DAWN - Opinion; January 17, 2007

January 17, 2007


The troubled border

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

“AL QAEDA … are cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders’ secure hideout in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe….Pakistan is our partner in the war on terror and has captured several Al Qaeda leaders. However, it is also a major source of Islamic extremism” (John Negroponte, director of National Intelligence in the US and deputy secretary of state designate in his written testimony to the Senate Committee on Intelligence).

“Pakistan angrily rejected a UN claim that it is harbouring Taliban leaders, accusing multinational troops in Afghanistan of doing little to crack down on commanders of the insurgency” (Associated Press report on Islamabad’s rebuttal of allegations by a senior Kabul-based UN official).

“More than 170 Taliban fighters from Pakistan’s South Waziristan district have been killed in Afghanistan since 2005...Families of the dead fighters were recently awarded certificates of commendation by the Taliban. The ceremony of commendation was held on December 28 in the village of Spinki Raghzai … presided over by Baitullah Mahsud, a pro-Taliban commander who signed one of the peace deals with the Pakistani army. …Some members of Pakistan’s parliament, who hail from South Waziristan, also attended the ceremony” (BBC report).

“Nato-led forces … killed up to 150 militants who were discovered infiltrating Afghanistan from Pakistan, providing what appears to be fresh proof that Taliban militants are staging their attacks from inside Pakistan’s tribal zone… ‘Insurgents are certainly coming across from Pakistan, but the Pakistan army engaged with its colleagues across the border — ISAF and the Afghan army — to do something about it,’ says Maj Dominic Whyte, an ISAF spokesman speaking from Kabul. Hours after the Nato strike, Pakistani helicopter gunships attacked supply trucks used by suspected insurgents...The Pakistani army attacked in North Waziristan, across the border from Thursday’s Nato air assault” (Christian Science Monitor).

The foregoing represents a sampling of the reporting and comment during the past week on the situation as the world sees it in Pakistan and along the Pak-Afghan border. For those of us who have followed the developments they sound eerily reminiscent of the sort of reports that were appearing about Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001 when Pakistan’s support for the Taliban had left it internationally isolated.

Then as now Pakistani spokesmen angrily rejected allegations, no matter how well substantiated, of Pakistan assistance to the Taliban and pointed to efforts that Pakistan was making to moderate the behaviour of the Taliban. Then as now, Pakistan’s protestations enjoyed zero credibility.

Our alliance with the United States and the coalition in the war on terror notwithstanding we have once again been identified as being as much a part of the problem as that of the solution. Our problems have been recognised. Negroponte’s testimony before the Senate committee also included the following “We recognise that aggressive military action, however, has been costly for Pakistani security forces and appreciate concerns over the potential for sparking tribal rebellion and a backlash by sympathetic Islamic political parties. There is widespread opposition among these parties to the US military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Does this recognition of Pakistan’s difficulties mean that if Pakistan cannot rectify the situation then someone else will have to do so for it? One hopes that this extrapolation is unduly pessimistic but should we dismiss it when our president tells us that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the Americans were prepared to bomb us back into the Stone Age if we did not cooperate in their war against the Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan?

What has brought us to this sorry pass? There is no doubt that the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the discontent of the Pashtun population of south and east Afghanistan owes to the myopic policies initially followed by American occupation forces, to the diversion of resources and attention from Afghanistan for the ill-fated adventure in Iraq and to the poor and corrupt administration provided by President Hamid Karzai.

Even today there is little evidence that efforts to redress the situation go beyond empty rhetoric. Corruption and poor governance remain rampant throughout Afghanistan particularly in the south and east. The Afghan army has yet to achieve a level of professional competence while the police are regarded more as the enemy than the protector of the common man. The auxiliary police forces now being created in south and east Afghanistan are seen by the Afghan people and impartial observers as a recrudescence of the private militias that have been the bane of Afghan society in the past.

