The recent US ground and air attacks on Waziristan have forced the Pakistani military to condemn these unilateral actions. The prime minister was more taciturn and called these attacks a violation of sovereignty. He cautioned that since the US is an ally of Pakistan, matters ought to be resolved peacefully. For the last couple of months, research by US think tanks and leaks in the US press indicate a degree of confusion and concern emerging from the dismantling of Musharraf’s control over Pakistan. Gen Musharraf and the US had established a rapport after 2001 following the tragic circumstances of 9/11. A lot of water has since flowed under the proverbial bridge. But what was this understanding? A review of accounts by those who participated in these historic events sheds some light.
Evidently, Gen Mahmud of the ISI, who was visiting the US on 9/11, gave Pakistan’s commitment of support to the US even before he had consulted Gen Musharraf. Richard Armitage, the US deputy secretary of state at the time, has denied that Pakistan was threatened with being “bombed into the Stone Age,” a phrase as cited by Musharraf in his book In the Line of Fire. Apparently there was US pressure but no threats for Pakistan to join the war on terrorism.
Musharraf used this story to browbeat the Pakistani corps commanders into falling in line and adopting his prescription for cooperation with the US. It was a model which was quickly accepted by the Pakistan military and the US. The following were the main features of the Musharraf design. First, it broke the militants into three neat categories: the Afghan militants, the Pakistani militants who supported the Afghans and the transnational Islamist fighters which included Al Qaeda. Pakistan hit the foreigners the most; it kid-gloved the others. This classification suited Pakistan’s geostrategic view that it should have supporters amongst the Afghans as insurance. Second, Musharraf ignored the need to obtain legal cover for his actions from his manipulated assemblies, twice. It is my opinion that had Musharraf developed a legal process for shaping the difficult issue of handing over “terrorists” to US custody, he may have avoided the delicate issue of “missing persons.” It was absence of a legal framework in this matter which forced Musharraf to fire the chief justice of Pakistan, who had questioned the policy in this regard. Thirdly, Musharraf’s failure to have a Pakistan-US treaty on how to handle the war and to identify the dos and don’ts in FATA meant that there was a risk in the approach. These omissions finally cost Musharraf his presidency and also embarrassed his supporters in the US. I think that the US was cleverly manipulated to agree to this poor practice.
The biggest tactical failure was Pakistan’s inability to correctly gauge the long-term implication of Pakistan military’s intervention in FATA in September 2002. Given the fiercely independent nature of Waziristan’s tribes, it was only a matter of time before they clashed with the government – this was inevitable. Herbert Edwardes, the first British officer who came into contact with the Wazirs in 1847, described them to be the most powerful and feared of all the Pukhtun tribes. “His hand is against every man and every man’s hand is against him…”
It is extremely unfortunate that the Pakistani military junta completely ignored the importance of the tribal character in its calculations. So it is not surprising that in his nine years’ rule Gen Musharraf did not even once visited the Wazirs and Mahsuds in Waziristan. This failure indicated to the Wazirs that the leadership lacked the will to deal with them. The denouncement with the Wazir occurred when a new military commander having little background of tribal character, ordered retaliation against them in Kalusha on March 18, 2004, for their giving sanctuary to foreigners. It is a historic event because it was on this fateful date that an innocent general devoid of knowledge about local customs challenged the Wazirs. The fire lit by that mistake has turned into a full-fledged insurgency in FATA, which has now expanded to the NWFP.
The matter of sanctuary is much debated. Sanctuary means protection from harm offered to anyone who has either been received as a guest under melmastia or during nanawatai. Melmastia means to provide hospitality along with protection. While nanawatai is the provision of protection to a putative offender against whom revenge (badal) is mandatory. These social customs are a religion for the Pukhtun. The Kalusha action purported to challenge melmastia offered by the Wazirs to foreign Uzbek and Arab guests. It ought to have been handled differently.
When the Pakistan military met Wazir resistance it adopted the artifice of tribal agreements in Shakai, Sararogha and, later, in Miramshah to douse the flames of insurrection. These agreements for the first time showed that all was not well in the Pakistan-US alliance. Pakistani unilateral agreements offended the US and it used Predator diplomacy when the agreements were bombed into extinction. However, each time it resulted in collateral deaths which led to retaliation by the tribes.
The failure of the Pakistani state to be the arbiter of matters in its own jurisdiction coupled with increasing collateral deaths incensed the tribes. Today, large stretches of FATA and parts of the NWFP are in the midst of insurrection. The Pakistan military is fighting its own people and the militants are better organised and stronger than they were before the battle of Kalusha.
Gen Shahid Aziz, the former chief of the general staff and director of military operations, critiqued Musharraf’s Machiavellian handling of the war and, by implication, Pakistan-US relations, when he said that Gen Musharraf never disclosed the total picture to the powerful corps commanders who were responsible for conducting the war. Musharraf simultaneously implemented a secret strategy by trying to protect the Afghan assets through the ISI.
All the above factors were weighing with the US military which became diplomatically disoriented when the twin issues of the missing persons and a new leadership emerged in Pakistan after the February elections. As Musharraf’s power declined and a new set of managers emerged, like Gen Kayani in the military and Asif Zardari in politics, the US policy became skewed.
Since the Pakistan-US engagement was not institutionalised through law or based upon an agreement, matters became fluid and the US has reacted in Waziristan. The US is laying a new strategy for the region, where the battle zone in eastern Afghanistan and FATA are now merged into one. The separation of militants into categories is no longer valid. Pakistan’s advisor for interior has indicated that it is no longer correct to state that the militants are divided into three categories (as Gen Musharraf used to say) but are one. Secondly, the US is keen to end the powerful role of the ISI which was accused of being complicit in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July this year. Prime Minister Gillani ordered the placing of the ISI under the Interior Ministry. This order was quickly countermanded in reaction to the military’s displeasure.
In the absence of Gen Musharraf, whom the US trusted implicitly, the US leadership is now convinced that for winning the war it is essential to bring changes in Pakistan, which will involve intelligence reform as well as more freedom for US troops to operate in FATA. The latter is a high-risk policy. These are matters which need to be addressed through negotiation and not emotionalism. It will be a most important test for the new government in handling a nervous ally as well as placating the Pakistani people who are brought up on the narrative of sovereignty. They feel deeply hurt.
The writer is a former chief secretary of NWFP and heads the Regional Institute of Policy Research. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The News, 16/9/2008