thus not surprising to read Gen McCrystal’s confessions, made to The New York Times recently, that the US was not well-informed about the ground realities (read: tribal dynamics) of the war in Afghanistan even after spending so many years in the country. It appears that after 10 years and the expenditure of more than $460bn on the Afghan war, the dynamics on the ground are not too different from what they were when the Jaggar episode took place.

Article was published on dawn newspaper


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

error: Don\'t Copy