Nato forces, inadequate to start with, are further constrained by the rules of engagement which ensure that the majority of the forces cannot take part in fighting the Taliban. They can defeat the Taliban whenever the latter attack in large numbers but given their limitations cannot avoid enormous “collateral damage”. They cannot, without more “boots on the ground”, hold the territory that they clear and they certainly cannot make progress in winning the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people while development work is at a standstill, unemployment stalks the land and a sense of insecurity prevails.

It will take at least a decade of sustained American and international effort to bring some semblance of stability to Afghanistan.

By our reckoning we have made no contribution to this mess which is entirely of American and Afghan making. We must nevertheless accept that for the next decade or so there will be instability along Pakistan’s western borders and continuing efforts to foment the same sort of instability in our border areas.

On our side of the border the situation is not much better. In our tribal areas and along the Afghan border with Balochistan the fanaticism that Pakistan and the US and its allies encouraged during the Afghan jihad against the Soviets and which Pakistan continued to foster during the period of Taliban rule has taken firm root. America’s perceived anti-Islam actions around the world and anti-Pashtun actions in Afghanistan have given it further impetus. One hopes that the “handlers” no longer entertain the illusion that the monsters they created will remain pliable tools.

The government has learnt from its sorry experience that this cannot be reversed by military means. It has now taken the wise step of arriving at an agreement with local “influentials” to restore the measure of peace needed to allow developmental work to get underway and to promote social sector activities that can hopefully change the current mindset. There is no doubt that among the “influentials” the Taliban are almost as well represented as the tribal maliks and tribal elders but that was to be expected given the ground realities that had emerged.

Changing mindsets is not a matter of days or even months. If all the conditions are right this policy will take years to yield results. But the problem has to be handled urgently. So far there are no reports, since the first agreement was concluded in September and the new Fata secretariat was created, that substantive developmental activity has commenced or that the youth of the area have found gainful employment.

There are no reports that any political activists other than those from the religious parties are making their presence felt in the tribal areas. This despite the fact that an Awami National Party candidate won the by-election in Bajaur. Such political activity providing an alternative vision is an essential element in the battle for hearts and minds, which cannot be won by administrators no matter how capable and even less so by the army.

Equally important is the need for similar activity to be undertaken across the border in Afghanistan. So far there is little that can be seen partly because winter has not brought the traditional lull in Taliban activity and partly because the Americans and the Afghan government are not yet equipped administratively or otherwise to do this.

The jirga commissions set up by both Afghanistan and Pakistan after the Shaukat Aziz visit to Kabul have yet to meet even though there now seems to be a greater sense of urgency. There is little agreement on the composition of the jirgas or what they should accomplish.

The purpose of the jirgas should be to secure an undertaking from the tribe which holds it to deny the use of its area to the Taliban and other extremist forces. In return, the two governments must promise and deliver on massive developmental activity in the area. The jirgas should be of each tribe separately or a joint one of tribes that have clan connections and contiguous areas. Karzai seems to be thinking in terms of national jirgas that include representatives from parliament and from all parts of Afghanistan. This is a non-starter for anything other than a propaganda exercise.

All this is cause for gloom. But it is also, if we are genuinely committed to a “Pakistan first” policy and to recreating the moderate and tolerant polity envisaged by the Quaid, the time for firm resolve to take decisive action despite all handicaps.

To start with, we must acknowledge that not only Taliban but Taliban leaders too are present on our soil. They may enjoy local support and even the support of the governments in Balochistan and the Frontier. Locating and deporting them may be difficult but acknowledging their presence would be the first step in this direction.

Second, we must insist on implementing in full and despite Afghan protests the biometric pass system on the Pak-Afghan border not only at Chaman but also Torkham and other border points. It is regrettable that we established our status as a “soft state” by doing away with the pass requirement when the Afghans refused to cooperate and when there were demonstrations.

Third, we must find ways to seal the border. If mining is seen as reprehensible then some other means should be found.

Fourth, refugee camps must be closed down as quickly as possible. The decision that camps along the border in Balochistan will be closed in March must be implemented. There must be a more accurate census of the Afghan presence in Pakistan and those to be sent back must include not only the ones registered as refugees but also those who have somehow acquired Pakistani National Identity Cards.

