Jun 092008

THERE are two aspects to terrorism and Pakistan. First the phenomenon inside Pakistan itself hitting state and society, and then the western conception of Pakistan as adjunct to the Al Qaeda brand of terrorism that declaredly threatens their world.
The one has Pakistan a victim and the other has it a possible facilitator because segments of the population may be sympathetic, particularly to Afghanistan’s routed Taliban.

Both America and Pakistan would agree there is some kind of confluence in the waging of the war on terror and the terrorism that Pakistan itself experiences, but they inter-relate cause and effect differently. A terrorist act is as much an outcome of political opinion and experience as of religious and cultural outlook. The terrorist’s mode for violence is dictated by weakness. As well as a stratified cross-permeated historical narrative, geography and demography are important factors in terrorism and Pakistan.

The NWFP’s tribal belt is federally administered (Fata) and shares ethnicities with Afghanistan. That stubbornly undefined border has a tradition of illegal traffic and smuggling as well as of inviolable sanctuary and refuge. Since Pakhtuns also inhabit the valleys and plains of Federal Pakistan’s Sarhad province, that ethnicity is not confined to Fata. It brands provincial politics.

In Karachi, the Pakhtun labour force constitutes a large presence. And there are Afghan refugees – Pakhtuns and non-Pakhtun – dotting Balochistan, Sindh and major cities; some living as virtually settled migrants, in conditions that range from affluence to destitution. Because of Pakistan’s contiguity with Afghanistan, the dislocation of Afghans from war zones seeking asylum as refugees or fugitives would affect Pakistan directly, whether or not it was a partner in America’s war on terror.

America has had two separate ideological engagements – less than two decades apart – in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s presidents (military dictators in both cases) quite eagerly involved themselves and the country with both efforts. The first engagement was against the ‘godless’ USSR’s intrusion into Afghanistan. America found the Muslim jihadist concept a useful tool; and Pakistan’s semi-official facilitation of the Mujahideen was much facilitated by the US. When the Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, America also withdrew from proxy engagement. At that stage, it did not matter how the Afghans resolved their contradictions in the evolving civil war.

Pakistan sought to gain ‘strategic depth’ and rather foolishly fancied itself in the role of kingmaker amid conflicting factions. Inevitably, this alienated tranches of the Afghan population. In NWFP where nationalist, secular elements compete with an obscurantist clerical stream, political sentiment was from the outset sharply divided about involvement in Afghan affairs. When the now notorious Taliban established some kind of writ over most of Afghanistan, Pakistan pinned hopes of strategic depth on them.There is some assuming the government (Benazir Bhutto was in her second tenure as prime minister) gave encouragement if not quite sponsorship to the fledgling Taliban movement. To this day, Pakistanis do not know where the truth lies. Pakistanis believe US officialdom possesses some of the facts. Yet, so murky has the Afghan context become configuring the current triangle, American commentary and disclosure are suspect.

However, one thing is indisputable. Well before the Taliban emerged, Pakistan, thanks to its clumsy Afghan policy, had earned enemies within neighbouring Afghanistan and generated grudges within its own NWFP. Favouring Pakhtun ethnicity among Mujahideen factions alienated other Afghan ethnicities. By siding with the Taliban, powerful warlords gave progressive secular Afghans cause for double rancour. Eventually, when camps closed at UN direction, even returning refugees left feeling hostile about losing shelter!

In its first engagement, America impacted Afghanistan befriending the tribesmen’s mores and rejecting foreign troops on their soil. The second time the US was the invader and the tribesmen were the enemy. Osama had sanctuary with the Taliban who refused to give him up to the US, though they were less reluctant to negotiate handing him over to intermediaries. This possibility was not pursued.

In the Cold War perspective, America used the jihadist mindset deliberately and dispassionately. Its recoil was visceral post 9/11, originating in fear of Muslim fundamentalism perceived as irradiating terrorism. The Mujahid America had encouraged Pakistan’s establishment to link up with was now the jihadist they had to smoke out.

The American-led global alliance pulverised Taliban resistance along with the hills and caves of Tora Bora and much else in ‘collateral damage’. But Osama eluded them. Eventually, they installed what may be called a puppet regime, for their troops are not yet able to withdraw. To ordinary Pakistanis, America’s Afghan role now seems quasi-suzerain.

But the war on terror goes on and Pakistan comes under more and more pressure – internationally for not doing enough and nationally for not protecting its citizens’ lives and property from Nato incursions. There is contempt of the macho tribal warrior sort for a government that lacks autonomy and anger with the American bully. But anti-Americanism is not restricted to chauvinist fundamentalist mindsets.

Pakistan’s progressives are exacerbated by the world’s foremost democratic power actively supporting its military ruler. The US role in procuring his deal with Ms Bhutto offers a disconcerting parallel to the ISI role in politics! On another plane, many secularists reject a global corporate culture.

Why assume orthodox tribal Muslims or urbanised defendants of madressah schooling are pro-terrorist? This is not to deny that a resurgent Islamism is entwined with the war on terror; and religion is deeply entwined with Pakistan’s own saga of violent clandestine politicking. But those manipulations favour vested interests.

The demands of America’s first Afghan engagement were coincident with sanitising and stabilising General Zia’s usurpation. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto whom he overthrew had been contending with a massive wave of protest at electoral rigging.

General Zia exploited the context to create an opposition between the workings of parliamentary democracy and egalitarian Islam. Dissent was branded un-Islamic and democracy a secular value. He extended a clerically-led party base through expanding the maulvi’s social scope – rather as General Musharraf used the PML-Q and the doctrine of enlightened moderation.

In the war on terror, America, too, finds an innate opposition between democratic pluralities and ‘Islamic’ exclusivity. Local hostility to pre-emptive interventionism or cultural makeovers in America-moulded matrices is confounded with xenophobia and fanaticism.

If such Muslim reaction is halfway to terrorism, the American attitude is halfway to an invitation. And the question still remains: why should the quite kosher local democratic aspirations be over-ridden? No elected Pakistan government, whatever its hue, would support terrorism.

It should not be that hard for Nato or the western public to understand that Pakistan’s citizens are both bewildered by and resentful of strikes as at Damadola. The one thing Pakistan does not lack is an institutionalised military machine. If the US thinks this machine is no longer monolithic and has ominous dualities, territorial violations and fiats on the ambit of dialogue with Fata elders only make Pakistan’s government lose face and reinforce rather than weaken the subconscious grounds for Al Qaeda mindsets.

Unimpassioned Pakistanis apprehend America and Pakistan’s consciously distorted projection of Talibanism; as well as some genuine blunders in handling fundamentalism in and around Afghanistan aggravate sectarian violence and terrorism. Quite as much as Pakistan needs to keep religion clear of politics, America needs to keep clear a separating boundary between the war on terror and a Pax Americana.

Source: Daily Dawn, 9th June, 2008

 Posted by at 12:51 pm

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