Anti-Americanism & Taliban
THE recent killing of eleven Pakistani soldiers at Gora Prai by American and Nato forces across the border in Afghanistan unleashed an amazing storm.
Prime Minister Gilani declared, “We will take a stand for sovereignty, integrity and self-respect.” The military announced defiantly, “We reserve the right to protect our citizens and soldiers against aggression,” while Army chief, Gen Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, called the attack ‘cowardly’. The dead became ‘shaheeds’ and large numbers of people turned up to pray at their funerals.
But had the killers been the Taliban, this would have been a non-event. The storm we saw was more about cause than consequence. Protecting the sovereignty of the state, self-respect, citizens and soldiers against aggression, and the lives of Pakistani soldiers, suddenly all acquired value because the killers were American and Nato troops.
Compare the response to Gora Prai with the near silence about the recent kidnapping and slaughter by Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters of 28 men near Tank, some of whom were shot and others had their throats cut. Even this pales before the hundred or more attacks by suicide bombers over the last year that made bloody carnage of soldiers and officers, devastated peace jirgas and public rallies, and killed hundreds praying in mosques and at funerals.
These murders were largely ignored or, when noted, simply shrugged off. The very different reactions to the casualties of American and Nato violence, compared to those inflicted by the Taliban, reflect a desperate confusion about what is happening in Pakistan and how to respond.
Some newspaper and television commentators want Pakistan to withdraw from the American-led war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, to stop US fuel and ammunition supplies into Afghanistan, and hit hard against Afghan troops when provoked. One far-right commentator even urges turning our guns against the Americans and Nato, darkly hinting that Pakistan is a nuclear power.
There is, of course, reason for people in Pakistan and across the world to feel negatively about America. In pursuit of its self-interest, wealth and security, the United States has for decades waged illegal wars, bribed, bullied and overthrown governments, supported tyrants, undermined movements for progressive change, and now feels free to kidnap, torture, imprison, and kill anywhere in the world with impunity. All this, while talking about supporting democracy and human rights.
Even Americans — or at least the fair-minded ones among them — admit that there is a genuine problem. A June 2008 report of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs entitled The Decline in America’s Reputation: Why? concluded that contemporary anti-Americanism stemmed from “the perception that the proclaimed American values of democracy, human rights, tolerance, and the rule of law have been selectively ignored by successive administrations when American security or economic considerations are in play”.
American hypocrisy has played into the hands of Islamic militants. They have been vigorously promoting the notion that this is a bipolar conflict of Islam, which they claim to represent, versus imperialism. Many Pakistanis, who desperately want someone to stand up to the Americans, buy into this.
This is a fatal mistake. The militants are using America as a smokescreen for their real agenda. Created by poverty, a war-culture, and the macabre manipulations of Pakistan’s intelligence services, the militants want more than just to fight an aggressor from across the oceans. Their goal is to establish their writ over that of the Pakistani state. For this, they have been attacking and killing people in Pakistan through the 1990s, well before 9/11. Remember also that the 4,000-plus victims of jihad in Pakistan over the last year have been Muslims with no connection at all to America. In fact, the Taliban are waging an armed struggle to remake society. They will keep fighting this war even if America were to miraculously evaporate into space.
A Taliban victory would transport us into the darkest of dark ages. These fanatics dream of transforming the country into a religious state where they will be the law. They stone women to death, cut off limbs, kill doctors for administering polio shots, force girl-children into burqa, threaten beard-shaving barbers with death, blow up girls schools at a current average of two per week, forbid music, punish musicians, destroy 2000-year statues. Even flying kites is a life-threatening sin.
The Taliban agenda has no place for social justice and economic development. There is silence from Taliban leaders about poverty, and the need to create jobs for the unemployed, building homes, providing education, land reform, or doing away with feudalism and tribalism. They see no need for worldly things like roads, hospitals and infrastructure.
If the militants of Pakistan ever win it is clear what our future will be like. Education, bad as it is today, would at best be replaced by the mind-numbing indoctrination of the madressahs whose gift to society would be an army of suicide bombers. In a society policed by vice-and-virtue squads, music, art, drama, and cultural expressions would disappear. Pakistan would re-tribalise and resemble a cross between Fata and Saudi Arabia (minus the oil).
