Many years ago I attended a class on international trade and which was discussing the inequity in the terms of trade between the rich and the poor nations; between those who produced technological goods and those that produced agricultural commodities. During the heated discussion I made an immature comment to my dour Scottish professor, The West should be ashamed for giving a bad deal to the poor nations of the world. He retorted, So what? I infuriatingly mumbled in anger, If I had the ability I would nuke you. He smiled and said, Now you make sense and in that case we will negotiate a fair price for primary commodities, since you could de-stabilize us. That conversation 28 years ago has left an indelible impression on my mind and is a good guide about the real politics of international relations.
Pakistan is facing a similar situation today. It is a nuclear power yet it is fast losing control over parts of her territories because of the pressure applied on her to sacrifice her security for peace in Afghanistan. Should we be paying that price? Finding answer to this and other similar riddles is essential for our future security. I feel that we are in the midst of events that are generating plenty of emotion leading to confused thinking on a whole range of security concerns that makes an average Pakistani fearful of his future. Some of my fellow writers are adding to the confusion.
For example some argue that the militants are fighting the US for the protection of Afghanistan’s Islamic identity; it is also argued that the Taliban are keeping the US away from the energy resources of Central Asia. Others add that the actions of the militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan have prevented the US from attacking Iran. According to this convoluted thinking the Taliban are credited with being the bulwark against US domination of the region. Can we please stop and think what that is doing to Pakistan?
Even the barbaric practices of the Taliban are rationalized away by saying, (That) the Taliban became vicious because of the treachery and violence they had to suffer. I wonder what sort of justification is that for slaughtering and murdering captives or persons belonging to a different sect of Islam. Will the US be permitted to use the same argument as defense for the death of innocent people who become victims of collateral damage?
A second type of muddled thinking arises when viewing the militants as fighters against US imperialism. A corollary of this argument is that in doing so the militants are preserving Pakistani independence against the imperialists. Even if I accept this argument, how would the supporters of the militants justify the killing of Pakistani security personnel who are trying to secure the writ of the state? Recently, a whole contingent of the frontier constabulary was ambushed in Hangu and more than 19 men were killed after they refused to surrender. Was their slaughter in any way a strike against an imperialist power? To me the only result is Pakistan’s destabilization.
I also fail to understand how the militants will succeed in their war against the US by burning girls primary schools by the dozen or torching a tourist resort in Swat. Other instances of kidnapping of polio vaccinators and doctors also abound. The militants are against education of females thus preventing them from becoming doctors or teachers; yet at the same time they demand that males should not provide services to women. If they are going to prevent the education of the girl child how will female service providers created? If the militants succeed in coming to power in FATA or NWFP what would life be like under their rule and what model of governance will they follow? What type of existence will it be for the people? To answer these questions one has to note how they ruled first Kandahar and latter Afghanistan in 1996.
Within 24 hours of taking over Kabul the Taliban imposed their version of the strictest Islamic system. All women were banned from work including those in the civil services, teaching and health-care system. Girl schools and colleges were shut affecting 70,000 students. A strict dress code for women was ordered and 25,000 families who were headed by widows of the Afghan wars, lost their bread winners; their families became destitute! TV, radio, satellite broadcasts, music and games were all outlawed. Sharia courts with the religious police peering into the personal lives of people were instituted. Politics and political parties were banned because as Mullah Wakil, Mullah Omar’s secretary said, The Sharia does not allow politics or political parties.
The first thing is to be very clear about the nature of the threat facing us. It is convenient to say that it is the work of a religiously driven group. It is and it is more. What we have under the loose classification of Taliban is a group of diverse militant groups with separate histories. Their origins lie in state manipulation to undertake proxy wars and who have now coalesced into a critical mass. According to a report in early June, fighters from the Kashmiri Jihadi groups including representatives of Lashkar-e- Tayyaba, Jaish and Hezbul Mujahideen met and agreed to prioritize fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan rather than in Kashmir. This is a momentous decision for NWFP, FATA and Afghanistan; it will cause destabilization in Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, since Pakistan has a larger institutional base it will be more harmful to Pakistan.
The US reports a 40 per cent increase in Taliban attacks in Afghanistan this year as compared with 2007. For two months in a row, the deaths of US soldiers in Afghanistan exceed those in Iraq. Recently the US lost nine soldiers in one attack in Kunar, which was conducted by Hikmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami and the Jaish e Muhammad. While we regret the US losses we forget to lament our own!
In Fata and NWFP the situation is deteriorating rapidly. One indicator is the decision taken by the ANP in NWFP recently to reorganize their party’s security arm – the Nanglalay Pukhtun and morph it into peace and development committees. The re-organization is based on mobilizing rural communities. The ANP historically has rarely taken recourse to arming except on a limited scale when the Maoist Mazdoor Kissan party under Maj Ishaq in the 1970’s challenged the landlords who are the ANP’s main supporters in Hashtnagar and Mardan. This region is the Pukhtun’s intellectual and political heartland and to which its party leadership belongs. The party has taken the risk of challenging the cells of the Islamists which are sprouting like mushrooms throughout the province they are armed, funded and motivated. This is no ordinary decision. The party feels threatened. If the ANP program fails then we will see a rapid takeover of the Peshawar Mardan valley in the weeks to follow.
It is thus evident that the militants are neither fighting imperialism nor permitting peace to prevail; they are slowly destroying the only nuclear power in the Muslim world. On the other hand there is ambivalence, confusion and ambiguity within our security apparatus the like of which has never been witnessed before. The political leadership is too divided to arrest the downslide that is gaining momentum with each passing day. There is not only an absence of policy but a failure to realize the gravity of the situation; it is critical. One wonders if there can be any other outcome other then the de-stabilization of Pakistan. Thus the real question to answer is whether Pakistan ought to be sacrificed for Afghanistan? It is time for clear thinking and quick actions.