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Old Sunday, January 27, 2008
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Default Now Pakistan is fighting two wars

Now Pakistan is fighting two wars

By Izzud-Din Pal

The recent flurry of anti-American feelings expressed by many Pakistanis is understandable. It is important, however, that behind this wave, especially the rhetoric published in some sections of the media, facts should not get overlooked. There are three main interrelated issues involved in the situation that need our attention: the report about the US plan for overt action in northern Pakistan; the rising tide of domestic terrorism in Pakistan as indicated by the frequent suicide bombings across the country; and the current state of the war in Afghanistan and the trans-border terrorist activity.

The New York Times carried a story a few weeks ago indicating that the administration of President George W. Bush was considering aggressive push against armed militant forces in northern Pakistan. The newspaper also mentioned that the Bush administration was aware of the fact that such an action could carry a serious backlash against the US.

In the aftermath of 9/11 attack, the US adopted strong measures to increase domestic security by infringing on many constitutional guarantees, including the right to habeas corpus, especially for foreigners who were charged with direct or indirect complicity in the attack. Concurrently, a network of international security was also established by that country.

Pakistan’s involvement in this network was two-fold: many terrorists were found to have had links with some training centres and religious institutions in the country. Also, it was assumed that Osama bin Laden and the main centre of Al Qaeda were situated along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. In light of these facts, it would be then an exercise in semantics to distinguish whether the actions prompted by international security could be referred to as Pakistan’s proxy war for the US, or its own war.

Pakistanis do have, nevertheless, ambivalent views about the presence of the US in the country, as indicated by the semi-government US Institute of Peace survey conducted in Pakistan. It seems that people have negative opinion of the militants, but are also distrustful about the US. This reaction among Pakistanis is not surprising. Given the values of moderation and tolerance, extremism is alien to the average Muslim. Concerning the US, many factors such as the focus on Islamic terrorism, the stories about Guantanamo Bay and its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East do not promote an image of confidence about the country among the people of Pakistan.

The reaction of the Musharraf regime to the report on the possible overt action, however, is quite problematical. General (retd) Musharraf himself has publicly rejected this proposal, and has invoked the issue of sovereignty, and has assured Pakistanis that the country was well-equipped to respond to any foreign invasion. These are undoubtedly patriotic statements. They are not relevant. The reality on the ground relates to different factors.

It is well known that the Musharraf regime has worked very closely with the US government on Pakistan’s military operations in the tribal areas, and any covert action by the US was made with the full knowledge of the regime.

The proposed aggressive push may carry with it unexpected repercussions not necessarily otherwise apparent, though the objective may be the same. It is because there would be a difference in the magnitude of the effort, bordering on an open war. The consideration for an overt action by the US, then, may be interpreted to mean that the current effort pursued by Musharraf regime has not produced desirable results against the terrorists from their point of view.

An important factor which can throw some light on this situation is the bill passed by the US House of Representatives last month, which put tough conditions on providing future military aid to Pakistan. The central point of the bill is aimed at stopping the procedure according to which Pakistan’s military would receive payments on submitting the claim for expenses incurred. There has been no official reaction to the new procedures in Pakistan.

The commentaries in the US media seem to indicate that in stopping the previous accounting procedure, the objective is to streamline the allocation of the aid, and potential transfer of funds to other projects, or even a possible diversion of money to private pockets. The objective of the bill is quite clear, therefore, that it is necessary to make effective use of the military aid.

The reaction of General (retd) Musharraf to the new procedures has been puzzling. He has reaffirmed his determination to carry on with military action in the northern area and, if necessary, to “go somewhere else” to get the necessary financial aid for the action. In this age of unilateral imperialism, it would be difficult to identify “somewhere else” ready and willing to make a financial commitment on this scale. His statement, therefore, seems to be just an exercise in sophistry.

The bill also carries other conditions for future allocation of the aid, such as holding of free and fair elections, releasing political prisoners and restoring independent judiciary. The language used in these clauses of the bill is in the present tense and would be open to interpretation.

The central question remains, however, and its message to the Musharraf regime is clear and categorical: in accepting aid there is the obligation to fully focus on the challenge of terrorist activities from the point of view of the US. This corresponds with the views of many informed analysts that within the establishment of the Musharraf regime, there is a strong element which has continued to patronise some jihadi groups, and has kept them in reserve in the framework of the security state considerations. Many of the jihadis might have gradually moved on to become allies of the Al Qaeda.

It is because of this ambivalence of the rulers of Pakistan that the situation has deteriorated to a degree that Pakistan is now faced with a full-scale domestic violence. Some commentators take this issue back to the period led by the two prime ministers between 1988 and 1999. It is an important point underlining continuity in the policy. But there is a fundamental difference between the current situation and the decade of the nineties because of the turning point marked by 9/11.

In northern Pakistan, especially in the Waziristan area, it has now turned into a real battle ground in spite of claims of the regime to the contrary. It is this factor which impinges on the operation of the Afghanistan war. This war is proving to be a challenge with no end in sight in the near future. It is claimed, for example, by the spokesmen of the western forces and of the Kabul government that trans-border incursions from Pakistan are a major problem as they seriously hamper the Afghan operations.

It needs to be pointed out, however, that there are other factors, probably playing a more important role in keeping the Afghan war in a stalemate.

The invasion was launched in 2001 under the sponsorship of the international community. By 2002-03 the war seemed to have largely accomplished its goal, preparing Afghanistan for the next stage for reconstruction of the country. Then came the war in Iraq, and the resources were diverted for full mobilisation of the occupation of that country. This gave the Taliban an opportunity to regroup in the tribal area of Pakistan.

Some investigative journalists, especially Seymour Hersh, have examined this question in detail. It is important to note this point because among the allies in the war the US still remains the major force and obviously its attention is diverted in two opposite directions.

The proposed aggressive action which received high-level consideration was aimed at trans-border incursions. Many Pakistanis who invoke the question of sovereignty and sanctity of the northern border do not fully realise that the Durand Line dividing the two countries has been seriously compromised by two developments. The first is the fairy tale of the so-called “strategic depth” which was devised by the military top brass in the 1980s (in the framework of the ideology of the security state). And, second is the “free” movement of Taliban across this border which has been encouraged and patronised by the military regime for the last three decades.

For the future, the entire north-west frontier region calls for a comprehensive plan for a sustainable solution, because the military force alone will not be able to fulfil the objective. And, any foreign involvement would have very serious consequences for Pakistan. Durand Line is a problem, then, created by the Pakistan’s military. And the burden of occupation in Iraq is an albatross that the Bush administration is unwilling or unable to recognise.

In the meantime, Musharraf regime is now confronted with the monster that some elements in the military have nourished for decades. The result is that the country is faced with a serious reality of domestic terrorism. Pakistan may be fighting the US war in the framework of US military aid; it is also now engaged in domestic war. The boundaries between the two wars overlap and the fate of domestic war is inextricably linked with what happens next in Afghanistan. To separate the two will be an illusion with serious consequences for the country.

The writer taught economics in Pakistani and Canadian universities before his retirement.

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