Fifth, with the Americans we must establish a greater measure of trust even if we dislike what they are doing around the world. In this area we have a common cause: the elimination of Al Qaeda and the Taliban threat. The Americans must tell us what they know about the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leaders rather than informing us through Senate testimonies of their suspicions.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

The permanent party

By Hafizur Rahman

HAVE you noticed how quick our politicians are at predicting confidently that there is no likelihood of an army take-over in the country in the foreseeable future? They may not be able to tell you what shape political events are going to take tomorrow but they have no doubt about the certainty of their prognostication about martial law.

Have you also noticed that the forecast, made primarily I think to lull the people into complacency, or asking the general public not to worry on this account, always comes from members of the ruling party? The opposition, no matter which party it belongs to, never opens its mouth on the subject, because, in its heart, it wants martial law. “Anything to get rid of the ruling regime” seems to be the objective of all anti-government parties in Pakistan.

I have a theory about the politics of this benighted nation. It is that there exists in the country a large group of politicians, most of them feudals and rich industrialists and big businessmen, and those pursuing politics of religion, which are not exactly motivated by a passion for democracy. They fit into every dispensation, including martial law, and remain unaffected by any change in the system of government, even if (God forbid!) we were to be ruled by India. I call them the Permanent Party.

In every political organization you will find followers of the Permanent Party. In some of them they form the bulk of the total membership. They are there even in the Pakistan People’s Party whose services in the cause of democracy at one time were the most noteworthy, and whose followers made positive sacrifices for its revival and survival instead of just verbal protestations.

I don’t want to mention any names while commenting on “announcements” that there is going to be no martial law, but unfortunately, there has been no shortage of such soothsayers in Pakistan at any one time. They are usually senior members of the ruling regime, cabinet ministers and the like, who confidently tell the people of Pakistan that martial law is not around the corner; in fact it is nowhere in sight. Or it can be anyone from the Permanent Party holding out the assurance.

What happens is that these gentlemen often go to preside over public functions. There, when they are buttonholed by pressmen who want to know how strong the government is, and what rumours say about the possibility of an in-house change, or a change dictated “from above,” they feel they must say something.

The easiest statement to make (and one that is not likely to annoy the boss too) is that the government is in no danger from any quarter, least of all from America, and that martial law can be ruled out altogether. The latter statement is made with extreme self-confidence, as if the person concerned is giving an impression, “I have just come from the GHQ and I have it from the horse’s mouth.”

Ever since October 1958 when the first martial law was imposed, successive horses have kept the impending military rule a closely guarded secret. For instance, could Sir Feroz Khan Noon, Prime Minister of Pakistan on October, 6,1958, have believed that the next day Pakistan would come under the net of martial law? He would have laughed at the very idea and said, “I can personally swear for General Ayub Khan, our army’s commander-in-chief. He is a true patriot and can never do such a thing.”

In his turn, one day in March 1969, Field Marshal Ayub Khan took out from his safe the gilded baton of chief martial law administrator and bestowed it on COAS General Yahya Khan, instead of asking the speaker of the National Assembly to take over the government as laid down in his Constitution of 1962.

If the senior-most member of his cabinet (since his Constitution did not provide for a prime minister) had asked him if martial law was being imposed the next day, he too would have laughed and sworn to the contrary, saying, “What do you take me for? Can I hand over the country to Yahya Khan?”

Again, on July, 4, 1977, General Ziaul Haq would have placed his right hand on the Quran and stated on oath that he was loyal to Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto and had no intention of imposing martial law the next morning. Even Mr Bhutto would have laughed off the possibility and said, “Don’t talk nonsense. Zia hasn’t got the guts to do such a thing. And in any case my talks with the opposition have succeeded and we have only to sign the agreement. It’s just a formality.”

Trust and transparent honesty would have marked each one of the above-mentioned assurances and no one would have dreamed of doubting their sincerity and truthfulness. Let alone the government leaders who “have it from the horse’s mouth,” if the COAS decides to make a gift of martial law to the country, even he would make a similar statement one day before, and there would be no reason for anyone to disbelieve him.

