Militancy and security challenges — Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

The history of how Pakistan reached this state of affairs is often ignored and current political civilian arrangements are blamed for the failure to cope with the increasing challenges to internal security and stability

Much debate has been ongoing in Pakistan and the United States about Pakistan’s role in the global war on terrorism.

Pakistan’s official circles reiterate their determination to continue with their counter-terrorism policies; and they continue make a spirited defence of Pakistan’s role in the war on terror against all kinds of criticism at the international level.

Official, semi-official and non-official circles of the United States express varying degrees of reservations on Pakistan’s role in the war, however. Several top military commanders and senior State Department officials have publicly criticised Pakistan’s efforts to seek peace arrangements with Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas.

They opine that the ongoing peace efforts only aim at making sure that the militants do not engage in violent activities in Pakistan’s mainland, and are not concerned what these groups do in Afghanistan.

The comments of non- or semi-official American circles are more unreserved. They think that the Pakistani government is unable to cope with the surging militancy challenge, emanating mainly, but not exclusively, from the tribal areas.

Some argue that there are a good number of people in the Pakistani government, the army and the intelligence agencies who are not fully convinced if militancy constitutes a real threat to Pakistan. It is not surprising, therefore, that some elements in the nonofficial American circles talk of greater direct initiative by American and NATO military authorities in Afghanistan to check militancy in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

However, these champions of tough action against militancy in the tribal areas are not clear about the means to achieve that objective. They do not seem to recognise that any unilateral American military action in the tribal has little probability of success. The bombing of the tribal areas like the bombing of Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War will not solve American problems. It could destabilise Pakistan and thus undermine the prospects of American success in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s diplomatic problems have also been complicated by Dr AQ Khan’s recent statement that some uranium enrichment equipment was transferred from our country and that such a transfer could not take place without the knowledge and approval of key military and intelligence authorities.

This statement creates a credibility crisis for Pakistan’s security establishment, which is, needless to say, in charge of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policy. To be fair, it is unknown how truthful the security establishment is vis-à-vis its disposition towards various militant groups in Pakistan.

Islamic militant groups have entrenched themselves in the tribal areas and Swat, spilling over to the nearby settled districts. As a general trend, Taliban-type groups are on the ascendancy and Pakistani state authorities appear to have lost the initiative in most tribal agencies. Their role depends on the good will of the extremist elements. At times, the state has managed to challenge the Taliban by relying on its coercive apparatus.

At present, Pakistan faces a host of challenges from the militancy in the tribal areas:

First, in Khyber Agency, three hard line Islamic groups fight against each other. These groups are not directly involved in the insurgency in Afghanistan. Fully armed, these competing groups make life miserable for ordinary people and threaten road links between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This type of rivalry exists in most tribal agencies, resulting in violence.

Second, Taliban groups in the tribal areas enforce their writ by use of force in a ruthless manner against those who defy them. The most famous group that dominates the two Waziristan Agencies is the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has established itself in Bajaur and elsewhere in the tribal areas as well.

Third, sectarian conflict in Kurram Agency and the recent kidnappings of police personnel by local Taliban are being used to extract political concessions.

Fourth, the Taliban challenge in Swat where they established their authority at the expense of the state’s writ continues to remain untackled.

Fifth, the spill-over of militancy to the districts adjoining the tribal areas and Swat is an urgent issue. Suicide attacks by TTP activists in mainland Pakistan attempt to dissuade military authorities from taking action in the tribal areas. They operate in the mainland through their linkages with Pakistan-based militant/sectarian groups.

Sixth, their linkages with Al Qaeda and other foreign militants, especially from Central Asia, will continue to pose a substantial threat to the state.

Finally, given the dynamics of group politics and sectarian composition as well as inter-tribe and inter-militant rivalries, a more carefully designed strategy is needed for each tribal agency. Priority has to be given to using ethnic and tribal linkages for taming some of these groups. However, the government must demonstrate that it has the ability to take on the Taliban rather than letting them take the initiative.

The meeting of militant groups in Islamabad on the first anniversary of the Red Mosque incident showed that they are alive and kicking under the nose of the federal administration. The discourse of the speakers on that occasion was alarming as they vowed to support the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan. The suicide attack that took place in the immediate aftermath of the public meeting underlines the options available to them.

Hard-line groups appear to have learnt from experience that if they resort to open defiance of the state coupled with threatening rhetoric, kidnappings or killings of security personnel, the state seeks a compromise with them. These elements get some of their demands accepted in return for not taking on the state, an arrangement that lasts for a couple of days, if not weeks.

Then, the same old cycle of events repeats itself, leading to a new settlement, through jirga or otherwise.

Pakistan’s main security threat is internal, caused by militant Islamic groups that were once nurtured by the guardians of Pakistan’s security. This policy helped achieve some of their immediate objectives, i.e. support to pro-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan and pressure on India in Indian-administered Kashmir. However, Pakistan failed miserably in protecting its long-term interests pertaining to internal and external security.

The irony of the situation is that those who designed and managed the shortsighted security policy are not willing to admit that they faltered in their calculations and that they must share the blame for Pakistan’s current troubles.

The history of how Pakistan reached this state of affairs is often ignored and current political civilian arrangements are blamed for the failure to cope with the increasing challenges to internal security and stability. The focus is merely on the present and that too on seeking immediate relief from the mounting pressures on the state. The long-term perspective is still missing.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Source: Daily times, 13/7/2008

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