May 072008

We have stuck with the US agenda for its global war on terror (GWOT) since 9/11, despite growing misgivings all around. This so-called US-led “global war on terror” has created increasing space for the terrorists all across the globe, reflecting an intrinsic flaw in its strategies. Pakistan has suffered directly as a result of rushing to join this US-led and misdirected war. Our local strands of violence/terrorism have become enmeshed with the transnational Al-Qaeda brand and made the problem more complicated. The results are clearly reflected in the increase in terrorist acts across the country, including the introduction of suicide bombers. Worse still has been the mistrust between state and society over who’s war the former was actually fighting in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The decision to dialogue with the tribals and militants (and the Taliban come from both these groupings) was a welcome shift in our policy to fight terrorism. After all, the first principle in any such policy should be space denial for the terrorists and that can only come if they are isolated from the local populations. That is why the move to dialogue was welcomed, especially since it gave the tribals the responsibility for maintaining peace in their areas with the support of the state.

Why has the dialogue policy run into snags even before it can be fully defined and operationalised? There are those who blame the Pakistani Taliban for declaring they do not want a dialogue. However, the reality is that there is no clarity coming forth from the state. At the provincial levels, we hear calls for dialogue and the use of the traditional jigs to facilitate the same. But then we hear a different tune from the Centre where there are statements declaring, amongst other preconditions, that dialogue will only come after militants have laid down their arms. Amid all this, we have the US also talking with “forked tongue”. At a declaratory level they are reluctantly stating that they will accept the Pakistani state talking to the militants, but their actions directly undermine the dialogue initiative — for instance when their predator attacks kill innocent civilians on Pakistani territory, and their tanks and helicopter gunship target Pakistani FC posts. Add to this the accusations that continue to come from the NATO side about Pakistan being the Taliban and Al-Qaeda headquarters’. One can see a more insidious intent on the part of the US and NATO — that is, to shift the centre of gravity of the war on terror to Pakistan and then find an appropriate pretext for entering Pakistan physically.

So what should Pakistan do? The first step is to create a credible face of dialogue so that the tribal and Pakistani militants can begin to trust that they have gains from this dialogue. For credibility, the Pakistani state has to create some space between itself and the US, especially in the “war on terror”. Also, for credibility in a no-trust situation, a clear-cut dialogue plan needs to be enunciated with a graduated approach and with palpable economic incentives. All this should be contained within a time frame so that the other side also knows it has to make decisions and stick to them.

Of course, the state’s offer of dialogue needs to be backed by its punitive power — in other words, dialogue should reflect an accommodative but not capitulative approach. Use of the traditional institutions like the jirga and tribal leaders has to be central to dialogue, just as appreciation of local social modes. One cannot and should not seek to impose an urban morality on the tribal people as long as they are still committed to local tribal traditions. In fact, over a period of time by opening up the areas, exposure to the mainstream will itself alter the social dynamics. At the same time, basic laws of the state and the state’s writ must be effective to establish the credibility of the state. If mainstream political processes are institutionalised in the tribal belt then the local “reformers” can also be compelled to use these processes peacefully to seek support for their socio-religious agendas. But if the state is effective, locals can resist the pressure of these “reformers” as well. Presently, locals are terrorised into submission because the state has no effective presence.

Perhaps most important, the state needs to remember that preconditions, beyond a basic one of suspension of violence while dialogue is on, are not viable. That is why asking for a laying down of arms as a precondition is not going to work. A study of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland shows how the IRA was not asked to surrender its weapons until the Agreement was operationalised. In other words, deweaponisation followed the Agreement’s implementation and was not a precondition to dialogue. It is also interesting to recall how the US compelled the British government to talk to its terrorists — despite the fact that they had conducted a massive bombing campaign in Britain itself and had targeted high profile Britishers, including Mountbatten. So why is the US finding it so distasteful if Pakistan talks to its own people? The biggest advantage is that none of these people have territorial designs against the Pakistani state.

By initiating and sustaining a dialogue and distancing itself from the US, the Pakistani state can also deal with its potential suicide bombers. An initial assessment, from some of the profiles available, suggest that the Pakistani suicide bomber is not a committed religio-political ideologue but a confused youth ranging in age from mid-teens to mid-twenties coming from a poor conservative family. Contrary to popular assumption, he is not trained for his suicide mission in his local madrassah, but is taken away from his local environment into remote areas where he is clearly brainwashed, probably with the held of psychotropic drugs, into carrying out his suicide mission — with little clarity beyond some hope of eternal paradise and a confused mind till the end. There may be the odd exception, but by and large this is the picture that is emerging.

In such circumstances, opening up of the tribal areas both economically and politically through bringing them into the political mainstream of the country’s structures will be one way of weaning away these youngsters from their suicidal path. Winning over the local leaders and militants will also isolate the diehard terrorists and foreign militants and undermine their credibility locally. So sustained dialogue through credible interlocutors is a win-win situation for Pakistan.

Underlying all these expectations is the reality that the state in Pakistan needs to create distance between itself and the US. Already, the US is becoming ever more intrusive in the domestic milieu — with a highly visible pat on the back to the new leadership now and again and words of advice in the multiple meetings that now take place routinely between US diplomats and Pakistan’s political elite. Such intrusiveness also includes a covert dimension such as fake flyers on behalf of the Taliban; surreptitious American personnel roaming around NWFP and Balochistan, supporting beards and local attire; and the many lures being offered to young tribals including “education” in the US.

Pakistan must unshackle itself from the US agenda. Clearly, Pakistan’s strategic goals do not coincide with US strategic goals in the region. Worse still, there is a growing irrationality to the US leadership. Why else would Bush declare that it is India’s middle class that is responsible for the rise in world food prices! How an overfed and wasteful US can accuse a third world country of this is bizarre! However, it should help us understand the absurdities of the litany of accusations coming Pakistan’s way from the largely ignorant US political elite.
Source: The News, 7/5/2008

 Posted by at 7:35 am

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