Blind to the threat —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

If the Taliban agenda was nothing more than the expulsion of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan their efforts to expand their domain to some of the settled districts of the NWFP makes no sense. And what is the justification of the sectarian violence in Kurram Agency?

The government and major opposition parties are euphoric over the unanimous passage of the resolution on militancy in the tribal areas during the joint session of parliament. They think that they have evolved a credible approach to dealing with the insurgency and its violent fallout in mainland Pakistan.

The government is pleased with the resolution because it can easily project this development as an indication of growing political harmony among Pakistan’s diverse political actors. Opposition parties had initially used the joint session to build pressure on the government. The PMLN leadership, for instance, criticised the government for its refusal to honour the commitment to restore all superior court judges through an executive order. The government also faced criticism for its inability to halt the current economic downslide. The unanimous resolution eases some pressure on the government for the time being.

The PMLN, the Jama’at-e Islami and the JUIF are happy that the resolution neutralises, if not negates, the official argument that the war on terror is Pakistan’s war. The resolution accommodates the major positions of these parties on militancy and the operations in the tribal areas by calling for the withdrawal of regular troops from the region.

The resolution serves the interests of the Pakistani Taliban, who must be pleased that the resolution endorses their major demands without asking for any reciprocal commitment. It suggests the end of the army operation and consequent withdrawal, something the Taliban have been demanding since the beginning of the operation. It also calls for negotiations with the Taliban on the contentious issues.

What does the government get in return? Nothing. The Taliban have not made any commitment so far on suspending their violent activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan in response to the resolution, not to speak of agreeing to function within the framework of the Pakistani constitution.

The optimism surrounding the passage of this resolution is misplaced. It is well known that a parliamentary resolution, even when adopted unanimously, is not binding on the government. It has moral and political implications, but they are usually not acted upon. Even if they are, it is selective. It would be interesting to know how many members were present in the session with the resolution was approved ‘unanimously’.

The resolution is a good declaration of intent, with emphasis on the peaceful and negotiated settlement of differences. However, it does not outline ways and means to operationalised its basic ideas into concrete policy measures. Some suggestions are not likely to be implemented at all, which will start a new polemical debate between the government and the opposition.

Representatives of the military provided detailed briefing to the parliamentarians to underline the major threat to internal security and stability posed by the Taliban, and to highlight that the Taliban were trying to establish an alternate authority by paralysing the Pakistani state. The current political government shares this perspective. The president and the prime minister have issued several statements over the last two months supporting military action. It is clear from their policy statements that they would like these operations to continue till state authority is firmly established.

The army wanted the political parties to support it in its venture in the tribal areas. Such support is needed because the army and paramilitary forces have lost over three thousand personnel in these operations over the last five years.

Yet the resolution does not have a word of sympathy for the armed forces, which is likely to disappoint them. Parliamentarians should have appreciated their efforts and then asked for limited or no use of force in the tribal areas. It seems that the parliamentarians hardly paid any attention to the briefings and drafted the resolution based on their pre-briefing perspectives.

The Islamist perspective, which does not view the Taliban as a threat to Pakistan, seems to dominate the resolution. The Taliban are portrayed as one of the ‘stakeholders’ in the political equation. There is no condemnation of suicide attacks or the blowing up of girls’ schools or public executions.

The PMLN, the PMLQ, the Jama’at-e Islami, the JUIF, the Tehreek-e Insaf and a host of Islamist groups take a naïve view of violence in the tribal areas and beyond. Instead of viewing the Taliban as Pakistan’s adversary, they sympathise with them as they are fighting US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. They hold the view that the Taliban will have no reason to use violence if American troops quit Afghanistan, since Pakistan’s support for the war on terror is the main cause of insurgency east of the Durand Line. In other words, changes have to be made in Pakistan’s policies, not in the Taliban’s.

American presence in Afghanistan can be viewed as one of the factors responsible for the Taliban resurgence. However, by now, the Taliban have expanded their agenda to include the establishment of a political and administrative domain in and around the tribal areas by neutralising the writ of the Pakistani state.

If the Taliban agenda was nothing more than the expulsion of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan their efforts to expand their domain to some of the settled districts of the NWFP makes no sense: no American troops are present in these areas. And what is the justification of the sectarian violence in Kurram Agency?

It is not clear if US troops in Afghanistan can be put under pressure by the Taliban policy of threatening Pakistani businesspeople and warning them against involvement in any ventures that are unacceptable to the Taliban. The main target of the Taliban is the Pakistani state, yet the resolution fails to take this into account.

Given the expanded Taliban agenda, the government of Pakistan will find it difficult to completely withdraw forces from the tribal areas and leave the security of the region to the insufficiently trained and equipped paramilitary forces. The resolution gives some leverage to the government by suggesting that the army be replaced “where possible with civilian law enforcement agencies with enhanced capacity”. However, the opposition expects a total cessation of military operations, which the government cannot initiate in the absence of a commitment by the Taliban to respect Pakistani state authority and end all violence.

If the opposition parties, the JUIF and parliamentarians from the tribal areas are interesting in evolving an amicable settlement of the trouble in the tribal areas, they should set up a committee for initiating non-official dialogue with the Taliban leadership to formulate proposals for a possible solution. Both sides will be expected to interact within the framework of the constitution. If some credible proposals can be evolved, the opposition would have a better case for implementing the parliamentary resolution.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Source: Daily Times, 26/10/2008

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