THE recent report of the International Crisis Group (ICG) Aid and Conflict in Afghanistan is a critical appraisal of the efforts made during the past 10 years in that unfortunate country.
It warns, “There is no possibility that any amount of international assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will stabilise the country in the next three years unless there are significant changes in international strategies, priorities and programmes.”
One may ask that if progress could not be achieved in the last 10 years, how it will be possible to ensure this in the next three.
Experience shows that the international community and Mr Karzai have now missed the opportunity to make a positive difference in Afghanistan.
Another finding and a lesson for the Pakistan military, as also for its operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, is that leadership regarding development and the rehabilitation of the internally displaced should remain with civilian institutions and communities, otherwise no effort to improve the situation would be sustainable and the money spent would be wasted.
The report notes that as “more and more districts come under Taliban control, despite US claims of substantial progress, and the insurgency spreads to areas regarded until recently as relatively secure, displacement and humanitarian needs are also rising. The US-led counter-insurgency doctrine that aid should consolidate military gains has been at best unsuccessful, if not counter-productive.”
There is an unexplainable disconnect between what the doctrine states, for instance, in the Field Manual 3-07 of the US Army dealing with stability operations and what actually is happening. The manual highlights the importance of legitimacy as the basis for military actions. Legitimacy of action is considered, “the cross-cutting principle central to building trust and confidence among the people. Legitimacy is a multifaceted principle that impacts every aspect of stability operations, from any conceivable perspective”.
However, in reality one finds that the principle is not followed by either the US or Pakistan military.
The following examples would suffice. About two years ago, the US decided to eliminate Taliban field commanders in Afghanistan through night raids. In many cases these raids, that now average 15 to 20 per night, resulted in the deaths of scores of innocent persons including women and children. These actions were not only a violation of human rights, they were also illegitimate in the eyes of the Pakhtuns, who were the target of such actions.
The violation of the sanctity (purdah) of the home of a Pakhtun is considered repugnant by him and is a matter of shame (sharam) that can only be restituted by revenge (badal); if it can’t be avenged by the affected family, then it becomes incumbent upon the larger clan to seek vengeance. Thus a ‘black ops’ or a drone attack may achieve the immediate objective but invariably leaves behind others seeking to avenge the deaths; it is a cultural compulsion generated by the Pakhtun code of conduct or Pakhtunwali.
Similar instances abound in Pakistan’s case. One of the most violent Swat Taliban, Bin Yameen, who earned notoriety during the militants’ rule in Swat from 2007 to 2009 went to Afghanistan in November 2001 accompanying Sufi Mohammad’s lashkar to support the Taliban.
He was captured and after returning from captivity was working in Peshawar when he was arrested at night along with his wife from his house. He felt dishonoured. After interrogation and before his release he told his interrogators that he would extract revenge by slitting the throats of any security personnel he captured. Later, he returned to his native Swat, joined the extremists and beheaded many captured security officials.
Such cases of cultural insensitivity committed by security forces abound in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and fuel the war.
Another area where legitimacy and violation of the rule of law cause problems is in the matter of arrests; it is common practice that when a person is picked up during military operations in Afghanistan, he is interned in one of the many ‘black prisons’, where a person is interrogated in a forceful manner.
A similar situation prevails in Pakistan, where even after more than a year since the conclusion of active operations in Swat, there are still a considerable number of persons in military custody; their families and relatives live in anguish.
Long detentions without trial and the conduct of night raids in Swat as in Afghanistan are becoming a point of anger in the population. This will prolong the violence that is consuming Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and make it an issue of conflict with the state.
In the case of arrests, legitimacy demands the handing over of the accused to the police for investigation under the law. The reluctance to observe the rule of law in matter of detention causes bizarre results. On the one hand, it leads to creation of monsters like Bin Yameen; on the other, since the legal process is not followed, it leads to court acquittals.
To absolve the military of future indemnities, Pakistan recently promulgated an anti-insurgency regulation for Fata and Pata that allows for indefinite detention of persons. Such a law tramples on the concept of legitimacy as it violates fundamental rights.
Thus short-term solutions cause problems to multiply rather than be resolved. It is, therefore, not surprising that, with the exception of the PPP, all major political parties in the country have condemned the new anti-insurgency regulation. Although the ICG report deals with Afghanistan, many of its prescriptions are equally applicable to Pakistan and we could learn valuable lessons from it.