As somebody has said, martial law in Pakistan is like an act of God, although why God should be blamed for it is beyond me. It is akin to a natural disaster, a bolt from the blue, an affliction that ordinary mortals who are not in uniform cannot understand or prevent. I suppose that is why members of the Permanent Party neither resist, nor do anything to hinder its smooth functioning.

As for their contention that since democracy is firmly rooted in the country, martial law stands no chance of dropping in suddenly, let me remind them of the past events. Wasn’t democracy firmly in place on July, 5, 1977, when, because of it, political parties in the opposition had obliged a strong leader like ZAB to come down from his high pedestal and agree to their terms?

Similarly, in October 1958 and in March 1969, democracy was not exactly in a shambles, and the end of the road in regard to Pakistan’s existence had not been reached. A number of political options were still open and the man at the top wanted to avail himself of them.

No, the poor state of democracy has nothing to do with the blight that is martial law. It is brought about by the military under a self-created conviction that it is a better ruler. And, often the strings are pulled from abroad. But why are members of the Permanent Party always harping on the theme?

War as Eqbal Ahmad saw it

By Zubeida Mustafa

EQBAL AHMAD, the academic, writer and activist, died over seven years ago. But even today, in the words of the American intellectual activist, Noam Chomsky, it is a “fascinating experience” to view major events of the past half century through his (Eqbal Ahmad’s) discerning eye”.

The Columbia University Press has facilitated this exercise by publishing The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad (produced in Pakistan by Oxford University Press).

Of course much has happened in the world after Eqbal Ahmad’s death. But many of his observations still hold true, and his insight and knowledge can be applied with equal effect to the events of the post 9/11 period that are tearing the world apart.

In this book there is a chapter titled, “The Cold War from the standpoint of its victims” (a paper read at a conference in 1991), a typical Eqbalian analysis of the 1945-1990 years which Prof John Lewis Gaddis terms as the “long peace”. The long peace is a misnomer.

For western scholars it has stood for stability and the absence of conflict between the major powers. Eqbal Ahmad rightly disputes this interpretation because he finds that the existence and structure of modern imperialism are a defining factor in international politics and have led to the use of force by the superpowers in the Third World causing 21 million deaths and the displacement of 100 million people in the 45 years following the end of the Second World War.

The key characteristic of this system, which Ahmad calls a war system, is its reliance on militarism. In other words, wars were integral to the bipolar system of the Cold War era, which was also marked by a wasteful arms race. The destructiveness of the post-Second World War as well as the post-Cold War international systems is indicated by their impact on the civilian populations. According to the UNDP and as quoted by David Korten in his book When Corporations Rule the World, 90 per cent of the war casualties in the beginning of the 20th century were military combatants. As the century ended , 90 per cent were civilians.

But today 16 years after the Cold War has ended, the world is in the grip of even more deadly conflicts – be they on account of the violence unleashed by Al Qaeda and its allies or the American-led war against terror. Eqbal Ahmad is no more with us but he would have in his soft and gentle tone spoken of the vindication of his view on the ubiquitous existence of the imperial system.

In the days of the Cold War, each of the superpowers armed itself to the teeth and justified its high level of militarisation on the plea of safeguarding its national security. But we now know that the arms race was fuelled by the arms manufacturers who had to keep themselves in business. The faster the pace of the arms race the more lucrative the trade became. Besides the battlefields in the Third World provided convenient testing grounds for the new generation of weapons that were manufactured.

All this has two grim implications for the Third World countries that is hardly noted by political analysts who focus constantly on the imperial intents of the major powers. First, the theatre of war is always in the Third World and very often the conflict is not one imposed by the imperialists but is the making of the Third World states themselves because they have failed to resolve their own internal contradictions and external disputes.

Secondly, the continuous conflicts ensure a high level of militarisation that gives the arms manufacturers a growing market and unprecedented leverage in Third World affairs. They not only sell expensive and sophisticated arms to countries where people are starving, ill and impoverished, they encourage the establishment of indigenous arms industries that thrive on the war system of international politics today.

