Far away from peace
IN March 2007 I visited Mumbai to attend a conference being held at the University of Mumbai. It was a short visit but I loved the city with its clean promenades along the beach. Across the waters was the Arabian peninsula and upwards was the port of Karachi.
As I stood by the sea I wished for the day when India and Pakistan would reach that level of peace and understanding that visas — assuming they were still required — would be stamped on the border without any hassle.
Little did I know then that in late November the next year Mumbai would see mayhem and insanity of the kind that no South Asian city has witnessed. Madness has possessed all religious communities during communal riots but this was a deliberate guerrilla action targeting innocent citizens, tourists and visitors. It was cold-blooded murder; that is why it was so appalling. It was an act of terror like 9/11.
On Sept 13, 2001 I wrote an article advising the US not to lash out at Afghanistan like a wounded bear. But of course the mighty American government did not deign to listen to my voice — why should it? I have neither fame nor power of any kind and, in any case, the mighty prefer war to peace. They think peaceful solutions will make them appear weak. They have intelligence but not wisdom.
Yet I offer the same advice to India. First, the knee-jerk reaction to blame Pakistan — the state of Pakistan — must stop. It is counterproductive since it prevents the Pakistani government from trying to help India. All the top leaders in government are trying to help India but as the Indian media becomes increasingly strident in its tone these leaders will dare not go against public opinion. They will be made to retreat and be on the defensive and this is only in the interests of the terrorists. After all their aim is to destabilise South Asia and this will be achieved if tensions spiral.
There are several theories as to where the attackers came from. The most popular in the Indian media is that they came from Pakistan. If this is true then they must have either been sent by the state or they were non-state actors acting on their own. The first option is to be ruled out as the Pakistani government stands to gain from peace not war as the top-ranking government figures have declared again and again. If anything this event has actually harmed Pakistan’s interests like settling the dispute regarding the sharing of river water, etc.
This leaves the option that they were non-state actors based in Pakistan. Considering that Pakistani cities have been under almost daily attack since the last one year and more, why should it be incredible for some Indian analysts to believe that the enemies of both Pakistan and India have shifted their attention from one country to another?
But if indeed these are non-state actors from Pakistan who keep attacking our cities too they are not immediately under Pakistan’s control. Of course they should not have been allowed to proliferate at all.
The blunder of Pakistan in joining America’s proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s is the fault of Pakistani decision-makers of that period as it is of American decision-makers. Now both have the albatross of Al Qaeda and the Taliban around their necks. Pakistan should never have used these religious fighters in Kashmir as it is alleged. That too is a whirlwind we are reaping. But then if India had solved the Kashmir issue before all the hardened militants had been sucked into the imbroglio we might have had a less dangerous South Asia. And this brings me to the other theory about why Mumbai was attacked.
The other theory is that it is a home-grown Indian insurgency. In that case is it the work of extremist Hindu groups or radicalised individuals — like the attack on the Samjhauta Express apparently by a serving Indian army officer? Or that of Kashmiri militants? Or militants from Jharkand and Nagaland? Or even the ‘Indian Taliban’ or jihadis? Or possibly even fanatics from Hyderabad?
The kind of investigation which will give us the right answers will take a cool mind, persistence and effort. Once the results come through the Indian government can follow two strategies. It should arrest and punish the offenders. But much more importantly it should change its policies. America should have done the same after 9/11 in order to placate Muslims all over the world. After all the injustices of Israel’s onward expansion, the stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the insult to the Quran in Guantanamo Bay were not the best way to please Muslims. They created more determined anti-America fanatics than anything else could have.
In the same way if the Indian government took its own Sachar Committee report seriously it would open the doors of growth to Indian Muslims. It would spend money on Muslim education, job creation and business opportunities as that would be an investment in the future well-being of India. It would also solve the Kashmir and other disputes in such a way as to ensure that the grounds for grievances are removed. It would also make an effort to cleanse the army and all the services of Hindu extremists and attempt to make school texts and other discourses pro-peace. And, by the way, Pakistan would need to do the same as we still have anti-India material in our curricula and hate-filled individuals on our TV screens who make a mockery of all sincere efforts to live in peace in this endangered subcontinent.
I do not think India or Pakistan would pay any more heed to my advice than the United States did. But then, hope only dies with death.
Dealing with the militants
PAKISTAN is caught in the eye of the storm in the so-called war on terror between the US and its allies on one side and Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the other.