Pakistanis tolerate these narrow-minded, unforgiving men because they claim to fight for Islam. But the Baitullahs and Fazlullahs know nothing of the diversity, and creative richness of Muslims, whether today or in the past. Intellectual freedom led to science, architecture, medicine, arts and crafts, and literature that were the hallmark of Islamic civilisation in its golden age. They grew because of an open-minded, tolerant, cosmopolitan, and multi-cultural character. Caliphs, such as Haroon-al-Rashid and Al-Mamoun, brought together scholars of diverse faiths and helped establish a flourishing culture. Today’s self-declared amir-ul-momineen, like Mullah Omar, would gladly behead great Islamic scholars like Ibn Sina and Al-Razi for heresy and burn their books.
Pakistan must find the will to fight the Taliban. The state, at both the national and provincial level, must assert its responsibility to protect life and law rather than simply make deals. State functionaries, and even the khasadars, have disappeared from much of the tribal areas. Pakistan is an Islamic state falling into anarchy and chaos, being rapidly destroyed from within by those who claim to fight for Islam.
Pakistanis must not be deceived. This is no clash of civilisations. To the Americans, Pakistan is an instrument to be used for their strategic ends. It is necessary and possible to say no. But the Taliban seek to capture and bind the soul and future of Pakistan in the dark prison fashioned by their ignorance. As they now set their sights on Peshawar and beyond, they must be resisted by all possible means, including adequate military force.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
Seeking a way out of the crisis
THERE are times in the lives of nations when they must think about the course they need to take to pull out of a grave crisis and move towards ensuring a better future for their citizens. Pakistan has reached such a point.
It faces challenges on many fronts. Serious questions are being raised about the ‘idea of Pakistan’ — the idea that the Muslims of what was once British India — needed their own space to ensure better lives for themselves.
Questions are also being asked about the way the country governs itself. There is a consensus that democracy is the only way to ensure the citizens the future they crave. But what does a democratic system imply? What is meant by empowering the parliament? What should be the role of the judiciary within a democratic system? For Pakistan these and many other issues pertaining to political development have acquired great urgency since the country is in the process of changing tracks; it is trying to move from an autocratic system towards one that is a broadly representative one.
There are also questions about the role of religion not only in politics but also as a force guiding the way the society conducts itself. Are people totally sovereign in setting their goals and determining the course they should take to reach them? Or, should their collective will be constrained by the purpose of the Almighty? These are all important questions but they lie way outside the area in which I can claim some expertise.
Although Pakistan is now faced with a serious economic crisis, it is not too difficult to define the broad course on which it must proceed to get out of this situation. It must increase the share of domestic resources in total investment. It must aim economic policies at improving the situation of tens of millions of poor who continue to live in abject poverty.
The recent increases in food and fuel prices will significantly increase the number of people whom we define as absolutely poor. And public policy must aim to reduce income disparities among people, among the provinces and among the regions within the provinces. Persistent inequalities sap the will of the people and this has begun to happen in the case of Pakistan.
These are all long-term goals. In the meantime while public policy is being defined to reach them the country must also stabilise the economy. This means reducing fiscal and balance of payment deficits. However, in restoring economic balance policymakers must not lose sight of the fact that the ultimate objective of economic development is to produce what economists have begun to call ‘inclusive growth’. The main objective of this exercise should be to free Pakistan from the rollercoaster ride the country has been on ever since it gained independence.
It sees a fast increase in the size of its economy only when large amounts of external flows become available to augment the paltry savings that are obtained from within. The repeated ups and downs in economic growth that have resulted from this approach did not produce investor confidence. The community of investors both from within the country as well as those looking at it from the outside must have the confidence that the capital they would commit will produce respectable returns over a long period of time. That confidence does not exist at this time.
It is the development of this confidence that has taken India to a growth trajectory the country has been on for the last two decades, making it one of the wonder economies of the developing world. India’s economic progress has not been disturbed by sharp changes in its political leadership. New Delhi was governed by a number of different leaders and by different political parties during this period of high growth. In spite of the many ups and down in the political arena, economic progress was not affected since the mid-1980s when the first series of reforms was undertaken. This has not happened in Pakistan.
Since the stranglehold on the economy of a few very powerful vested interests has prevented the country from breaking loose from the pattern it has followed for more than six decades, this may be a good time to turn to the outside world for pressuring the country to change. It is now recognised in the western world that its own security is tied, to some extent, to Pakistan’s economic, political and social development.
The country’s tribal areas are now considered to be the most dangerous places on earth. Even if this assessment is not fully correct, the fact remains that the tribal folks living in this area are being rapidly radicalised and are not keen to accept the writ of the Pakistani state. It is necessary to address the many economic problems faced by these people to wean them away from radicalism.