Focusing on security in South Asia, the Mahbub ul Haq Development Centre (MHDC) in its 2005 report highlights the high incidence of conflict in South Asia and its disproportionately large military sector. Using an index developed by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion to measure militarisation by combining data on military expenditure, armed forces personnel, weapon holdings and employment in arms production, the centre shows how the trend in South Asia is towards greater militarisation.

In 2002, the BIC3D index for South Asia was -12 (a negative figure shows higher militarisation) when the figure for the Third World was +10.8. Pakistan’s score was -13 with India trailing at -12. Sri Lanka and Nepal show an alarming trend in militarisation scoring -55 and -47 respectively.

It is plain that the arms manufacturers are having a field day. The table showing arms transfers to South Asia in 1999-2003 is an eye opener. The eight largest suppliers of conventional weapons sold $10.9 billion worth of arms to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1999-2003. India’s share was $7.8 billion and Pakistan got $2.5 billion. This massive transfer took place in a region which has experienced 15 ethnic conflicts leading to 120,000 deaths in the region in the same period. The key suppliers were the US, Russia, France, Italy, China, and the Netherlands. Does this make sense?

It appears that the systemic wars Eqbal Ahmad was talking about are now encompassing the Third World. This time the countries where millions live below the poverty line and whose governments cannot even feed their own populations are fuelling their own wars. Emulating the imperialists, the weak and impoverished states of the region are building up arms industries and exporting weapons. Pakistan is exporting armaments worth $200 million per annum while according to the criteria provided by SIPRI India’s defence exports amount to not less than $400 million. The MHDC’s report tells us that these countries respectively spend $21 and $12 per capita on defence, $19 and $23 per capita on education, and six dollars and seven dollars per capita on health.

The imperialists have acted smartly. They at least try to protect the interests of their own people. However, the protégés of their system in the Third World with their burgeoning military/ nuclear sectors have neglected the interests of their own populations which have suffered at the hands of their own governments. Reminds one of a poor man in rags wearing a gold watch.

Guantanamo trials

THE PENTAGON has disavowed some offensive criticism by one of its officials regarding American lawyers who have represented accused terrorists imprisoned at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But the crankish comments of Charles “Cully” Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of Defence for detainee affairs, reflect a more pervasive reluctance by the Bush administration to acknowledge that injustices have occurred at Guantanamo.

Sounding more like a first-time caller than a government official, Stimson told a radio interviewer last week that “when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms.” Not content to float the idea of a boycott, Stimson, a lawyer too, speculated darkly that although some attorneys representing detainees may be doing so as a public service, “others are receiving monies from who knows where, and I’d be curious to have them explain that.” In an earlier period in US history, that sort of hit-and-run insinuation was called McCarthyism.

Amid condemnation of Stimson’s remarks from the legal profession, a Pentagon spokesman said they “do not represent the views of the Department of Defence or the thinking of its leadership.” (Apparently a deputy assistant secretary is not part of the leadership.) For good measure, Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales said that “good lawyers representing the detainees is the best way to ensure that justice is done in these cases.”

But contradicting Stimson — or, even better, firing him — can’t alter the fact that his comments in one sense reflect the administration’s attitude. Stimson referred not to “accused terrorists” or “suspected terrorists” but to “terrorists.” From President Bush on down, the administration has downplayed the possibility that some of the more than 700 people who have been confined at Guantanamo were imprisoned unjustly (not to mention treated inhumanely). Never mind that about half of the original detainees have been released.

Before the US Supreme Court ruled otherwise, the administration insisted that detainees at Guantanamo had no right to challenge their confinement in a US court. The administration devised its own rules for military commissions to try them for alleged war crimes, until the high court ruled that Congress had to be involved. (Even then, the administration was able to convince Congress that detainees shouldn’t be allowed to file habeas corpus petitions.)

These policies bespoke an exaggerated understanding of executive power, even in wartime, but they also reflected a certitude bordering on smugness that has characterized the administration’s conduct of the war on terror.—Los Angeles Times

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007