Due to America’s faulty strategy in Afghanistan, the US and its allies have not been able to eliminate Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact the conflagration has reached dangerous proportions and can threaten the whole region. Sensing failure other regional powers have been advancing their own agendas in Afghanistan. The fallout from the situation in Afghanistan on Pakistan, the only Muslim nuclear state and one with a weakening system of governance, not only has the potential to destabilise the Pakistani state but also carries dangerous implications for South Asian peace and security.
Unfortunately Pakistan’s rulers are underestimating the gravity of the situation. They have not worked out an effective strategy to deal with it. On the other hand Al Qaeda and the Taliban have wrested control of most of the tribal areas from the government. The NWFP government has been rendered ineffective.
Its police and other law-enforcement agencies have been targeted and the political leadership has been discouraging as far as organising resistance to the steady growth of Talibanisation is concerned. Society is being terrorised into submission. Mosques, hujras, jirgas and marriage and funeral gatherings are being attacked. Anyone who tries to oppose the radical elements, be it a religious scholar, a politician or an elder, is either eliminated or threatened with serious consequences. The rules of engagement are simple and clear.
Society leaders dare not speak out against Al Qaeda or the Taliban in the NWFP. Meanwhile, US drone attacks in Pakistan’s territory are making a mockery of the country’s sovereignty and violating the sanctity of its borders.
The suicide-bombing strategy employed by Al Qaeda is not a new concept. It is rooted in history. Al Qaeda has carefully advanced it in order to capture control of Islamic societies particularly in Pakistan. A suicide bomber causes maximum damage because he knows he doesn’t have to get away from the target and therefore can get as close to it as possible to inflict maximum damage. This tactic works well in a Muslim society where he can mix with others without being suspected. This has not worked well in the US or Europe or Israel, even Chechnya. So Al Qaeda’s suicide bombing tactic is based on a Muslim-kills-Muslim philosophy.
Al Qaeda believes that killing Americans through suicide bombings will not cause the US to become a Muslim state but if more Pakistanis are killed the resulting anarchy might create conditions for a global khilafat (caliphate). According to its thought processes, if it kills more Pakistanis through suicide bombings, Pakistan will become a stricter adherent of Islam and that will be the first building block of a khilafat.
On the other hand, US-led forces in Afghanistan, according to their misconceived strategy, think that by eliminating Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri they will be able to quell this ideological movement. They deliberately or otherwise cannot understand that the solution lies in stabilising the region through a major development strategy and by strengthening the system of governance in Pakistan.
Many think tanks even in the US feel that this so-called war on terror is more of a ploy and the real intentions lie somewhere else. They feel that the US has no intention of pulling out of this area in the immediate future for other strategic reasons. The continued US presence in the region must be a source of concern for the Russians and Chinese. The Central Asian Republics must be worried. Iran must also be feeling threatened. India, a budding regional power, has also joined in. With this great game unfolding in Afghanistan, Pakistan should understand the implications. After all the operations by the local Taliban in Pakistan need finances and meticulous planning. Ignorance can be a blessing but not always. The US drone attacks in Pakistan are tantamount to weakening the state in the face of the open onslaught by Al Qaeda and its surrogates.
Understandably India is Pakistan’s enemy and given half a chance will not hesitate to undo the state of Pakistan. However, this threat receded to a great extent after we became a nuclear state. There is a tacit understanding that if a certain threshold is crossed Pakistan may be tempted to use the nuclear option which would have devastating implications for India, Pakistan and the region.
In view of these circumstances there is an urgent need for a re-evaluation of the threat that Pakistan is facing on its western and eastern borders. The threat that is originating from our western borders is far more complex and dangerous than the one along our eastern border. The threat is far more serious and real than our realisation and understanding of the situation at this point of time.
At present we have only one corps located in Peshawar and another in Balochistan. All other seven or eight corps are focused on our eastern border. If a deeper and more comprehensive reappraisal of the threat along our western and eastern borders is carried out in a realistic manner without any bias, prejudice and pre-fixations, it will become apparent that the situation calls for the reorientation of our forces and posture. This may involve shifting three to four corps from our eastern frontier to the western borders. This will have a positive effect on our population and will go a long way in restoring the confidence of the people in the Pakistani government and state.
Keeping aside the allegations that the government and its agencies are playing a double game and that the military is shadow-boxing, the people seriously doubt whether our armed forces have the capability or capacity to fight the ragtag force of the so-called Taliban. The people of the NWFP are ready to take them on but lose confidence when they see a lacklustre approach by the government and state. This is the time for a major rethink regarding our threat hypothesisation and strategic orientation to deal with the complex situation on our western borders.
The writer is a retired brigadier and former secretary Fata.
