The Bush Administration’s uneasiness with any peace moves by the Pakistan government is creating reciprocal resentment in Pakistan’s political circles and civil societyAll eyes, of the world and especially of the US and NATO countries, are focused on Pakistan to see what changes, if any, the new government will adopt for its policy on the “war on terror”. The reason is obvious: the security of allied forces, stability in Afghanistan and to an extent global security is dependent on the level of cooperation extended by Islamabad.
The US’ primary interest is that Pakistan should deny sanctuaries to militants in the tribal belt by establishing the writ of the state and provide intelligence, operations and logistic support to the allied forces operating in Afghanistan, although some in Pakistan would argue that America’s interest in the region goes beyond fighting Islamic radicalism and is aimed at consolidating its strategic hold on the region.
International concerns apart, Pakistan, for its own security and stability, has a vital interest in addressing the scourge of terrorism and fighting insurgency. Despite these converging objectives there is ire and misgivings on the part of the US and some NATO countries about the new government’s motives and the fact that political dialogue and economic development are being preferred over military force.
Washington’s fears are that this shifting strategy or strategic pause would give time to militants to regroup and expand their activities, having an adverse impact on the security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They cite, in their favour, the peace agreements in South Waziristan in February 2005 and September 2006 of North Waziristan that failed as militants got away without honouring their part of the agreement.
But the new democratic government maintains that it is approaching the problem very differently. When it talks to the militants it has the full backing of the people and hence carries substantial weight. In the event that talks fail military force could be applied and people will support the action as the policy is owned by them. This will also put the militants on the defensive.
In fact a similar thinking pattern is developing in the US strategic community wherein a comprehensive and coordinated approach to “irregular warfare” is being adopted. The latest US Defence Department’s plan for a coordinated approach to warfare is defined as “operations that span (DIMES) Diplomacy, Information, Military, Economic, Societal-Cultural developmental activities stabilising a country, requiring an integrated effort of all actors”.
However, the Bush Administration’s uneasiness with any peace moves by the Pakistan government is creating reciprocal resentment in Pakistan’s political circles and civil society. President Bush’s concept that the war on terror is a permanent war is also illogical and in a way dangerous.
How can any war be of an endless duration and how is expected that Pakistan wage a permanent war on its people?
The clear verdict of the people against military dominated rule and the rejection of religious parties in NWFP and Baluchistan augurs well in the fight against war on terror. The victory of the ANP as the ruling party in NWFP facilitates the return of moderate forces. By acting as a counterforce the ANP can clean the swamp of militants.
Clearly, they will have to prove that they are a better alternative by improved governance and economic development of the province that will bring a marked difference in the lives of the people. All this should also have a salutary impact on Afghanistan and Pakistan’s turbulent political and social milieu.
The success of democracy in Pakistan is essential for countering terrorism and any break-up or weakening of coalition government will strengthen the militants.
Understanding the enemy and differentiating between the various militant groups that are operating in the tribal belt or Swat is also necessary in developing a comprehensive strategy of counter terrorism.
For counter-insurgency operations to succeed the government has to be aware of the local grievances and the different agendas that the militants are pursuing. Only then will it be possible to isolate the most radical elements and work with different mechanisms and strategies to counter the various other groups and sections of the population. A deeper understanding of the Taliban factions, local militants and their factions is therefore important.
Broadly, militants could be divided in three categories. First those groups, that are ideologically committed and have an agenda beyond the boundaries of Pakistan. These jihadists reject national sovereignty based on nation-state models and are unlikely to respond to negotiations; military instrument may have to be used against them.
Second, those who have turned into militants due to legitimate grievances that arise from weak state capacity resulting in injustice, absence of employment opportunities, lack of security and a political vacuum in these areas.
Finally, those that have joined the militants for financial reasons or were victims of collateral damage and want to take revenge. Of course the divisions are not that distinct and many militants could be motivated by a combination of factors.
In the longer term, Pakistan needs to focus on nation-building—to get its house in order—and to develop a sense of a common identity. If identity was defined against an outer enemy, India, in earlier days, it must be redefined to help build a strong nation with viable and legitimate institutions, accountable to its people.
The identity of Pakistan has been very damaged by the policies of the 1980’s and 1990’s — both related to the Zia period. There must be a change in mindset—a belief that change is possible and trust in the policies of the government. Education is the key and awareness campaigns about the true virtues of Pakistan and Islam is the way forward. But this requires long term strategies and honest attempts at bringing changes that wipe off the ill effects of past policies. We hope that the new government will rise to the challenge and live to their election promises to make Pakistan secure and free of militancy.
The writer is a retired lieutenant general
Courtesy: Daily Times, 17/4/2008