Political dimensions of counter-terrorism —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

The PPP government cannot expect support on counter-terrorism and related issues from major political parties and groups without reciprocating with accommodating gestures on their concerns and demands

The recently initiated security operation in Bara and Jamrud areas of Khyber Agency represents a shift in the Government of Pakistan’s disposition towards the tribal areas. While not abandoning the dialogue option, the government has decided to contain militancy in Khyber Agency because it threatened the road link to Afghanistan and challenged peace and stability in and around Peshawar.

Though the two Bara-based militant Islamic groups were not directly involved in the insurgency in Afghanistan, they fought pitched battles against each other and functioned separately as Islamic vigilantes in the area under their control. State officials hardly functioned in these areas, and the groups shared the strategy of the Pakistani Taliban of extending their vigilante role to the settled areas of NWFP. Encouraged by their defiance of state authority, many criminal elements also threatened the people to pursue their anti-social agendas.

No new security operation has so far been launched in the more troubled areas of the two Waziristan agencies and Swat. In Waziristan, the government engaged in a dialogue with a variety of groups, including the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which temporarily improved the security environment. The hope for some enduring political arrangements with them collapsed when activists of Baitullah Mehsud killed several rival tribesmen and publicly executed two people, signalling a return to his violent approach. They vowed to fight American and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

In Swat, despite two agreements with Sufi Muhammad of Tehrik-e Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM) and his son-in-law, Mullah Fazalullah, a top Taliban commander in Swat, local Taliban resumed their violent activities after a lull in violence for a couple of weeks. They are now targeting government property, female educational institutions and security personnel, declaring that the government has not fulfilled its commitment to withdraw security personnel from the area and that these troops periodically take action against them.

The security operation in Khyber Agency is important as it reflects the government’s desire to contain militancy. However, this operation is not likely to fully cope with the totality of the challenge Pakistan faces in the tribal areas. The situation is far more complex in other parts of the tribal areas and Swat with ramifications for the rest of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The government’s dilemma is not limited to the enormity of the problems of extremism and militancy but also its inability to develop a broad-based consensus on the ways and means for coping with extremism and terrorism. Initially, the Pakistani state under General Zia-ul Haq consciously promoted Islamic orthodoxy and militancy with the cooperation of the United States and conservative Arab states. Pakistan continued to use militancy as an instrument of foreign and security policies long after other partners abandoned their support.

Even in the post-September 2001 period the militant groups in the tribal areas were not viewed as a direct threat to Pakistan because they targeted Afghanistan and the Karzai government that did not enjoy the blessings of Pakistani military authorities. The failure to fully comprehend the threat of militancy in the tribal areas contributed to compromising the potential of security operations during 2003-07 to dislodge militant groups.

It was not until late 2007 and early 2008 when the Taliban resorted to suicide bombings and targeted army personnel and installations with greater frequency that the official circles and security establishment realised the acuteness of the Taliban threat to Pakistan’s internal security. By that time the Taliban had established themselves firmly in many parts of the tribal areas and cultivated links with Pakistan’s mainland-based madrassas, militant Islamic groups and parties in the NWFP and the Punjab.

These linkages ensure sympathy and support for the Taliban in many political and societal circles, especially among Islamic circles. Some of the mainland militant and sectarian groups maintain links with the Taliban and use the tribal areas for training their personnel and some of them join the Taliban in their ‘missions’ in Afghanistan. These mainland militant groups facilitate Taliban personnel when they are in the settled areas on violent ‘missions’.

In the past the Jamaat-e Islami, the JUIF and the JUIS maintained a discreet distance from the militant groups and took exception to their methods. However, these parties have openly criticised the resumption of security operations in Khyber Agency. The Jamaat-e Islami chief declared that the Taliban did not constitute a threat to Pakistan’s internal security. Their opposition to the security operation is indicative of their self-cultivated concern that the security operation may be the beginning of the PPP effort to contain and downsize all types of Islamic groups and organisations.

There are other reasons for opposition to the on-going security operation by some political and societal groups. Some opposition can be attributed to the widespread anti-US sentiment in political circles and among the ordinary people, who think that Pakistan has given up on the dialogue and resorted to security operations under pressure from the United States.

Richard Boucher’s visit to Islamabad within two days of the initiation of the operation in the tribal areas strengthened the perception that it was undertaken on the directions of the US, and Boucher was visiting Pakistan to make sure that the Pakistani authorities did not change their mind.

Further, Boucher’s statement on the future of Musharraf and what should be the political priorities of the Pakistani government did not help. This was viewed as yet another proof of American support for Pervez Musharraf, and as unsolicited advice to the government. As long as the US administration does not cultivate goodwill with the political circles and societal activists, the Taliban will continue to enjoy varying degrees of support in Pakistan because they are viewed as having the courage to defy the US.

Another reason for the lack of adequate popular support is that the Pakistan state under General Zia-ul Haq socialised young people in the 1980s into Islamic orthodoxy and militancy. This pattern continued even afterwards because the army and the ISI viewed militant groups as an instrument for advancing foreign policy and the security agenda in Afghanistan and Indian-administered Kashmir. These people have imbibed radical discourse to such an extent that they can hardly think of any alternate political perspective. Even Musharraf patronised such elements in order to hold on to power in the post-2002 period.

These people are now strategically placed in the society, government and security apparatus, and are not always convinced that the Pakistani state should declare war on the Taliban and other Islamic militants. An important ingredient of their worldview is the varying degree of anti-Americanism.

Still another reason for opposition to the security operation in Khyber Agency is the failure of the PPP government to keep its political allies on board for governance and political management. The divergence between the PPP and the PMLN and a large number of societal groups on the restoration of judges and the future of Musharraf has increased distrust between them. This has caused the PMLN to withhold support to the government on the security operation.

The PPP government cannot expect support on counter-terrorism and related issues from major political parties and groups without reciprocating with accommodating gestures on their concerns and demands. Reciprocity, accommodation and a shared approach are key to strengthening the government’s capacity to deal with complex issues like counter-insurgency. Some of the opposition to security operations is the product of the inability of the PPP to maintain harmonious interaction with other political parties.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Source: Daily Times, 6/7/2008

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