Driven to hiding, starvation by fear
IT looks as though she is holding nothing at all, then she briefly unwraps a fold of bright cloth at her chest and there is a tiny, wizened baby. Two-months-old Serugendo is Adile Mgyanabo’s first child and was born healthy but is now just 2kg, less than he weighed at birth.
She looks confused and shakes her head when asked about her baby. No, she says, it’s not malnutrition, ‘c’est la guerre’.
In a small charity-run clinic at Kanjaruchinga, on the outskirts of Goma, nutritionist Luc Butungana has opened up a second room to cope with the influx of starved children, the war’s mostly hidden, innocent victims.
He has a pen-drawn, week-by-week caseload graph on his office wall, but the numbers arriving over the past few weeks have taken the line up and off the chart. It is 167 for November so far and still rising.
‘All these cases here are from the war,’ said Butungana ‘We can save most of these babies, but this is a very tiny proportion we see here, because people don’t know how to find us or are afraid.
‘People do not know there is help, and so their children will die. Many will be dying now. It takes only two or three weeks for a healthy child to deteriorate in the bush. Their immunity is fragile: malaria and acute respiratory illness, malnutrition, and then this child cannot last long.’
Adile Mgyanabo was hoeing weeds in the field, Serugendo strapped to her back, when gunfire exploded around her and she joined the villagers’ flight into the bush, losing her husband in the panic. She walked 50km south to a refugee camp outside Goma and was sent here. Serugendo may well survive.
It is four weeks since the latest resurgence of military action began in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 12-year-old war. Government troops fought rebel forces led by Laurent Nkunda, who in turn also fought the Mai Mai and the Rwandan Hutu extremist militias.
It is three weeks since fierce fighting erupted around Rutshuru, as the rebels moved to capture the town, sending people running for their lives, abandoning their homes to hide in the bush as bullets flew and bodies fell.
But even as efforts to broker peace in Congo were continuing on Saturday, most families who had scattered far from their homes were still not daring to go back. The UN estimates that 250,000 people have been displaced. Those refugees are in fear of their lives, but for some the fear for their sick children is greater and is bringing them out to seek medical help wherever they can.
Next to Adile is 30-year-old Francine Gahiga with Elia, aged four, and Sara, two. With her husband and other two children, they were in the bush for two weeks without food or water. The children are severely malnourished and Elia also has malaria. ‘I came here because I was afraid for their lives,’ said Gahiga, ‘But when they are cured we will go back to join my husband hiding in the fields because we are afraid to go home too. There is no security.’
Butungana sighs heavily at this, but he knows the Gahiga family has no option. ‘There is no reason for malnutrition in this country,’ he says. ‘We have food, Congo is very fertile, we grow plenty of food.’ He sighs again and then walks off to his charts.
The international aid agencies are here in eastern Congo, but this reporter found many, many refugees in Goma and outside complaining of hunger and many children displaying the tell-tale lightened hair colour and distended stomachs of malnutrition. People who had been hiding in the bush talked of eating unripe bananas and drinking only dirty water. Cholera is on the rise.
Up in rebel-controlled territory, just north of Rutshuru, a health clinic supported by the international medical charity Merlin had plenty of beans on the boil in huge pots and a great pan of specially enriched baby milk. Gervais Kambale, 45, is the nurse in charge. He says 77 new cases of babies with severe malnutrition arrived Saturday morning. ‘All are displaced persons who have just come out of the bush; it’s the insecurity, they are afraid,’ he says.
The noise of babies crying is quite deafening as mothers and a few fathers with half-starved children sit on long wooden benches around an open-sided concrete room.
Jeanette Habimana was too scared to leave her house for five days when the fighting erupted, then she walked 30km to find help for her two-year-old, Ushindi, whose swollen feet and half-closed eyes make him look a very sick little boy. Grinning despite being hardly able to move, Salomon Kabahiza is seven. His shoulders are knife-thin and his tummy like a football. Kambale is delighted with his progress. He arrived weighing 9.7kg and couldn’t stand up. His family detail how they have had to run to five different places over the past three weeks.
Kambale is impatient with the stories pouring out from around the room: ‘Look around here, this may be the outcome of just a few weeks, and yes, it is worse than I have seen before, but really this is 12 years of war.
‘Here we are only seeing a small number, many are dying in the open or hiding in houses, too afraid to get here. These children will not die now, they will grow up, but they have developmental problems, slow motor skills.
‘It is insane to have malnutrition in Congo. People need to live in their houses and cultivate their fields.’
— The Guardian, London