Since in the past policymakers in Pakistan have failed to take the opportunities, crises often bring to institute serious structural reforms, the country may seek outside assistance to achieve that end. Two options are available in that context. One, to return to the IMF and negotiate a programme to be funded by that agency. Pakistan has been on that route several times before but with unhappy consequences. The Fund’s standard recipe is to focus on stabilisation even at the expense of compromising medium and long-term growth prospects.
Given the long history of Pakistan’s involvement with the IMF, it would not be wise to go back to that path. The other option is to put out an appeal to the donor community to help the country with the capital it needs to climb out of its present difficulties. But this approach should include not only commitments by the donors but also by the Pakistani government.
The main purpose should be to craft a programme for bringing about economic change that would put the country on a sustainable path of growth and to ensure that the rate of growth is high enough to help millions of people out of poverty and narrow the income gap between various segments of the society.
MANY people may not have taken Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s threat to send Afghan troops into Pakistan in hot pursuit of Al Qaeda and Taliban seriously if it had not been backed by President Bush. The US president, while commenting on his statement said: “It is in no one’s interests that extremists have a safe haven from which to operate. Obviously, it’s a testy situation there.”
Nato’s position on Mr Karzai’s threat is that his statement should be seen as a reflection of frustration with ‘safe havens’ for militants but not as a sign that an attack is imminent. On the same day Mr Karzai threatened Pakistan; US helicopters violated the country’s air space and intruded into the Khyber Agency. Recently US aircraft dropped bombs along the Afghan-Pakistan border, killing 11 Pakistani soldiers.
President Musharraf used to say that any foreign intervention against militants in the border region with Afghanistan would be regarded as an invasion of Pakistan. Now he is worried about his own fate and counting his days in the Army House.
Pakistan has chosen to remain a friend of America despite the knowledge that the US occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and annihilated an entire civilisation. According to a foreign wire agency report, the US has spent more than $3bn over the past two years to train and equip the Afghan army. Now Mr Karzai’s comments raise the spectre that a US-trained Afghan military could be used to attack Pakistan.
Earlier, America talked about direct or indirect action against Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in tribal areas. It is believed that the Allied forces will not leave the Afghan battle halfway. A look at world conflicts shows that the powers that be always take regional conflicts to their logical end. In 1939, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had to resign because he had simply ignored Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia by describing the issue as “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing”.
He was replaced by Winston Churchill and Britain was at war with Germany the following year. The Czechoslovakian occupation described by Mr Chamberlain as a quarrel eventually resulted in a war which is known in history as the Second World War.
In 1991, the United States left the first Gulf War only to return a decade later to end the monster of a dictator, Saddam Hussain. Much has been written on the US folly of leaving the war incomplete and then restarting it more than a decade later to correct the situation for good.
The rise of militancy in restive tribal areas and Swat shows the area is in a state of civil war and the Pakistan government has virtually lost its writ in the vast region bordering Afghanistan. Hence the latest action by the Pakistan army to gain control.
Now America thinks the Al Qaeda network is operating from its sanctuaries in Fata and Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the region. Would the US repeat history — as Mr Chamberlain did and George Bush Senior did in the first Gulf War — and leave the region without destroying Al Qaeda and Taliban and capturing Osama bin Laden?
Like the talk about US attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, a similar picture has emerged in the region adjoining Pakistan. Those who say Pakistan is not a banana republic where America will intervene may be ignoring the neo-con strategy of pre-emption. Being the only nuclear-armed Muslim country, there are other concerns which the Western media often discusses as the ground for direct US intervention in Pakistan.
Al Qaeda and Taliban have “planning, training and financing” facilities in Fata as believed by Pentagon and the world’s largest drug trafficking corridor passes through Fata. Afghanistan’s flourishing drug trade provides as much as $4bn a year into the chaos that contributes to terrorism in the region.
According to some reports, some 80 madressahs out of 260 in the tribal region are still actively involved in terrorist activities. According to the former army chief Jehangir Karamat “if you put together this whole picture that exists on the ground, US and Nato operating in southern Afghanistan and the centre of gravity of militancy being in southern Afghanistan, you can understand how it has spread into Pakistan’s tribal areas — all the conditions favoured this expansion into Pakistan.”
Mr Karzai’s statement against the backdrop of this scenario only raises the question about the future of this region. No reminder is needed about the US goal in Afghanistan — namely to hunt the Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. And the last they fought with them was in Tora Bora, the Afghan region bordering Pakistan.
Since then Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts are not known. The US simply can’t ignore the virtual takeover of border agencies and districts with Afghanistan by militants. n