Battle for survival — Salman Tarik Kureshi

Practically every government, civilian or military, has been culpable in failing to integrate the Tribal Areas into the nation, so that they became, successively, a smugglers’ den, a thieves’ refuge, a centre for drug-trafficking and gun-running and, finally, a staging ground for international terrorism

Asif Zardari can be a man of surprises. He recently delivered the keynote address at the Congress of the Socialist International (something of a surprise in itself to discover that this once-historic organisation is not entirely moribund, but alive and well and living in Athens!). Mr Zardari spoke from the podium from which such as Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxembourg (“Red Rosa”) and Vladimir Ulyanov (“Lenin”) had once announced their manifestoes and debated their strategies.

But the bigger surprise was the eloquence and coherence with which Mr Zardari, not usually a man given to great oratorical flights, unfolded his perceptions regarding the path Pakistan needs to follow. Among other observations, he referred to Pakistan (and that will be our present topic here) as “the Petri dish of international terrorism”. He said that Pakistan was resisting terrorism not as “surrogates but as partners” of the civilised world. He asserted that “we are fighting for the very soul of Pakistan”.

Precisely, Mr Zardari! While I have no intention of discussing such conceptual absurdities as post ex facto contrived ‘ideologies of Pakistan’, the point is that, if the body of a person or a nation is so broken by disease or injury that its soul is gone, then that person — or nation — will simply cease to exist. It is precisely that kind of battle for the very survival of body and soul in which Pakistan is presently engaged.

Pakistan is now said to figure among seven failed or failing states, i.e. countries in which not only their existence as political entities but the very fabric of society itself is in danger of collapse into anarchy. It has taken a multitude of sins of omission and commission and incredible levels of crass opportunism and abysmal ineptitude to have brought us to this plight. Deliberate de-institutionalisation of the political system to consolidate their one-man rule was a hallmark of the administrations of Generals Ayub, Zia and Musharraf. Hordes of indoctrinated Jihadis were created by the Zia regime to fight a superpower’s proxy war in Afghanistan, in exchange for support and funding for this obscurantist dictatorship.

There was the look-the-other-way encouragement of extremists by the Musharraf government, so that this hypocritical regime could posture as a bulwark against the extremist flood that democracy would, allegedly, unleash. Practically every government, civilian or military, has been culpable in failing to integrate the Tribal Areas into the nation, so that they became, successively, a smugglers’ den, a thieves’ refuge, a centre for drug-trafficking and gun-running and, finally, a staging ground for international terrorism.

The violent primitives spawned within the Tribal Areas by Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their ilk, have erupted outward. Their war against the state of Pakistan has been carried into our major cities, from Peshawar to Karachi. Their terror bombings have caused the mass murder of citizens everywhere and they are clearly implicated in the assassination of Pakistan’s major political personality and the killing of over 170 of her (and Mr Zardari’s) fellow People’s Party workers. This band of tribal anarchy will continue to fling out destructive tendrils in every direction, until it is integrated into the state, polity and society of Pakistan. As I suggested in an earlier essay in these pages, there is no simple solution. A complex approach is needed — a holistic process, comprising a mix of political, administrative, judicial, ideological and military initiatives.

This last (the military dimension) needs to set the pace and provide an at least partially pacified frontier, within which the needed further measures can commence. At the time of writing, an armed campaign is in fact in process in Khyber Agency. But this particular military action — following, as it does, on some kind of feeble ‘negotiations’ — may not be the commencement of a systematic campaign to roll back and eliminate the militants. It seems to have been undertaken as a defensive measure to prevent an outright invasion of Peshawar city itself. Nor is Mr Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-e Islam outfit the major strategic target of the kind of campaign that is needed.

Mangal Magh and Namdar Khan, of the Amr bil Maroof wa Nahi Anil Munkir organisation, are comparatively small fry compared with Baitullah Mahsud of South Waziristan, military chieftain of the Tehrik-e Taliban, and Maulvi Fazlullah of the TNSM in Swat and Malakand. And even these deadly enemies of the state, of the Pakistani people and of any kind of civilised society, are themselves still further successive layers of terrorism and violence.

Beyond them is the self-proclaimed Khalifah Mullah Omar, who escaped into the mountains on a motor-cycle (a remarkable feat for a one-eyed man) and is alleged to be conducting his part of operations from a base bordering the Balochistan province. And, of course, there are the very top Al Qaeda leaders, Aiman Al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, last known of in the Tora Bora mountains, bordering our Kurram Agency.

In a recent article, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote (and I am trustful he will not mind my quoting him here):

“Pakistan is an Islamic state falling into anarchy and chaos, being rapidly destroyed from within by those who claim to fight for Islam…This is no clash of civilisations…The Taliban seek to capture and bind the soul and future of Pakistan in the dark prison fashioned by their ignorance. As they now set their sights on Peshawar and beyond, they must be resisted by all possible means, including adequate military force.”

Now, I have no problem agreeing with this and have, further, stressed the primacy of the military dimension as a necessary prelude to other measures. What is frightening is that, when the Army did finally go into action in Swat last summer, they declared that, by the 15th of December, the Mallam Jabba ski resort would be reopened to tourists. In fact, last month, six months after that date, the empty hotel there was finally burned down.

The writer is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet

Source: Daily Times, 5/7/2008

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